NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Pollution of the National Parks

April 24, 1997

Management decisions based on political considerations are being blamed for the sorry state of some national parks.

A study by Utah State University ecologists has documented a steady decline in Yellowstone National Park's environment -- the central issues are overgrazing and park employee housing.

  • Once the public outcry caused the Park Service to stop culling elk and bison herds to sustainable levels, overgrazing grew, resulting in the extinction of beavers and the decline of aspens and willows that grow around beaver ponds.
  • To meet a housing shortage for Yellowstone employees, officials plan to spend $100 million -- with plans for 1,600 square foot bungalows costing $322,000 each.
  • Construction and utilities cost the park nearly double what they -- and comparable land -- would in nearby Bozeman, Montana.
  • Park officials add in 15 percent more for "construction supervision," 16 percent for "contingencies," and 25 percent more for "project planning and advanced planning."

Analysts say that spending as much as one-third of construction funds on overhead is typical in the national park system. Spending tax dollars rather the park's own income funding projects, park managers have few incentives to save money.

Critics want the national parks removed from political control and placed under the management of public, nongovernmental trusts. Such trusts run museums, hospitals and independent schools. In fact, Mount Vernon, Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg are run by public trusts.

Source: John A. Baden and Douglas S. Noonan (both of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, and the Gallatin Institute), Investor's Business Daily, April 24, 1997.


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