Friday, August 14, 2009

Expanding Washington's National Parks
Restricting Freedom vs Better Protection

Hope the title didn't mislead you. I am a huge fan of the National Parks System--a system that began on March 1, 1872 when Congress established Yellowstone as our first national park. Republican President Ulysses S Grant mired in a country deep in post civil war reconstruction signed the bill. On August 25, 1916, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act creating the National Park Service. The whole concept of national parks is a truly American ideal that countries around the world have emulated and embraced. The park system has expanded greatly to not only incorporate our crown jewel national parks, but also national seashores, national historic sites, national monuments, and a whole slew of other designations to include properties in every state except Delaware (could Joe Biden's boyhood home change that? Nope-he was born and raised in PA, home to many park units!) and several of our territories. There are currently 394 units within the park system and we continue to expand our park system with each administration. The latest additions to our national parks (the main parks) were under George W Bush in 2003 and 2004 when South Carolina's Congaree Swamp and Colorado's Great Sand Dunes were elevated from national monuments to national parks to become our 57th and 58th national parks.
I have been to 32 of these gems-hiking, camping, and bicycling in them. I would love to see more parks and many of our parks expanded. Here in Washington I would love to see Mount St Helens transferred from the Forest Service to the park service and I would love to see Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks expanded. There is currently a movement afloat to expand the North Cascades National Park; and while in theory I support it-I have some reservations about this proposal. First and foremost in our real world of political sacrifice, compromise and unlimited capital-the North Cascades proposal is of the least importance compared to other national park expansion issues within the Evergreen State.

Let me explain in order of importance (as I see it) issues pertaining to expanding national parks in Washington.
  1. Highest Priority-Expand Olympic National Park. Too much of this park's periphery (particularly along the coast, Lake Ozette and along Hood Canal drainages) borders along industrial forest lands and neglected national forest lands where poaching of resources (illegal plant harvesting by illegal immigrants and illegal game hunting by native born riff raff) and illegal activity (squatting and meth labs) threatens the park's visitors and resources. And a constant threat exists that many of these industrial forestlands will be subdivided and developed further compromising the park.

  2. Expand Mount Rainier National Park's Boundaries. Especially along the Carbon River Area and near the Clearwater Wilderness where as stated above, illegal activity and marginal industrial forest lands compromises the park's integrity and the safety of park visitors.

  3. Transfer Mount St Helens to the Park Service. Under a better funded park service and one with a clearer objective (preservation vs multiple and often conflicting use) than the disgraced and underfunded Forest Service, St Helens would be elevated to a higher status with better protection, funding, and better and expanded visitor facilities-like perhaps a campground and better maintained trails. Also, St Helens' borders should be adjusted to help better manage it and incorporate periphery areas that should have never been left out when the monument was established-like the old growth forests of Quartz Creek.

  4. Lastly, expansion of the North Cascades National Park. While it sounds noble, it is mostly unnecessary. Nearly all of the lands bordering North Cascades National park are federally protected wilderness areas and are under no threat. Perhaps the only exception would be north of Rainy Pass along the PCT in which case national park status or even better-an expansion of the Pasayten Wilderness would be better suited. Why waste political and real capital on an area that is under virtually no threat when other areas in the state are in dire need of protection?
Besides-one of the beauties of the North Cascades complex outside of the National Park lands is the freedom to camp and travel (mostly) unregulated. While I support permitting by the park service as necessary in highly visited areas, why bring this cumbersome and often frustrating process to areas that don't need it-areas that are far more wild and untrammeled than within the park's boundaries. And while I support keeping our park's free from dogs and hunting (another argument that I can address in a separate post) expanding North Cascades National Park into adjacent forestlands where these activities are currently allowed would lock out these users-whom I don't believe should be locked out (yes, they would be locked out) of these lands where they can now freely roam. My biggest reasons for supporting any national park expansion are for better protection and better visitor services. In the case of the North Cascades National Park periphery I don't believe there is much of a resource threat or need for visitor expansion. In Rainier, St Helens and Olympic, I believe otherwise, and I believe it would be wise for conservationists and politicos to concentrate on expanding and improving these crown jewels of Washington State instead. Your take?


Gregg P said...

I agree with your thoughts and find that they make very good sense including the order you put them in with the exception of moving Mt. St. Helens into second. The local communities need to be saved from themselves. I believe that an agency (National Park Service) that is up and coming rather than one that is near irrlevant will breathe new life and intelligence into the darkness that resides right adjacent to the volcano.

Andy said...

Definitely food for thought. I would agree that Olympic should be a high priority (and the local Congressman, Norm Dicks, is much more apt to support such designation).
I agree on Mount St. Helens. As valiant an effort the Forest Service has done with limited resources, a Mount St. Helens National Park would be guaranteed more revenue and attention. Doesn't have to happen overnight, but it should be the end goal.
As to the North Cascades, areas such as Rainy Pass and Golden Horn should be added to either the NP or wilderness. These areas, however, aren't under much threat at the moment, so there's little urgency.
As you've spoken about before, wilderness is a much more pressing, urgent issue...there are places such as the Dark Divide in SW WA and the Columbia Highlands under much more threat, and need wilderness designation to protect them.

Kip said...

As a seasonal North Cascades NPS Backcountry Ranger I definitely carry my bias. That said, you have some good points. From a land management perspective I would say that straightening out some of the park boarders would really make it easy on both visitors and managers. For example: Monogram Lake TH starts on FS land the lake is in the park, Bridge Creek TH is FS yet anyone hiking South on the PCT is headed for the park, the standard approach for the Sulfide Glacier route on Shuksan (which sees high use nearly all summer) starts on FS land then enters the park in only a few miles. If the park takes over the jurisdiction of these trail heads and in some cases roads they would be better maintained and reduce the confusion of "What permit do I need? Where? Parking permit? Overnight? Etc..." That said I've never been one to like regulations and there are places where we really don't need to tell people exactly where to camp.

I just randomly stumbled upon your post from a google search. Thanks for the info.


Arvid D'armond said...

"illegal immigrants and native born riff raff" Yeah, its all their fault. How about the east coast transplants that are overcrowding our state? Used to be a nice place to live and play when there were less "legal" immigrants.

Craig said...

Perhaps you misread that statement to imply all of the region's problems are because of poaching and illegal harvesting-that is not what is implied. It is meant that those two activities are serious problems in the Olympic National Forest that not only harm the environment but also threaten the safety of legitimate park users. Under the park service rather than forest service there would be more of a law enforcement presence, greater resource protection, and a better maintained infrastructure. I would rather share the trails with law abiding East Coast Transplants (law abiding transplants from anywhere actually), law abiding Native Washingtonions and law abiding Immigrants than with law breaking residents and non-residents.