msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/14/2004 5:54:52 PM ET 2004-01-14T22:54:52

A conservation group dedicated to preserving national parks on Wednesday released its annual list of most endangered parks, criticizing the Bush administration and Congress for what it says is a spiral of decay across the country.

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"Our national heritage deserves attention as much as the space program," National Parks Conservation Association President Thomas Kiernan said in a statement accompanying the list. "Four years ago, Candidate Bush promised to 'restore and renew' our national parks.

"It's time for Congress and the administration to follow through on that pledge," he said, by increasing the National Park Service $2.3 billion budget by $600 million to make up for operating shortfalls.

Bush policies criticized
The NPCA also claimed that Bush administration policies are undermining national parks, among them regulations that could lead to new roadbuilding in parks and "changes to the Clean Air Act that allow outdated smokestack industries to continue operating without modern pollution controls," thus spewing air pollution that often ends up over national parks.

The group has a long tradition of partnering with the Park Service, which responded in general terms. “We’ll look at what they have to say, and see how it compares with what our research is showing, and with how we’re addressing many of the issues they raise,” said Park Service spokeswoman Elaine Sevy.

New entries
The NPCA list had four new entries from last year:

  • Biscayne National Park in Florida, due to overfishing and water pollution.
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, from lack of money for protecting plants and wildlife.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska, because of land scarred from ATV use and potential road-building.
  • National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, cited for inadequate money for preserving the history of slavery and the civil rights movement.

The four they replaced are Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska; Virgin Islands National Park; Glacier National Park in Montana; and Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia. The NPCA said progress was being made to protect those parks.

Repeat parks
Six areas remained on the list: Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas as well as five national parks. They are: Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee; Joshua Tree in California; Shenandoah in Virginia; Everglades in Florida; and Yellowstone in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The group said other problems include private land sales and potential oil and gas drilling in Big Thicket; development along park borders in Joshua Tree; non-native species damage in Shenandoah; management and funding questions in the Everglades; and lack of money and bison slaughters in Yellowstone.

Additional background on the parks is online at www.npca.org/endangeredparks

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