Yellowstone issues first-ever 'state of the park' report

klunney@govexec.com

Yellowstone National Park has become the first national park to create a "state of the park" report, assessing the effectiveness of the park's management.

In the report, issued this week, Yellowstone officials expressed concern over the future of the park's natural resources and the lack of staff and funding available to maintain those resources.

For years, Congress has been asking the National Park Service to provide a comprehensive report detailing how its parks allocate funds. The Yellowstone report is the first such analysis, providing information on 1998 activities and general trends in preservation, visitor numbers and programs aimed at expanding the cultural richness of the park.

"The 'state of the park' is intended to be a candid appraisal of the state of Yellowstone's natural and cultural resources and the ability of the National Park Service to properly manage and protect them," wrote Park Superintendent Michael Finley in the report's introduction.

The report studies the physical landscape of Yellowstone Park, its cultural resources (such as archeological sites, library and museum facilities), science and technology projects and systems, management of public use and services, infrastructure, staff and funding.

In virtually every area documented, the report cites shortages in staff and funding as serious problems affecting the mission and the management of Yellowstone. In particular, the park's facilities and services are having a difficult time keeping up with the growing number of visitors and the extended visitor season. And Yellowstone's expenses are accumulating faster than its budget.

Almost 90 percent of the budget is allocated toward employee salaries and the electric bills for on-site facilities-leaving little left over for unexpected contingencies.

"Is Yellowstone at risk? The answer is yes. Will it remain at risk? Only if the American public ceases to care, if budgetary needs are not met, or if the many country, state, and federal jurisdictions whose decisions affect Yellowstone do not recognize and act upon our collective interest in safeguarding essential resources beyond the park's boundary, resources without which the park itself will be tragically diminished," said Finley.

The number of visitors to Yellowstone continues to increase, with 3,120,830 people coming to the park in 1998. Although the bulk of people visit during the summer, off-season tourists are on the rise as well: Yellowstone averaged between 1500 to 1800 visitors a day in February 1998.

The report also emphasizes the delicate balance between protecting the park's natural resources while continuing to provide visitors with an enriching experience. This problem is compounded by the park's lack of financial resources and labor shortage.

Yellowstone celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1997.

According to the Yellowstone Public Affairs Office, the state of the park report is too costly to replicate on an annual basis, but may be updated on a regular basis on the Internet.

The entire study can be found on the Yellowstone Web site at www.nps.gov/yell/stateofthepark.htm. The park's "Business Plan for Yellowstone's Future," a companion document, is slated for publication later this year.

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