Tom Kiernan of the National Parks Conservation Association says the parks are facing unprecedented challenges and threats.
"The top three threats are, first, insufficient funding. The parks lack 800 million dollars each year and Congress needs to appropriate more funding. Secondly is air quality. Some of the worst air quality in this country is in our national parks. And lastly, we're losing some of the key wildlife species in our parks because of inappropriate adjacent development."
Kiernan says Congress must provide more money for the park system, and private donors and philanthropists must step up their giving to parks restoration and preservation efforts. He says he's not surprised to know that the Texas State Parks are in precisely the same predicament and condition as the national parks.
"And it's a similar solution. The government needs to take the primary responsibility for managing and restoring and protecting our national parks, and then citizens can help. And that's the right role that was envisioned when the parks were created. That's what we need to do to restore them, especially as we're in this ten year period as we approach the 100th anniversary of our national parks."
Kiernan says this is an urgent problem because time is running out for the parks and the wildlife in them.
"The clock is absolutely clicking. We are losing species in our parks. In the last number of years visitation has not been rising in the national parks. In a number of parks visitation has been declining, partially because of lack of funding and reduction in ranger programs."
Kiernan says the national park system was created nearly a hundred years ago to protect and celebrate America's wildlife, history, culture natural treasures. They represent what it means to be an American.
"They preserve the history and culture of this country, from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, to Mesa Verde, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. These are all units of our national park system, they tell the American story."
Kiernan spoke to the River Oaks Garden Club's 17th annual Sadie Gwin Blackburn Environmental Seminar at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. There's more information about the National Parks Conservation Association on the website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.