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The cover story in this month’s National Geographic looks at the political challenges the country’s national park system has been facing. Efforts to rewrite the parks’ mission last summer – which ultimately failed – focused on a fundamental question. How should the National Park Service balance preservation and recreation?

Similar questions are increasingly being asked of California’s state parks. How to balance preservation and utilization? How to balance the infrastructure needs of our growing population with our desire to preserve natural areas? We recently looked at that conflict, examining three infrastructure projects that have been proposed through state parks in San Diego County. That story is here.

The full National Geographic story is posted here.

Here’s a look:

… There’s reason to fear that America’s national parks may now be facing their most daunting test. The present danger goes beyond the usual alarm that the Park Service is strapped for adequate funds to maintain the parks and therefore overwhelmed by visitors who are “loving the parks to death.” That of course is a huge problem, but not a new one. Budget shortfalls have harried the Park Service and the system for many decades and under many administrations. Yet the most unsettling danger over the past five years – at least until Dirk Kempthorne replaced Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior last May and Fran Mainella announced her intent to resign as director of the Park Service – has been an atmosphere of veiled hostility created by political appointees at the highest levels of both agencies. That atmosphere not only rattled the morale of many career professionals in the field but also assaulted the legal and regulatory fabric that has effectively held the National Park System together for 90 years.

ROB DAVIS

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