National Parks Management Policy 

[ NEW (8.17.09): final draft policy (doc) | task force response to comments (doc) ]

[ proposed policy | proposed policy (doc) | task force members | comment board ]

The current Sierra Club policy dealing with the management of the National Park System was adopted by the Board of Directors in 1960. Much has changed since then. Besides the passage of several important environment laws during the intervening years, the park system has faced chronic underfunding, attempts by the last administration to commercialize our parks, and now the multiple challenges of global climate change.  The 1960 policy addresses none of these developments and is badly in need of a comprehensive update. 

The National Parks and Monuments Issue Team proposed an update to the existing policy.  In April 2009, the Board of Directors created a special task force to complete this update.  

The task force developed an updated draft policy that applies universally across the broad range of park units and their diverse landscape contexts, while still providing appropriate latitude for activists to address local issues.   The updated draft addresses a number of issues, including potential expansion of the park system; funding for park operations; long term, science-based planning and management; implications of climate change and the importance of resilient habitats; development within park units, development external to park units, and other important subjects.

Please feel free to contact any of the task force members listed below with questions:

The Board has directed that the updated draft policy be circulated for Club-wide review and comment during a 45 day period that will end on August 8, 2009.  This schedule is set so as to complete the new policy before the Ken Burns PBS National Parks series starts in September. The task force will respond to comments at the end of the 45 days.

The existing 1960 policy may be reviewed at    

National Park Management Draft Policy

The Sierra Club adopts the following policy for the management of the National Park System.

(A) The national park system should be expanded in order to include all ecological regions and for other reasons set forth below.

(B) The national park system must be adequately funded in a way that allows for long-term planning and provides reasonable assurance of long-term stability. Funding sources should include congressional appropriations, affordable user fees, and private funding, but the parks should not be dependent on private funds for basic operations. Commercial interests should never be permitted to change the essential public character of the parks.

(C)(1) All ecosystems face inevitable, and in some cases drastic, disruptions resulting from the effects of human-caused climate change. In response, the National Park Service must shift from its historic focus on protecting specific places to a broader, long-term mission that includes protecting biodiversity imperiled by climate change. This shift will demand flexibility, scientific resources, and a new vision that extends beyond park boundaries. Parks should be carefully monitored to detect environmental changes that threaten wildlife, plants and other natural resources, and parks must be managed to enable natural systems to maximize their adaptation. In response to human-caused habitat disruption, park service management must create habitat resilience as best it can.

(C)(2) Management should include long-term planning based on the best available science. As habitats and ecosystems undergo alteration as a result of climate change, many plants and animals will need connected natural landscapes and innovative conservation strategies if they are to adapt and survive. The Park Service must manage park use, plan for future land acquisition and coordinate with other landowners and agencies in response to this need.

(C)(3) National parks can also fill an appropriate and essential role as climate change refugia, as research and monitoring sites, and as places to educate the public about the effects of climate change.

(D) The first priority for management of national parks must be to preserve natural and cultural resources.

(D)(1) In planning to accommodate visitors, low or zero-emissions public transportation into and within national parks should be a high priority, and automobile traffic should be minimized or eliminated.
In order to protect wildlife and preserve a natural environment, public and visitor use of snowmobiles or jet skis should be prohibited. Use of off road vehicles off of established roads should also be prohibited.

(D)(2) Development in national parks should generally be limited to only those facilities necessary to accommodate visitors and protect people and park resources. These facilities should be as unobtrusive as possible. Overnight facilities should not be expanded. Insofar as possible, facilities for public use and administration should be located outside of park boundaries. All park facilities should be models for low energy use, with the goal of carbon neutrality, low resource consumption, and compatibility with the natural world.

(D)(3) Necessary action should be taken to ensure that development outside of national park boundaries does not adversely affect park resources or the experience of park visitors. Considering the future need for species to move beyond their present range in response to climate change, land use and development adjacent to parks should not block essential connectivity that would allow species to move.

(D)(4) National park management should strive to preserve the natural quiet in park settings, as well as the natural darkness and views of the nighttime sky. Artificial lighting should be as minimal and unobtrusive as safety concerns allow. Light pollution from outside of parks should be reduced to the lowest feasible levels.

(D)(5) Visitation is important, and park planning and management should facilitate visitation by all, including people with disabilities and those at all income levels. Management should seek to attract visitors who reflect the rich diversity of the US and of the world: our parks should welcome visitors from other nations. However, protection of natural resources and wildlife must remain the Park Service's primary goal.

(E) All lands managed by the National Park Service that may be suitable for wilderness designation should be added to the wilderness preservation system and managed according to the Wilderness Act of 1964. All waterways suitable for designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers should be so designated.

(F) Interpretive and educational programs for national parks should be expanded through the use of means most likely to reach the largest possible audience. The National Park Service should have the lead role in providing these programs.

(G) The National Park Service serves the public and manages a resource that belongs to posterity. The Park Service should be free of political pressure that undermines science-based management decisions or interferes with its independent professional judgment regarding books, interpretative presentations, public education or other park programs. The park system should be led in a manner that ensures that this treasured part of America's heritage is passed to future generations unimpaired.

Please submit comments by August 8, 2009.