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New research released today by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) provides the first ever broad look at how America's national parks are faring in the face of pollution, invasive species, climate change, energy development, adjacent land development and chronic funding shortfalls. A decade in the making, the report - The State of America's National Parks - represents the most comprehensive overview yet performed on resource conditions in America's national parks.
NPCA's Center for Park Research wrote the report based on its studies on resource conditions at 80 national parks across the country, a 20 percent sample of the 394 parks in the National Park System. The report finds that long-standing and new threats are impacting wildlife and water and air quality within our national parks. The historic sites that tell the story of the Civil War, the civil rights movement and the evolution of America's diverse culture are also suffering, mostly because of a lack of funding.
"Our national parks are places we go for reflection, inspiration, and connection to our national heritage - they are places we as Americans decided to protect to showcase where America's story has unfolded. But new data shows that our national parks are in serious jeopardy," said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "As we approach the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, we have a responsibility to ensure our American treasures are preserved and protected for the future."
Air, Water, Wildlife at Risk
The assessment revealed stark realities, including the loss of native plants and animals from park landscapes. Ninety-five percent of parks assessed had at least one wildlife or plant species that had disappeared from the area, including large predators such as gray wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears. In places such as Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, invasive plants and animals are crowding out native species, some of which are now extinct. Air and water quality in the parks are also suffering. More than half of the parks studied (63%) have compromised air quality conditions. Numerous parks, such as Gateway National Recreation Area and Big Hole National Battlefield, also reported serious water quality issues, including contamination and depleted water resources that affected the entire ecosystem.
The majority of threats to natural resources stemmed from human activities, including development on lands adjacent to national parks that is negatively impacting resources inside park boundaries.
"From Grand Canyon to the Great Smoky Mountains, mining, energy production, roads, and housing projects on adjacent lands are fragmenting wildlife habitat, diminishing air quality, disrupting cultural landscapes, and contaminating water resources," said Kiernan.
Climate Change Threatens Survival of Iconic Species
The report also indicates that climate change is a systemic threat to the iconic flora and fauna of many national parks--the Joshua trees of Joshua Tree National Park and the redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument and Redwood National Park among them. Rising sea levels due to climate disruption threaten to inundate coastal archaeological sites in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. And at Isle Royale National Park, significant changes in the quantity of snow could impact moose-wolf dynamics and threaten the survival of both species in this wilderness park.
Historic Artifacts and Cultural Treasures in Peril
An often forgotten mission of the National Park Service is that of curator and keeper of America's historic artifacts and cultural gems. Two-thirds of the 394 units in the National Park System were designated to protect important historic or cultural sites, but rarely does the agency have enough trained staff - or receive the funding - to properly care for them. The report found that in more than 90 percent of the parks surveyed, cultural resources were found to be in deficient condition. The Park Service estimates that more than 60 percent of the 27,000 historic structures are in need of repair or maintenance. Many parks lack adequate documentation and research on their cultural resources, and their artifacts are being insufficiently monitored--meaning that theft and deterioration may go unnoticed.
Chronic funding shortfalls have prevented many park sites from having enough trained professionals to oversee their cultural resources. Our national parks suffer from an annual operations shortfall of more than $600 million. With too few staff to watch over them, some prehistoric sites and battlefields continue to be looted, historic buildings are neglected, and museum collections are left unorganized. Historic structures are in need of care and repair, but the work often gets deferred. Almost 30 percent of the assessed parks reported deferred maintenance costs in excess of $1 million.
Reasons for Hope - What's Working Now
Yet the report shows that despite the challenges facing our national parks, many of the parks assessed have developed management approaches to effectively address the erosion of natural and cultural resources. For example, a vessel management plan at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve helps protect marine mammals from being struck by ships. And the removal of non-native species and a captive breeding program have helped restore Channel Islands' native island fox population. Research at a number of parks shows that when National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training, positive stories of resources protection are abundant.
A Call To Action
While the Parks Service looks to its 95th anniversary and the next century, advocates continue to point to simple, straightforward solutions to address the challenges facing our national parks. Report recommendations suggest that the Obama Administration must develop a comprehensive long term plan for the parks that reduces threats from energy development and other adjacent uses, enforces air quality laws, and monitors water quality. In addition, long term protection is dependent on fully funding the National Park Service, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the parks and their assets. The full list of recommendations can be found at www.npca.org/cpr/sanp/SANP-summary-WEB.pdf.
NPCA is also calling on the Obama Administration to issue an Executive Order to recommit federal resources and policies to preparing our parks for the next century by reintroducing native wildlife, implementing climate change adaptation and mitigation, better managing large landscapes to conserve and restore ecosystems, improving the condition of cultural resources, and incorporating under-represented themes of American history and cultural diversity.
"The State of America's National Parks report is our wakeup call. The natural and historical treasures that Americans value have been vulnerable for too long. This is a turning point in the history of our parks, and we must not break the promise that past generations made to our children and grandchildren," said Kiernan.
To view a full copy of the report, please visit: www.npca.org/cpr/sanp/. To download report photos: www.flickr.com/photos/30346074@N04/sets/72157626889633691/
NPCA is a non-profit, private organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the U.S. National Park System.
While the move comes after law enforcement in Georgia killed a "Cop City" protester, one official said it is a "purely precautionary" measure before the anticipated release of video footage from an arrest in Tennessee.
Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency through at least February 9 that will enable him to deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops "as necessary."
The order follows protests in Atlanta after 26-year-old forest defender Manuel "Tortuguita" Teran was shot dead last week during a multi-agency raid on an encampment to oppose construction of Cop City, a nearby law enforcement training center. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which is investigating the case, has said Teran was killed after he shot and wounded a state trooper.
While the order begins by stating that "protests turned violent in downtown Atlanta" last Saturday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreported that Kemp's aides signaled that the move was not about the Cop City demonstrations but rather in anticipation of any potential response to video footage from Memphis, Tennessee showing the arrest of Black motorist Tyre Nichols.
\u201cGeorgia Gov. Brian Kemp is calling up to 1,000 National Guard troops & declaring a state of emergency until Feb 9, a week after police killed forest defender Tortuguita. 12 Cop City opponents were charged with domestic terrorism since. Tomorrow the Tyre Nichols video comes out.\u201d— Alleen Brown (@Alleen Brown) 1674766682
As Common Dreamsreported earlier Thursday, five fired Memphis cops were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes related to Nichols' death. Footage of the 29-year-old's arrest is expected to be released sometime after 6:00 pm local time on Friday.
"We understand the executive order is purely precautionary based on possible unrest following the release of the videos from Memphis," an official in Georgia with direct knowledge of the situation told the AJC. "There are no immediate intentions to deploy the guard."
The Atlanta Police Department also mentioned the Memphis case in a statement Thursday:
We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city. We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent, and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities, and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful.
In a series of tweets Thursday, the Atlanta Community Press Collective named several people killed by law enforcement in recent years and suggested that Kemp's order is about "trying to instill fear in anyone who stands up against police brutality."
\u201cKemp's declaration of a State of Emergency isn't about property damage at Saturday's protests at all. It's about police murdering #TyreNichols and Tortuguita within two weeks of each other. They're trying to instill fear in anyone who stands up against police brutality.\u201d— Atlanta Community Press Collective (@Atlanta Community Press Collective) 1674764329
Meanwhile, national groups and progressive lawmakers have echoed local demands for an independent probe in Teran's case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has highlighted that it is separate from the Georgia State Patrol and said that GBI "is conducting an independent investigation," after which it will "turn the investigative file over to the prosecutor." The agency noted Wednesday that DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has recused herself from the case so a special prosecutor will be assigned.
Some have pushed back against the "police narrative" that the "corporate media has ran away with" for Teran's case, as forest defender Kamau Franklin toldDemocracy Now! last week, adding that "we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened."
"And that's why we're calling for an independent investigation, not one that's done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, not one that's done by any federal authority, but a complete independent investigation," Franklin said, "because that's the only way we're going to know what really happened."
"Military industrial production can be redirected to civilian technologies that contribute to societal well-being and provide green jobs," says the Costs of War project.
A pair of reports published Thursday show that many workers employed in the U.S. military-industrial complex support shifting manufacturing resources from military to civilian use—a conversion seen as vital to the fight against the climate emergency.
Moving "from a war economy to a green economy" can help avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, noted the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, publisher of the new research.
"Ever-higher military spending is contributing to climate catastrophe, and U.S. lawmakers need a better understanding of alternative economic choices," Stephanie Savell, co-director of Costs of War, said in a statement. "Military industrial production can be redirected to civilian technologies that contribute to societal well-being and provide green jobs. This conversion can both decarbonize the economy and create prosperity in districts across the nation."
In one of the papers released Thursday, Miriam Pemberton, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, described "how the United States developed a war economy," as reflected in its massive $858 billion military budget, which accounts for roughly half of all federal discretionary spending.
As Pemberton explained:
When the U.S. military budget decreased after the Cold War, military contractors initiated a strategy to protect their profits by more widely connecting jobs to military spending. They did this by spreading their subcontracting chains across the United States and creating an entrenched war economy. Perhaps the most infamous example: Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet, which is built in 45 states.
The strategy proved successful. Today, many members of Congress have political incentives to continue to raise the military budget, in order to protect jobs in their districts. Much of the U.S. industrial base is invested in and focused on weapons production, and industry lobbyists won't let Congress forget it.
Not only is the Pentagon a major contributor to planet-heating pollution—emitting more greenhouse gases than 140 countries—and other forms of environmental destruction, but a 2019 Costs of War study showed that "dollar for dollar, military spending creates far fewer jobs than spending on other sectors like education, healthcare, and mass transit," Pemberton continued.
Moreover, "military spending creates jobs that bring wealth to some people and businesses, but do not alleviate poverty or result in widely-shared prosperity," Pemberton wrote. "In fact, of the 20 states with economies most dependent on military manufacturing, 14 experience poverty at similar or higher rates than the national average."
"A different way is possible," she stressed, pointing to a pair of military conversion case studies.
"The only way to really lower emissions of the military is you've got to make the military smaller."
As military budgets were shrinking in 1993, Lockheed was eager to expand its reach into non-military production.
"One of its teams working on fighter jets at a manufacturing facility in Binghamton, New York successfully shifted its specialized skills to produce a system for transit buses that cut fuel consumption, carbon emissions, maintenance costs, and noise, called 'HybriDrive,'" Pemberton explained.
By 1999, Lockheed "sold the facility producing HybriDrive buses and largely abandoned its efforts to convert away from dependence on military spending," she wrote. "But under the new management of BAE Systems, the hybrid buses and their new zero-emission models are now reducing emissions" in cities around the world.
According to Pemberton, "This conversion project succeeded where others have failed largely because its engineers took seriously the differences between military and civilian manufacturing and business practices, and adapted their production accordingly."
In another paper released Thursday, Karen Bell, a senior lecturer in sustainable development at the University of Glasgow, sought to foreground "the views of defense sector workers themselves," noting that they "have been largely absent, despite their importance for understanding the feasibility of conversion."
Bell surveyed 58 people currently and formerly employed in military-related jobs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and found that "while some workers said that the defense sector is 'socially useful,' many were frustrated with their field and would welcome working in the green economy."
"This was a small group so we cannot generalize to defense workers overall," writes Bell. "However, even among this small cohort, some were interested in converting their work to civil production and would be interested in taking up 'green jobs.'"
One respondent told Bell: "Just greenwashing isn't going to do it. Just putting solar panels up isn't going to do it. So we're trying to stress that the only way to really lower emissions of the military is you've got to make the military smaller."
"By the way, do we really need to update all our ICBMs [Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles]?" the survey participant asked. "Don't we have enough to blow up the world three times over, or five times over? Why don't we take those resources and use them someplace else where they really should be?"
"The video must be that bad," said law professor Sherrilyn Ifill. "But fired does not prevent rehiring elsewhere, and charged does not mean convicted. But more important than all, none of this brings back Tyre Nichols."
Five Memphis, Tennessee police officers who were fired for what their chief called a "heinous, reckless, and inhumane" attack on a Black motorist who died three days after a traffic stop were booked and charged Thursday with crimes including second-degree murder.
Former Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr—who are all Black—were charged with crimes including second-degree murder, aggravated assault-acting in concert, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression, according to court records.
Speaking at a Thursday news conference announcing the charges, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David B. Rausch described the five officers' actions as "absolutely appalling."
"We are here to pursue truth and justice, realizing that we should not be here," said Rausch. "Simply put, this should not have happened. I'm sickened by what I saw."
On Wednesday night, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis lamented the "horrific circumstances" of Nichols' death. Calling the victim's arrest a "failing of basic humanity," Davis vowed her department would "find truth in the tragic loss."
\u201cBREAKING: The 5 former Memphis Police Department officers have been indicted by a grand jury on charges ranging from second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression for the death of Tyre Nichols.\u201d— Ben Crump (@Ben Crump) 1674759063
Nichols died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure three days after Memphis officers pulled his vehicle over at around 8:30 pm on January 7. MPD claimed there were two "confrontations" between officers and Nichols, who allegedly ran away before being violently arrested. Complaining of shortness of breath, Nichols was rushed to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.
All five officers were fired on January 20 after they "were found to be directly responsible for the physical abuse of Mr. Nichols," Davis explained. Two firefighters were also terminated in connection with the attack.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz—working with the FBI's Memphis Field Office and the U.S. Justice Department—launched a civil rights investigation into the case.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, some of the officers involved belonged to an MPD unit called SCORPION, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.
In 2016, a federal civil rights complaint was filed against Haley, alleging that he and other officers strip-searched an inmate at a penal farm and beat him until he blacked out, WHBQreported.
\u201cFired & charged w/murder. The video must be that bad. But fired does not prevent rehiring elsewhere, & charged does not mean convicted. But more important than all, none of this brings back Tyre Nichols. We need the abuse & murder by ofcrs to stop. And that requires a new way.\u201d— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sherrilyn Ifill) 1674766025
Antonio Romanucci, an attorney representing Nichols' family, said Monday after viewing police bodycam footage of the attack on the 29-year-old father: "He was a human piñata for those police officers. It was unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating of this young boy for three minutes."
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is also representing Nichols' relatives, compared the footage to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers.
"What we saw, regrettably, reminded us of the Rodney King video," Crump said Monday. "But, unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn't survive."'
The Shelby County District Attorney's Office said earlier this week that it will likely release footage of the incident at 6:00 pm local time Friday.
\u201cThe family of Tyre Nichols is demanding that Memphis police release their bodycam footage of the stop that landed him in the hospital in critical condition. \nTyre died from the injuries that he received at the hands of police during a traffic stop.\u201d— \ud83e\udd40_Imposter_\ud83d\udd78\ufe0f (@\ud83e\udd40_Imposter_\ud83d\udd78\ufe0f) 1673936022
"Yet again, we're seeing evidence of what happens to Black and Brown people from simple traffic stops," Crump contended. "You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop."
"And we have to say to America: How you would treat our white brothers and sisters when you have a traffic stop with them, well, treat us Black and Brown citizens the same way," he added.
On Monday, Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, called her son a "gentle soul."
"Tyre was a beautiful person. He loved to skateboard. He loved to take pictures. He liked to go see the sunset. And most of all, he loved his mother and he loved his son," she said.
Speaking of the fired officers, Wells added: "Those five men—their families are heartbroken as well. They hurt a lot of people when they did this. I don't understand why they had to do this to my son."
Tyre Nichols' mother on violent confrontationwww.youtube.com
Some civil rights leaders called on Congress to take action to prevent such incidents.
"It is only right that the Memphis Police Department takes the necessary additional steps to hold these officers accountable for their role in ripping apart a family and traumatizing a community. However, this is far from what justice looks like. Justice looks like the 535 members of Congress taking the time to turn their 'thoughts and prayers' into action and change," said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in response to Thursday's charges.
Congress: Do something. By failing to write a piece of legislation, you're writing another obituary. By failing to pass the legislation, you're passing on your sworn duty to protect the people. We know just how much all of you will be thinking and praying upon the release of the video, you don't need to mention it. Instead, tell us what you're going to do about it. Tell us what you're going to do to honor Tyre Nichols. Tell us what you're going to do to show his family, his loving son, and this entire nation, that his life was not lost in vain. We can name all the victims of police violence, but we can't name a single law you have passed to address it.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act—named after the unarmed Black man murdered by Minneapolis police in May 2020—was introduced by then-Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in February 2021. The proposed legislation, which, among other reforms, would have banned police chokeholds and ended so-called qualified immunity for officers, passed the following month by a mostly party-line vote of 220-212. However, the bill failed to pass the Senate.