Jan. 14, 2003 – The Virgin Islands National Park is no stranger to top 10 lists, but this time it has made the National Parks Conservation Association's roster of the 10 Most Endangered Parks, preserves and monuments across the nation.
"For too long, park staff have needed to do too much work with too few resources," Mary Munson, association spokeswoman, said.
The list, issued Tuesday, includes some of the country's most popular national parks — Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming; Glacier in Montana; Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee; and Shenandoah in Virginia.
Also on the list are Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, Everglades National Park in Florida, Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia.
V.I. National Park Superintendent John King said he hopes inclusion on the list will bring attention and resources to bear on the issues that have put the park there, and serve as a catalyst for solving the problems pointed out.
"I think everything they said is absolutely true," he said.
According to a press release from the National Parks Conservation Association, these factors put the V.I. park on the list:
– High potential for land development within the park.
– Dangers posed by poorly controlled fishing.
– Years of insufficient funding that has impaired the ability of staff to care for the park.
Munson said that overfishing and careless boating have serious damaged the park's fragile coral reefs. Forty 40 years of increased fishing in adjacent waters has drastically reduced the numbers and size of the fish, she said, and this in turn has left the corals susceptible to disease and to overgrowth of some plant species. In addition, damage from boat anchors and motors has destroyed significant portions of the reef.
She also said that chronic underfunding has left the park with few resources to enforce existing rules and regulations.
The association also cited the park for having failed to issue regulations so it could enforce no-take fishing zones in the adjacent Coral Reef National Monument, created two years ago by President Clinton. However, King said park officials' hands were tied on this issue until the General Accounting Office ruled last Nov. 18 that the monument's waters belong to the federal government — something the V.I. government had challenged.
While funding is a chronic problem, Munson said, the V.I. park also faces threats from inholdings within its boundaries. The National Parks Conservation Association expressed concern that the land could be sold for development as a luxury resort.
King said the land referred to is at Maho Bay. The park owns a 3/11 interest in the property, he said, and a case is now before the courts seeking to partition the land.
"The other parties involved have expressed an interest in having a resort," King said.
Such a development would impact on the scenic views the park was created to protect and also would speed soil erosion, destroy forests critical to native and migratory wildlife, and damage marine habitat, the association said. Soil loosened during construction can run off into the sea, smothering coral reefs and carrying toxins that pollute the water, and artificial lighting from future development could interfere with sea turtle nesting.
Munson said it was shortsighted not to provide for the environment. "America's national parks are an integral part of our country and our lives," she said. "If we destroy those parks, through development, pollution or neglect, we lose more than just green space. We lose a part of ourselves."
The Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association advocates for parks and conservation issues. The organization has been issuing Top 10 Endangered Parks lists since 1999.

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