ST. LOUIS, Mo.–(ENEWSPF)–November 8, 2013. A draft plan for management of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways released by the National Park Service today proposes improved waterway protections but falls short of taking the aggressive steps necessary to ensure the long-term survival of rare aquatic species like the endangered Ozark hellbender. The area covered by the draft “general management plan,” which is now up for a 60-day public-comment period, includes the Current and Jacks Forks rivers. The popular area receives more than a million visitors a year, who ride horses, canoe and camp.
“More needs to be done to ensure that overuse doesn’t continue to degrade the waterways that make the Ozark National Scenic Riverways so special,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and amphibian specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In shaping how the millions of visitors enjoy the area, the new plan must do more to protect water quality and the amazing Ozark hellbender.”
The draft plan describes current park management as well as a “preferred alternative” that attempts to balance the wide range of interests people have in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The preferred alternative closes some undesignated trails and river access points and establishes an equestrian permitting system. But it also authorizes 35 miles of new horse trails with additional river crossings, as well as a new horse campground along Jacks Fork, which “would increase the likelihood for water quality degradation,” according to the Park Service. Once finalized, the revised plan will replace an outdated 1984 plan that has resulted in misuse and water pollution.
“Riverbanks damaged by erosion and posted swimming restrictions due to high bacteria levels show that the Park Service needs to do more to prevent water pollution,” said Bruce Morrison, general counsel with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “I am hopeful that the National Park Service will address these problems that are slowly eroding the quality of the park.”
The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is home to the endangered Ozark hellbender. This salamander — at nearly 2 feet long, the largest in North America — was added to the federal list of endangered species in 2011 in accordance with a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity. The Ozark hellbender has declined by approximately 75 percent since the 1980s, and scientists estimate that fewer that 600 of the salamanders remain in the wild. The primary threat facing Ozark hellbenders is degradation of their waterways from erosion and runoff.
“Because Ozark hellbenders only live in the Ozarks, we have a unique privilege and responsibility in Missouri to take care of their home,” said Kathleen Logan Smith, director of environmental policy for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “Clearly, we need to do a better job in the coming decades. Creating a plan that allows hellbenders and people to both thrive is a challenge we must meet. Missourians can help ensure good stewardship by sharing their values, ideas and critiques of the draft management plan over the next 60 days.”
The National Park Service will hold two public hearings and is accepting public comment on the draft plan until Jan. 8. Information on the meetings and how to submit comments is available here.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Great Rivers is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health.