National Park Service removes climate action plans from website

This post was originally published on the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative’s blog and was authored by members of EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team: Toly Rinberg, Gretchen Gehrke, Andrew Bergman, and Justin Schell.

92 documents describing national parks climate action plans have been removed from the Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) Program website. The CFP Program, which is part of the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) [1], helps national parks adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, with approaches that include planning for the impacts of sea level rise and developing strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A prerequisite for becoming a CFP member is completing an action plan detailing how the national park is currently and will continue to respond to climate change [2].

On December 7, 2017, all links to national park climate action plans were removed from a list of 97 member parks on the the CFP website. As described in our Website Access Assessment Report, 92 of the links led to park climate action plan documents, two led to corresponding webpages about park “sustainability” efforts, which are still live, and the remaining three listed parks have not had corresponding links  since October 7, 2015. By December 20, all 92 of the corresponding linked documents had been removed from their respective URLs and were no longer hosted on the CFP website.

Instructions were added to the webpage that “If you would like to be emailed a copy of any listed park’s action plan, please contact the NPS Sustainable Operations Branch,” with a link to a contact form. To our knowledge, the action plans are not available through any corresponding NPS Web archive.

Following the release of this blog post, a NPS Public Affairs spokesperson stated that “Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the National Park Service, like all federal agencies, has a January 18, 2018, deadline to make electronic information and technology accessible to people with disabilities. As part of that process we are updating PDF documents on NPS.gov that are not yet accessible to all, including climate action plans for nearly 100 parks that were listed on a nps.gov webpage. Those non-compliant PDF documents are temporarily unavailable for download while we work to make them compliant with the revised accessibility standards. In the meantime the PDF documents will be provided by email upon request” [3].

We appreciate NPS informing EDGI that it intends to return compliant content by the January 18, 2018 deadline. Increasing usability standards is important for equitable content access, and necessary in order to comply with provisions of the Rehabilitation Act. In this case, but also more generally, better information governance would have been to keep the resources available until updates to content have been completed. If compliant replacement content had been prepared in advance, the agency would not have had to make valuable resources unavailable simply to remain in compliance with law. NPS should have, at least, provided a notice well in advance to notify the public that their delayed compliance would hinder the accessibility of important documents.

These removed resources are relevant to the public and researchers attempting to understand how different parks are and have been responding to climate change. For example, the Grand Canyon National Park plan contains a section detailing goals to reduce park operations’ energy use by 30%, transportation-related emissions by 20%, and water consumption by 25%, all from 2008 levels by 2020. These reduction percentages are ambitious, even compared to the leading climate action plans of Climate Mayors cities [4], providing a useful benchmark and learning opportunity for other parks or municipalities to learn from strategies that are being implemented. In addition to these mitigation efforts, the Grand Canyon NP plan also explores various warming scenarios, as well as “measures that best allow the Park’s natural and cultural resources to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”  The Joshua Tree National Park plan details Park greenhouse gas emissions by sector, and describes two strategies to “Reduce GHG Emissions Results from Activities Within and by the Park” and “Increase Climate Change Education and Outreach”.

Beyond describing efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, various actions plans describe initiatives and plans to adapt to the effects of predicted harms. The Everglades National Park plan states that it “will develop and implement a checklist that will assess new projects on environmental standards,“ especially taking into account sea-level rise, hurricanes, and salt water intrusion concerns.

The CFP Program member climate action plans demonstrate a necessary variety of modes of climate change mitigation and adaptation, which could serve as models of stewardship for other parks, monuments, and municipalities. Indeed, an Obama-era program to ban the sale of plastic water bottles in select national parks demonstrated park leadership in waste reduction (the ban has since been rescinded by the Trump administration) [5]. That many of these national parks are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, makes it all the more important that relevant Web resources bolstering their efforts to respond to climate change remain readily available on federal websites.

References

[1]  See “About” section on the Climate Friendly Parks Program webpage

[2]  See “Becoming a CFP Member Park” section on the Climate Friendly Parks Program webpage

[3] Full statement from NPS:

Regarding your recent blog post about the National Park Service (https://envirodatagov.org/climate-action-plans-for-national-parks-removed-from-site/) there is a very simple explanation for why those PDF documents are temporarily unavailable.

Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the National Park Service, like all federal agencies, has a January 18, 2018, deadline to make electronic information and technology accessible to people with disabilities. As part of that process we are updating PDF documents on NPS.gov that are not yet accessible to all, including climate action plans for nearly 100 parks that were listed on a nps.gov webpage. Those non-compliant PDF documents are temporarily unavailable for download while we work to make them compliant with the revised accessibility standards. In the meantime the PDF documents will be provided by email upon request.”

[4]  See the Climate Action Compendium on the Climate Mayors website

[5] Darryl Fears, “The National Park Service showed that its bottled water ban worked — then lifted it,” The Washington Post, September 26, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/26/the-national-park-service-showed-that-its-bottled-water-ban-worked-then-lifted-it

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