Tribal school project on 'endangered' parks list
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For the second year in a row, a conservation group has cited a tribe's proposed development project as a threat to a national park in North Carolina.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has appeared on the National Parks Conservation Association's top 10 list for five consecutive years but a land swap involving the Eastern Band of Cherokees has only been raised recently. According to the group, the development is just of several problems, including air pollution from coal plants, facing the largest park in the East.

"It's wonderful that such an amazing park is close to so many people," said Don Barger, a regional NPCA official. "But it's important to remember that in many ways Great Smoky Mountains is an urban park, so issues associated with urban growth affect the park just as much as the towns that surround it."

The tribe has been working with federal officials to finalize a deal that will replace a dilapidated school on its reservation, which borders the park. The tribe will donate 218 acres to the National Park Service in order to build on 168 acres within the Great Smoky.

The swap is being pushed by the Bush administration, but has not been approved, and had led to the resignation of a top park superintendent. David A. Mihalic, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota, quit last year in protest of the deal, as well as others that were cited by the NPCA.

The NPCA's list, released yesterday, includes the Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, where a road development project is being opposed by five Oklahoma tribes. The Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations passed a resolution last October calling for the protection of the Ocmulgee Old Fields, an archaeologically rich area that is called the "cradle" of Creek, or Muscogee, civilization.

For the fifth consecutive year, Yellowstone National Park was placed on the list for several reasons, including the slaughter of the last free-ranging herd of bison in the country. Under a plan approved in the final months of the Clinton administration, Montana state wildlife officials are allowed to raze and kill bison that wander out of park boundaries under the guises of preventing the transmission of a disease that is deadly to cattle.

Dozens of tribes and Indian activists, including Winona LaDuke's Honor the Earth Foundation, oppose the policy and say former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt failed to consult with them. The management plan was approved in December 2000 and since then, more than 200 bison have been slaughtered. No bison had been killed for two years prior due to public outcry.

The Everglades National Park in Florida made a fifth repeat appearance as well and NPCA said a "small minority" of landowners is holding up the return of land to the reserve. The Miccosukee Tribe is currently fighting the state and the federal government over an $8 billion restoration plan supported by the Bush administration. The tribe joined 102 homeowners in a successful lawsuit to prevent a forced relocation.

Other parks on the list include Glacier National Park in Montana, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska and Virgin Islands National Park in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Relevant Documents:
Great Smoky Mountains Fact Sheet | Ocmulgee Fact Sheet | Everglades Fact Sheet

Relevant Links:
Cherokee Land Exchange -
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians -
Great Smoky Mountains National Park -
National Parks Conservation Association -

Related Stories:
Indian man resigning from Park Service (12/10)
NPS manager to quit over Cherokee swap (10/04)
Yellowstone bison death toll mounts (5/23)
Group cites tribal transfer as danger to park (3/26)
Cherokee tribe urges land swap (2/13)