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WEST GLACIER - For the first time in years, Glacier National Park is not included in the annual list of America's most endangered parks.

"It's good news that Glacier is no longer among America's 10 most endangered parks after three years on the list," said Steve Thompson. Thompson works in the Glacier area for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nationwide group that produces the Top 10 list each year.

"Although many challenges remain," Thompson said, "important progress has been made on several of the threats identified in recent years."

Specifically, Montana's congressional delegation has joined hands across the political aisle in a cooperative effort to find funding for reconstruction of Glacier's historic highway, the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Previously, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., unveiled a plan to help fund the work through new provisions in the federal government's six-year transportation bill.

Tuesday, the same day NPCA released its list, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., announced his own plan to find funding in the overall highway bill.

Those efforts, Thompson said, have included input from the local Glacier Park-area community.

In addition, he said, NPCA is optimistic that the Canadian federal government remains committed to expanding Waterton Lakes National Park, which borders Glacier to the north. The expansion would increase habitat security for animals whose range crosses the international boundary.

Thompson also said that Glacier's removal from the endangered list was in part driven by a move by Gov. Judy Martz, who in September signed an environmental cooperation agreement with British Columbia. The agreement, aimed at improving cross-border conservation efforts, should help protect water quality and wildlife habitat in and around Glacier Park.

Also in the past year, Glacier Park officials won a lawsuit filed by a private landowner who wanted to use snowmobiles on the park's western edge.

The last year also saw movement in a long-term attempt to protect native fish in Glacier's waters. The park formed a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana State University and NPCA, he said, to restore threatened bull trout populations, which are being reduced by the introduction of non-native lake trout.

With that partnership came a $130,000 grant to develop a restoration plan for 15 lakes and watershed throughout the park.

Despite those gains, Thompson said, NPCA remains concerned about several challenges facing Glacier's managers. In particular, he said, funding for natural resource management and visitor interpretation has dropped in real dollars since last year, despite Whitehouse pledges to fully fund the national park system.

Also, he said, NPCA is closely watching mining industry efforts to stall the Waterton Lakes park expansion north of the border.

Farther south, Yellowstone National Park was unable to pull itself off the 10 most endangered list, and was among six holdovers from last year named again this year. Yellowstone made the list, NPCA said, due to lack of critical funding and the ongoing dispute over bison slaughters.

Other repeats from last year include Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, as well as four national parks: Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, Joshua Tree in California, Shenandoah in Virginia, and Everglades in Florida.

Air pollution threatens many of those parks, the group said, as do private land sales and potential oil and gas drilling in Big Thicket; development on park borders in Joshua Tree; non-native species damage in Shenandoah; and management and funding issues in Everglades.

New to the list this year were Biscayne National Park in Florida (overfishing and water pollution); Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona (funding shortfalls for resource protection); Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska (land damage from all-terrain vehicle use and potential road building); and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program (inadequate funding).

NPCA president Thomas Kiernan said the primary problem remains the annual $600 million shortfall in the National Park Service's $2.3 billion operating budget.

Park Service spokeswoman Elaine Sevy said NPCA's list will be reviewed by NPS staffers. "We'll look at what they have to say, and see how it compares with what our research is showing, and with how we're addressing many of the issues they raise," she said.

Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at mjamison@missoulian.com

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