Private Donors Lending Glacier a Hand

By Beacon Staff

WEST GLACIER – A group that raises private dollars for Glacier National Park will donate more than $200,000 to the park in 2009.

The Glacier National Park Fund usually limits its giving to programs or projects considered above and beyond core park services. But in the coming year, private donors will help pay for such things as bear-resistant storage lockers, wildlife management, endangered species protection and equipment upgrades for wildlife rangers.

“We want people to have a great experience when they visit Glacier,” said GNPF executive director Jane Ratzlaff. “If the government can’t provide that experience with the limited money Congress makes available, then we have to step up.”

According to the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, the nation’s parks are shortchanged some $800 million in annual operating dollars in the federal budget. In Glacier, the NPCA’s Will Hammerquist says the budget for general operations falls about 20 percent shy of the mark each year.

“Obviously, Congress has an obligation to fund the national parks,” Hammerquist said. “That said, the reality is we need the partnership of groups like the Glacier Park Fund. Private philanthropy has a long history in our national parks.”

Sometimes, donors to friends-of-the-parks groups designate specific projects, but the $201,100 announced this week comes from the GNPF’s “unrestricted funds” category, which means individual donors gave the cash with no particular strings.

Here are some of the projects the fund’s trustees chose to share the money:

— Wildlife monitoring in Glacier’s high country, which includes a scientific review of the park’s alpine heights. Those regions are changing rapidly as climate change makes its mark on the park.

— Centennial planning, which includes preparing educational and outreach programs for visitors in anticipation of Glacier’s 100th birthday in 2010.

— Winter education programs, taking kids into an outdoor classroom where they learn about winter ecology.

— Bighorn sheep study and management, which has been complicated by increasing hunter pressure outside park boundaries.

— Preservation of endangered bull trout in Quartz Lake, where introduced lake trout threaten to overrun native species.

— Bear-resistant storage lockers, to be distributed throughout park campgrounds.

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