Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Natural resource condition assessment


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Natural Resource Report. NPS/CAVE/NRR—2017/1466. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado


The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program aims to provide documentation about the current conditions of important park natural resources through a spatially explicit, multi-disciplinary synthesis of existing scientific data and knowledge. Findings from the NRCA will help Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CAVE) managers to develop near-term management priorities, engage in watershed or landscape scale partnership and education efforts, conduct park planning, and report program performance (e.g., Department of the Interior’s Strategic Plan “land health” goals, Government Performance and Results Act). The objectives of this assessment are to evaluate and report on current conditions of key park resources, to evaluate critical data and knowledge gaps, and to highlight selected existing stressors and emerging threats to resources or processes. For the purpose of this NRCA, staff from the National Park Service (NPS) and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota – GeoSpatial Services (SMUMN GSS) identified key resources, referred to as “components” in the project. The selected components include natural resources and processes that are currently of the greatest concern to park management at CAVE. The final project framework contains 10 resource components, each featuring discussions of measures, stressors, and reference conditions. This study involved reviewing existing literature and, where appropriate, analyzing data for each natural resource component in the framework to provide summaries of current condition and trends in selected resources. When possible, existing data for the established measures of each component were analyzed and compared to designated reference conditions. A weighted scoring system was applied to calculate the current condition of each component. Weighted Condition Scores, ranging from zero to one, were divided into three categories of condition: low concern, moderate concern, and significant concern. These scores help to determine the current overall condition of each resource. The discussions for each component, found in Chapter 4 of this report, represent a comprehensive summary of current available data and information for these resources, including unpublished park information and perspectives of park resource managers, and present a current condition designation when appropriate. Each component assessment was reviewed by CAVE resource managers or NPS Chihuahuan Desert Network (CHDN) staff. Existing literature, short- and long-term datasets and input from NPS scientists support condition designations for components in this assessment. However, in some cases, data were unavailable or insufficient for several of the measures of the featured components. In other instances, data establishing reference condition were limited or unavailable for components, making comparisons with current information inappropriate or invalid. In these cases, it was not possible to assign condition for the components. Current condition was not able to be determined for 5 of the 10 components (50%) due to these data gaps. For those components with sufficient available data, the overall condition varied. There were no components that were considered to be in good condition. Two components, dark night skies and birds, were considered to be of moderate concern. The NPS NSNSD data for the dark night sky component at CAVE is nearly ten years old thus causing the component to have a condition of moderate concern; it is likely with updated data, the condition would be put in the significant concern category. Three components (Rattlesnake Springs community, air quality, and human impacts on caves) were considered significant concern.

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