NatGeo has a full feature that addresses the question which we have been working to answer: Are our National Parks still in the peril we discovered this summer?
June 2006 Vanity Fair: Who’s Ruining Our National Parks?
Inside the Department of the Interior, Paul Hoffman, a cowboy with a beef against land conservation, has a vision for our national parks—and it involves submitting them to the menace of snowmobiles, A.T.V.'s, and privatization. His attempts to radically alter the National Park Service mission, however, have provoked a public outcry among the parks' true stewards, including one man, in Death Valley, who's standing his ground.
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Instead, Bush took office and called for a new review, which ended up costing $2.4 million. No one had much doubt how it would turn out: the snowmobilers' local champion was, after all, Interior's new deputy assistant secretary of fish, wildlife, and parks.
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"What concerns me," says Reynolds, "is the idea of changing the Organic Act.… It is the law that establishes the Park Service. It is the law that binds all the Park Service areas as units. Congressional intent tells us that 'preserve and protect for future generations' is paramount, and that if we're going to err on any side of protection versus use, we're going to err on the side of resource protection. That's part of one's indoctrination. There are training sessions where the Organic Act is taken apart element by element.
"This is the issue," he says, "that many of us are willing to fall on our swords for."
October 2006 National Geographic: National Parks in Crisis
In the summer of 2005, Interior was obliged to make public—after it was leaked—a 195-page revision of the Park Service's basic policy document, essentially altering the way parks were to be managed in the future. The rewrite was the work of Paul Hoffman, at the time Interior's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, a former executive director of the Cody, Wyoming, chamber of commerce, and congressional aide to Dick Cheney in the 1980s. Among Hoffman's most radical policy tweaks were calls to open to snowmobiles all national park roads used by motor vehicles in other seasons, as well as a relaxation of restrictions on personal watercraft at some national seashores and lakeshores and on noisy tourist flights over such parks as Great Smoky Mountains and Glacier.
Charging that these revisions would override 90 years of established laws and court rulings, more than a few park superintendents expressed alarm. "I hope the public understands that this is a threat to their heritage," J. T. Reynolds, superintendent at Death Valley National Park, told the Los Angeles Times. Bill Wade, for many years superintendent of Shenandoah National Park but now retired and speaking as chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, called the Hoffman document an "astonishing attempt to hijack" the nation's parks "and convert them into vastly diminished areas where almost anything goes." And it came as no surprise that the rewrite paid scant attention to the importance of promoting science-based programs in the national parks.
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The House Resources Committee, presided over by Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), broke briefly into the news earlier this year when Pombo's staff drafted a budget reconciliation proposal to sell off 15 national park areas for commercial or energy development and slather the remaining units with paid advertisements on park shuttle buses. Among the places on the hit list, each selected for its failure to attract more than 10,000 visitors a year, were seven remote and wild areas in Alaska totaling some 19 million acres (8 million hectares). Pombo's staffers also proposed turning the wooded 88-acre (36 hectares) Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River—the capital city's fitting memorial to the President who put an uppercase C on the word Conservation—into a conclave of offices and condominiums.
These proposals did not rest well with members of Congress. Pombo's staff rushed to deflate their significance, describing them as a "theoretical exercise" and a "joke." The boss didn't really want to sell off national parks, it was said. Some budget-watchers suggested it was a ploy to demonstrate what it would take to offset the loss of anticipated federal revenue should obstructionists continue to block oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
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After a storm of protest within the Park Service and an outcry in the press, Mainella's office last fall issued for public comment a muted version of the Hoffman policy rewrite. ("Hoffman Lite," some critics called it.) Some of the original policy changes favoring motorized recreation were toned down or eliminated altogether, but still intact was the challenge to the primacy of protection over use. Senate and House committees charged with oversight of the National Park System conducted hearings. Possibly the most persistent criticism heard was that a rewrite of a bad policy revision was without merit or justification. "To polish the apple when it is rotten at its core is a waste of time," said Bill Wade, the retired Shenandoah superintendent, referring to the attempt to lighten up Hoffman Heavy. Nonetheless, the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks heard one William Horn testify that Clinton-era policy was "overtly hostile" to traditional use. Visitors, he said, shouldn't be kept "on the other side of the . . . fence." Horn identified himself as a former Interior assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks in the Reagan Administration but neglected to mention his current position as an attorney for the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.
Now the question to be answered is: What do we do?
At Pacific West Regional headquarters in Oakland, California, Jon Jarvis, the director, pegs his own hopefulness to the Organic Act, which obliges the Park Service to hold the parks in trust for "future generations." That's the law, says Jarvis, "and unless it's repealed, you can't get any more optimistic than that."
Related: NPA Retirees
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