Some interesting stories this week cast a very telling, and sad, light on what could happen to national parks if Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman gets his way in rewriting the National Park Service's Management Policies.
A story in the Christian Science Monitor illustrates the Park Service's current struggles to combat illegal off-road traffic in the parks. For instance, in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve officials have counted more than 23,000 miles -- yes, 23,000 -- of illegal swamp-buggy trails. In Cape Hatteras National Seashore, busy summer days see as many as 2,200 off-highway vehicles ripping around the dunes, illegally, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
And, according to an internal survey conducted by the Park Service, at least 113 of the agency's 388 units have logged illegal off-road traffic. In Arches National Park in southeastern Utah, such traffic has destroyed fragile high-desert microbiotic soil, vegetation, and animal burrows.
Yet despite such infractions, top Park Service officials seemed to shrug off the problems. Jerry Case, who oversees regulations management for the Park Service, told the Christian Science Monitor that part of the problem might be due to poorly marked park boundaries.
Case added that, "there are probably just a handful (of parks) that have significant illegal use causing significant environmental damage."
But in national parks, isn't one case just as bad as 1,000? And imagine how many problems there would be if Hoffman got his wish to open up parks to more snowmobile and ATV traffic. Imagine what would happen to our parks if President Bush manages to, as he put it to the Cooperative Conservation Conference last week, make our national parks "more accessible and inviting."
Inside Hoffman's Mind
Meanwhile, the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming caught up with the Hoffman story and tried to get inside the official's mind by talking to one of his former coworkers. Gene Bryan, who succeeded Hoffman as executive director of the Cody Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper that he thinks Hoffman made ridiculous revisions to the Management Policies "to get a more reasonable fallback position."
Over at the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a multiple-use group that favors snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park, public lands director Brian Hawthorn told the newspaper that "what's needed is balance between protection and enjoyment of park resources."
Frankly, what's really needed is an Interior Department that respects our national parks, a department that will vigorously uphold the mission of national parks -- preservation, unimpaired, for future generations -- and note that there are plenty of miles in national forests for motorized play.
The Editorial Uproar Continues
While stories such as those in the Christian Science Monitor and Casper Star-Tribune are scary to conservationists and park advocates, what has to be reassuring is the continuing editorial outrage that's sweeping the country. This is week two of the Hoffman chronicles and still newspapers are castigating him for his suggestions.
The latest I've seen comes from the Journal Times of Racine, Wisconsin, which labels Hoffman's handiwork, "A Shameful Attack on America's Parks."
Here's an excerpt:
"Ahh, nature. The whine of snowmobiles rushing across snowfields or maybe ATVs roaring across sand dunes in national parks.
"Ahh, the Bush administration, at it again."
Down in the body of the editorial the newspaper notes that "Hoffman's ... revision didn't stop at environmental and usage considerations, either. Under his version, the park document would shed references to evolution or the evolutionary process -- but parks themselves would be directed to allow the sale of religious merchandise."
Surely, Ed Abbey must be rolling over in his grave.