It's been about two weeks since proposed revisions to the National Park Service's Management Policies by the Interior Department's Paul Hoffman came to light. And while there's plenty of outrage being expressed around the country in the form of newspaper editorials condemning Hoffman's handiwork, not much is being heard out of Washington.
Oh, Park Service officials have distanced themselves somewhat from the document, saying it was only intended to serve as a "devil's advocate" approach to retooling the management policies. (Hoffman sure must be some devil, going line-by-line through the 194 pages, subtly changing some words here, dramatically changes others there.)
But as far as I know, NPS Director Fran Mainella still has not responded to a letter the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees wrote her asking that she distance herself from Hoffman's revisions. True, it might be asking much of her to issue a blanket condemnation. But surely, Fran, aren't there a few things in the revisions you can't stand? Such as opening up national parks to ATVs and more snowmobiles, removing any mention of evolution from the policies, or weakening clean air, water and noise standards for the parks? And what about Hoffman's suggestion that mining and grazing be considered primary "park purposes"?
Director Mainella did write a letter to the New York Times after it raked Hoffman's proposals through the proverbial coals. In it she pointed out that Hoffman's work was not a "secret draft," but was reviewed by a group of "16 career park service employees, representing all regions and disciplines."
While the revisions might not have been a secret, the identities of those 16 employees seem to be. David Barna, chief of communications for the park service, told me he doesn't know who they are and wasn't sure if the agency wants to identify them. And perhaps that's understandable, as they could come under an onslaught of complaints from park advocates furious about Hoffman's proposals.
How Would Mainella Balance Conservation, Parks And Tourism?
In reading Mainella's letter to the Times, the following sentence jumps out at me and is cause for great concern:
"As we balance the conservation of our natural resources with an enjoyable experience for the visitor, the park service must continue to incorporate contemporary management practices."
Hmmmm. Maybe I'm leaping to conclusions, but that seems to meld perfectly with Hoffman's thoughts to open up national parks to more snowmobiles, more Jet skis, more overflights, and ATVs. And it seems to blend perfectly with what President Bush told those who gathered in St. Louis recently for the Cooperative Conservation Conference:
Parks, the president said in videotaped comments, need to be "more accessible and inviting."
I think parks are perfectly inviting and accessible just as they are. Our national parks are alluring places. Many offer delectable slices of pristine wilderness, landscapes that so far have remained largely untrampled by development and mismanagement. People head to national parks to experience their natural settings, to see wildlife outside the steely constraints of zoos, and to gaze through a portal to see what much of America once looked like.
Parks are special places. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a national forest or to New York City's Central Park?