During the coming 90 days, a lot is going to be written, said and dissected about the proposed revisions to the National Park Service's Management Policies. What's important is that you don't get caught up in sound bites and rambling narratives as to what is being proposed.
What's important is that if you care about the future of our national parks, you take a look at the proposed revisions and compare them to what everyone is saying.
On first blush, it appears that most of Paul Hoffman's tinkering with the Management Policies has been toned down. However, it could take a few days to sift through all the pages of the voluminous document to see what subtle changes might have been inserted.
And what I noticed in listening to my recording of an hour-long press conference with Mr. Hoffman, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, and various other National Park Service officials, and then examining sections of the revisions, is that their words didn't always seem to match up with the proposed language.
Some extremely interesting tidbits came out during the press conference. At one point, Mr. Hoffman declared the 2001 Management Policies to be "anti-enjoyment." A moment later, while he said he had lots of requests for revising the policies, he couldn't cite a single one.
The proposed revision will be open to public comment until January 19. Read on for more details. But also be sure you comment on this revision.
They Tried to Stay On Message
A key message that Hoffman and the rest of the officials tried to stick to was that the National Park Service Organic Act intended for the Park Service to manage the parks equally for preservation of the landscape and resources as well as for the public's enjoyment.
Here's how Mr. Hoffman phrased it:
"I would say that these policies adhere to the Organic Act, which is one single mission, that provides for both conservation of the resources and enjoyment of the same. ... It is one single mission with several components. ...To manage parks, emphasizing either conservation or enjoyment to the exclusion of the other, will imperil the national park concept. That's what's important in all of this. There are multiple components to that mission: Conserve, enjoyment, prohibit impairment."
But on that point, Mr. Hoffman is dead wrong.
The courts have held that the Organic Act does indeed place preservation of park resources above all else when it comes to managing national parks. Congress itself restated that position in the 1970s with the so-called Redwood Amendment. Even Fran Mainella, President Bush's director of the National Park Service, carried that understanding with her to Washington and spoke specifically about it during a congressional hearing in 2002.
Watch Out for Subtle Word Changes
If you take a look at the proposed revisions, and they can be found at the Park Service's web site, you'll see that the revisions seem to make some subtle changes in an attempt to elevate "enjoyment of the parks" to equal standing with preservation of the parks. Park Service officials on the conference call claimed that preservation would always come first. But the rewording of the 2001 document should generate lots of concern for folks who like their parks without snowmobiles, ATVs, jet skis and other motorized recreation toys, not to mention commercial intrusions.
Steve Martin, the Park Service's deputy director for operations, seemed a bit off-balance when I pointed out some of the wording changes that put enjoyment before preservation.
"I think that the idea is, is that it really is one mission. We do talk about in the section, in 1.4, where we say that it's, if there's an uncertainty to an impact, you make sure that the resource is taken care of in a way that ensures that its preservation take place," he said, searching for the right words. "And so I think that, again, from what we've said, without the preservation, conservation of our resources, there can be no enjoyment, and so it's obviously, they're certainly related and they're very important parts of our mission, but we do ensure that the resources are taken care of."
Don't Take What They Say for Gospel
Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the agency's chief ranger, then proceeded to point out that the 2001 version of the Management Policies, under Section 1.4.3, specifically states that "the fundamental purpose of all parks also includes providing for the enjoyment of park resources and values by the people of the United States."
And she's right. That section is indeed in the existing Management Policies. But what Ms. Taylor-Goodrich failed to add, and this seems pretty significant to me, is that the proposed revision deletes the second half of that section, which applies to the Park Service's "Obligations to Conserve and Provide for Enjoyment of Park Resources and Values."
The deleted wording specifies that "Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.
"This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act..."
Now, if the Bush administration intends, as Park Service officials and Mr. Hoffman claimed, to ensure that park preservation is their No. 1 goal, why was that section deleted?
Don't Overlook the Importance of the 90-Day Review Period
The National Parks Conservation Association, in assessing the latest revision, urged caution in interpreting just exactly what has been changed from Mr. Hoffman's original set of revisions.
"Our preliminary analysis reveals that many of the most damaging proposals are not included in this revision, and it appears that a number of management and administrative enhancements have been included," said the NPCA. "But there are substantive changes that require close attention, including proposals that might weaken the agency's mandate to protect park air quality and limit the feasibility of preserving new sites that have national significance.
"We will also pay close attention to how the document directs park managers to prioritize the preservation of our national parks. This is the beginning of a process. Regardless of the nature of the proposals in this rewrite, we are concerned that those who want to commercialize and exploit our national parks will be working hard to include potentially harmful changes to the management policies,a reson for our question about why this process was intiated."
Parks Are to be Enjoyed
I don't think anyone disputes that our national parks are to be enjoyed. At the same time, I don't think you need a snowmobile or an ATV or a mountain bike to enjoy them. And I don't think we need McDonald's within their borders, or other commercial enterprises beyond the concessions we currently have. As I've said several other times in recent weeks, there are many millions of acres on the national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands where motorized recreation is perfectly suitable and allowed. Let's not have the parks be overrun.
If parks are important to you, read as much as you can about what is going on. Check out stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and any other newspaper or magazine that reports on what's going on. And read the proposed revisions. Then, let your congressmen and congresswomen know how you stand and how you think our national parks should be managed.