Can somebody -- anybody-- clue me in as to what the National Park Service did to the Grand Old Party? Surely there must be a reason for the seemingly endless stream of body blows the Park Service has had to endure the past few months.
First there was the dreaded red-line that Interior Assistant Deputy Secretary Paul Hoffman made of the NPS' Management Policies. Then came the ludicrous suggestion by Rep. Richard Pombo of California to auction off 15 NPS units. Somewhere in between was the preposterous "Director's Order 21," which calls for sponsorships to be sold in the parks. Then we had the revised version of Hoffman's revisions, and that document isn't too good, either. Most recently, Rep. Pombo drafted language, then tried to disown it, that conceivably could open the parks to mining.
What's the deal, George?
Granted, not all members of the Republican Party want to see sponsorships plastered throughout the national park system, not all want to see mining, logging and more motorized recreation OKed for the parks, and not all want to see the Park Service fractured into tiny bits and pieces to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, unfortunately for them, the GOP runs Washington these days, and so anything that is run up the flag pole is automatically attached to the party. And if enough opposition isn't mounted by the GOP in Congress to beat down the absurd proposals put forth by the Pombos, Hoffmans, Mainellas and Nortons, then the GOP will forever be linked to whatever they transform the parks into.
And that brings us back to my first question: What did the National Park Service do to find itself in this predicament? Why must it pledge unfettered fealty to the Pombos, Hoffmans, Mainellas and Nortons and quietly suffer the consequences of their so-called "cooperative conservation"?
Now, What About "Hoffman Lite"?
While the Interior Department and NPS hierarchy thought they had reined-in the uproar over Paul Hoffman's misguided efforts to rewrite the Park Service's management handbook, nothing could be further from the truth. As I pointed out last week, there are critical flaws with the rewrite of Hoffman's rewrite, and newspapers are once again editorializing against it. Among those disappointed by the work the "100 Career Park Professionals" did to Hoffman's version is the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which dubbed the latest version "Hoffman Lite."
"Not only has no compelling case been presented for rewriting the 2001 NPS Management Policies, but we are seeing what we believe is most likely a false claim that the revised draft represents the views of 'more than 100 key NPS professional staff,''' said coalition spokesman Bill Wade. "We challenge the Interior Department to name these 100 of our former colleagues who would embrace this only somewhat watered down version of Mr. Hoffman's deadly prescription for national parks."
Just as I pointed to the damage the rewrite did to Section 1.4.3 of the "Foundation" of the Management Policies, so, too, did the coalition.
"The attack on this foundation renders the entire rewrite document structurally unsound," Wade said. "The recasting of Section 1.4.3 results in 'fuzzing up' and confusing the clarifications of the Congress in the 1970 General Authorities Act and the 1978 Redwood amendment. Replacing the language of Congress is interpretation and argumentation designed to fit a politically dictated agenda. These arguments, among other things, equate preservation and enjoyment, in direct contradiction to the law on the books that puts preservation in a first and logical order.
"This regressive shift is intended to open the way for more mechanized 'enjoyment' -- so called! -- and additional commercialization of the parks."
Next week the Senate National Parks Subcommittee will delve into the revised Management Policies. The committee, chaired by Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, November 1, at 10 a.m. in the Energy Committee Hearing Room to discuss the policies document.
Among those expected to testify are Steve Martin, a deputy director of the National Park Service, as well as Bill Horn, a lobbyist for the motorized recreation industry, Denis Galvin, a former deputy director of the NPS, and Don Castleberry, a former Midwest Regional director for the NPS.
Sure wish I was going to be in Washington for that.
When We're Done With Earth, We'll Mine the Moon
When I was in Washington recently, I joined my wife and son for a visit to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. It's a tremendous museum, one you could spend an entire day in. While there, we watched an IMAX movie pertaining to man on the moon. Part of the film envisioned how humans might set up outposts on the moon. And wouldn't you know it, the outpost the film depicted was a mining operation.
Which brings me to Rep. Pombo's latest suggestion. Through wording he had inserted into a House reconciliation budget bill, the Republican would allow the Interior Department to "make mineral deposits and lands that contain them, including lands in which the valuable mineral deposit has been depleted, available for purchase to facilitate sustainable economic development."
In simple language, this provision would allow Interior Secretary Gale Norton to sell mining leases to our national parks.
Now, either Mr. Pombo is a sloppy legislator, or he tried to sneak a quick one through, for when the National Parks Conservation Association pointed out exactly what that language would do, his spokesman in the House Resources Committee said the chairman would amend the measure to place national parks and wilderness lands off-limits from its reach.
"This proposal was not written with any intent, obvious or inconspicuous, to open our national parks to mining," Brian Kennedy, the committee's spokesman, said after Craig Obey of the NPCA ridiculed the initial wording. "This is just an opportunistic political hit from a partisan organization, but one that has no basis in reality."
Of course, even if Mr. Pombo's "oversight" hadn't been caught, it's unlikely that we'd see mining in a national park. Not only do I find it highly unlikely that the language would have cleared the Senate, but then there's the question of what mining company would set foot in a national park?
Not only would that generate incredibly bad publicity for the company in question, but the International Council on Mining and Metals has adopted a formal position against mining in World Heritage Sites, and quite a few national parks have gained that designation. Among those on that noble list are Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, Everglades, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Wrangell-St. Elias, Glacier Bay, Olympic, and Glacier.
While the National Mining Association is not a signatory to this ICMM position statement, a good number of the globe's major mining companies are. Companies such as Alcoa, AngloGold, BHP Billiton, Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold, Mitsubishi Materials, Newmont, Noranda, Placer Dome, and Rio Tinto.
So even if Mr. Pombo got his wish, whom would he get to buy the mining rights?
You'll Hardly Notice the Sponsorships
Okay, so much for mining. But what about this idea to sell sponsorships to the national parks? Rick Smith of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees brought "Director's Order 21" into the light of day back on October 13 in Flagstaff, Arizona, during a congressional hearing into national park funding.
Smith got right to the point with the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, telling the congressmen that the director's order "opens the door to increased donor recognition opportunities -- for a big enough donation, I can now have the Richard Smith bench placed in a park -- and eliminates the 'prohibited source' provisions, opening the way to donations by corporations that generate profits through tobacco and liquor sales. The march toward privatization continues apace."
Secretary Norton is sold on the idea. National Public Radio's Elizabeth Shogren put together a nice, tidy story on the sponsorship proposal with interviews with Ms. Norton and Mr. Pombo. You can listen to it here. It only runs about four minutes, and provides some great insights into how Ms. Norton believes sponsorships can be discreet.
I guess the problem I have with sponsorships is that the national parks belong to all taxpayers, that none stand above another. Why let corporate American emblazon its names across parkdom, and then spin off nifty commercials telling how wonderful they are because they support the parks? Beyond that, why clutter up national parks with more signage?
Over the years I've paid a lot of park entrance fees, donated a good bit of money, written a lot of stories, and a few books, that likely have generated a fair amount of park tourism. How 'bout putting my name somewhere in a park, Gale? And just out of curiosity, what about sponsorships for the White House, which technically is a Park Service property? (I know, Haliburton already has that one lined up....)
If you disagree with Ms. Norton's sponsorship drive, let her know. The Interior Department is collecting public comment until December first, and you can reach them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
And What About These Loyalty Oaths?
I almost forgot one other tiny piece of paper. It essentially calls for top-level park managers to pass a political litmus test with the Bush administration before they can be hired or promoted.
The new guidelines instituted by NPS Director Fran Mainella call for candidates for park superintendents, assistant superintendents, and deputy superintendents to be vetted before they are offered a job. That vetting includes a review by the requisite regional director of the candidate's achievements and experience, competencies and "potential for management excellence," and an overview of their ability to live up to Interior Secretary Norton's "4Cs" --"communication, consultation, cooperation, all in the service of conservation" -- as well as President Bush's "management agenda."
Then, once the regional director thinks they have a good candidate, they forward the information up to Director Mainella for final approval. But before that happens the candidate must interview with Ms. Mainella, as well as with Interior Department's assistant secretary for Fish, and Wildlife and Parks. (If you haven't been paying attention, that would be Paul Hoffman.)
Why the need to make sure each candidate pledges loyalty to the Bush plan for national parks? Do we really want park managers who pledge loyalty to increased motorized recreation, enjoyment over preservation, and corporate sponsorship? Whatever happened to hiring the best person for the job at hand, not the person who best personifies the administration's vision?
Connect the Dots, Folks
As you can see, the Bush administration and some of its congressional brethren are on a mission in Washington, a mission that has dire consequences for our national parks. You'd think the administration's misguided foreign policy, the country's economic doldrums, and the recent hurricanes would have given those in Washington more than enough to deal with.
Part of the beauty of national parks are that many of them provide a snapshot of what America used to look like before urban sprawl took hold. These are magical places that, within their borders, harbor wonderful experiences that can't easily be attained elsewhere.
To hike through the North Cascades or wind your way through the Everglades in a canoe, to explore a slot canyon in Canyonlands or view the sunrise from atop a mountain in Acadia, these are experiences the Park Service is charged with preserving. And if you have to dodge an ATV or personal watercraft en route to one of these experiences, or if your solitude and personal reflection at sunrise are ruined by someone gabbing on a cell phone, then we've lost an integral part of what the parks were established for.
Is that so hard to see?