Boy, if you work in the upper echelons of the National Park Service these days you really have to have thick, leathery skin. Most every move and decision emanating from NPS headquarters has been scrutinized closely in recent months, and in most cases those behind the moves and decisions have been soundly castigated for not acting in the best interests of our national park system.
In the past day alone I've come across several columns that castigated the Park Service. Hal Rothman, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas professor who long has followed public lands issues, railed the other day that budget-cutting within the NPS was threatening --egads!!-- the traditional American family vacation.
Then Ben Long, who contributes to the Writers on the Range syndicate of High Country News, took his literary swings at the NPS for, among other things, thinking of doing avalanche control in Glacier National Park so Burlington-Northern trains don't get stranded by avalanches while rounding the southern end of the park.
Finally, Don Hendershot wrote a piece for the Smoky Mountain News in western North Carolina to complain about the NPS' budget-cutting.
Many of the columns no doubt were fueled by the recent Government Accountability Office report that clearly highlighted how bad off some parks are because of budgets that aren't keeping pace with inflation or demands.
And then, of course, there was the recent Knight-Ridder syndicate story that claimed that individual parks around the country were being ordered to figure out how to get by on 80 percent of their budgets. That story really irked NPS Director Fran Mainella, who wrote letters-to-the-editor to say that that part of the story was flat out wrong.
While the director accurately noted in her letters that the president's FY2007 NPS budget proposal calls for a $23 million increase over current funding in the agency's operations budget, she neglected to add that Bush sliced away $100 million from the agency's overall budget.
And somehow Director Mainella neglected to touch on the GAO report, even though she took the time to point out that while parks are being asked to scrutinize their budgets, any savings can remain in the parks. That's dandy, particularly when they have to let go of some employees to hold onto others or to fund programs.
On top of that, in her response to the Knight-Ridder story the director claimed that, "These financially constrained times bring challenges, but a 96 percent visitor satisfaction rating and 270 million park visitors show that the Park Service is meeting those challenges."
That certainly seems shallow praise at a time when parks are deferring maintenance, letting countless positions, system-wide, go unfilled, shuttering visitor centers and restrooms, and lacking in law-enforcement positions to combat, among other things, poaching.
And at a time when visitors are being asked to pay higher entrance fees and when NPS headquarters is encouraging parks to find new fees to help make up for insufficient budgets.
Times are indeed tough to be a government agency. But should we delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK by overlooking the pain and anguish that many park managers are going through in deciding which programs stay and which won't?
I don't think I'm alone in questioning the director's claim that the Park Service is "meeting those challenges." Could it be that Director Mainella, like President Bush, doesn't read newspapers, let alone the GAO report?