Well, the folks at National Park Service headquarters in Washington took note of the concerns expressed by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees over the shape of the national park system.
But that was about it.
In an unsigned reply, the agency thanked the coalition for "the visibility these kinds of reports bring to park issues," and then went on with the same worn story line it has trotted out time after time after time when someone voiced concern over the plight of the Park Service: times are tough.
Here's the exact wording:
"No one argues that these are challenging times. The National Park Service, like most agencies, is tightening its belt as our nation rebuilds from Katrina, continues the war on terrorism and strives to reduce the deficit. The NPS will do its part to keep costs down while still fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities for preserving natural and cultural resources, and maintaining high visitor and citizen satisfaction and support."
Pretty plucky response, no? There's more.
"We have new leadership at the Interior Department, which oversees
the National Park Service, and Secretary Kempthorne already has
committed to make National Parks a top priority, continuing the strong
support evidenced by the Bush Administration."
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait minute. "The strong support evidenced by the Bush Administration"???
Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA, also had the president's strong support, and look what happened to him and FEMA. Harriet Miers had Dubya's strong support to become a Supreme Court justice, and look what happened to her. Years ago Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, and since then the U.S. death toll has climbed to 2,500.
In light of these and other occurrences, the last thing the national park system needs is the administration's "strong support."
Hell, I'd be happy if Congress would give its strong support to the Park Service. After all, it controls the purse strings.
Anyway, back to the Park Service's response. It wasn't overly lengthy, but it did contain some other head-scratchers. Such as this one: "The NPS is sustaining operations at parks."
Now, either Fran needs to get out on the ground and take a good look at what's going on and listen to what her superintendents are telling reporters about how budget constraints are harming their operations, or she needs to give us her definition of "sustain."
Deteriorating buildings, poaching, pot farms in the parks, fewer interpretation programs, fewer researchers, and a long list of deferred maintenance don't add up to "sustain" to me. No, it sounds like a slow, but steady, slide into mediocrity.
And please, will the administration stop waving Hurricane Katrina in our faces. Not only did the feds botch preparation and response to the hurricane, thus exacerbating the outcome, but FEMA apparently misspent roughly a billion dollars in aid, money that could have benefited many other federal programs and agencies, including the Park Service.
Why doesn't the agency cite the president's tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy as a cause of reduced funding? After all, they've played a large role in the current budget picture.
What we really need is a politically independent Park Service director, one who won't be afraid or muzzled to point out when the national park system is in dire need, one who won't trot out milquetoast statements.