While Fran, who last week announced her resignation, hasn't signed the latest draft of the National Park Service's Management Policies into being just yet, the folks in Washington are planning a big roll-out. Park Service spokesman David Barna tells me that a full-color bound edition of the policies, which drive on-the-ground decisions in the parks, is planned, as is a CD version and a web version.
Of course, the only question that really remains is whether Fran will sign off on the policies in their current form before she leaves office. You see, while Mr. Barna tells me the signing should occur within the next two weeks, I understand that the folks over at the American Recreation Coalition, the prime movers and shakers when it comes to motorized recreation on the planet, are mounting a last-gasp lobbying bid to derail the policies in their current form.
The problem these folks have with the current form of the MPs is that they still believe the policies place too much emphasis on protecting the resource and not enough on having fun in the parks.
And I really struggle with that belief.
As I've pointed out before, between the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management there are some 452 million acres of public lands, most of which are open to all forms of recreation. The Park Service, though, oversees only about 84 million acres,and its key mandate is to conserve those lands for future generations, unimpaired.
Even with that mandate in place -- and it was put into place way back in 1916 when the Park Service's Organic Act was passed by Congress -- the park system is open to a wide range of activities, from hiking and cross-country skiing to downhill skiing, snowmobiling, power boating and mountain biking, just to name a few. And 96 percent of the folks who visit the parks say they have a great time!
All the latest version of the MPs attempts to do is ensure that the resource -- that would be the national park system -- isn't overrun by types of recreation that could degrade the parks. The bottom-line idea here is that we should protect the parks and use them wisely so future generations can have just as great a time in the parks as the current generation does.
So I really don't know what ARC's problems are with the Management Policies in their current form. I have discovered, though, that ARC's leadership within the past week held a conference call with nearly two dozen recreation organizations to discuss ways to see the MPs rewritten yet again.
Now, apparently some of those groups have their collective noses out of joint because Park Service officials didn't meet face-to-face with them to hear their concerns over the working draft. I suppose they felt commenting through the normal channels -- like the bulk of America had to do -- wasn't sufficient to get their points across.
So what does ARC and its friends plan to do? Well, apparently they're trying to reopen the comment period with an onslaught of suggested changes to Park Service and Interior Department officials. They also plan to take their lobby to the public via op-ed pieces in newspapers around the country, and then show up at public meetings scheduled by the Interior Department to explore cooperative conservation and environmental partnerships.
Supposedly ARC is rolling out its big guns for these meetings, with ARC President Derrick Crandall and chief lobbyist Bill Horn making appearances to complain about the MPs.
Lastly, ARC will head to Capitol Hill, hoping to bend the ears of sympathetic congressfolk and hopefully to line up a meeting with Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, who's already in their corner.
One politician they probably won't approach is Senator Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Senate's parks subcommittee. He has stated that the current draft of the Management Policies is pretty sound.
"To the Park Service's credit, they listened to the concerns of both employees and the public and have responded with a document which takes management of the parks to a higher level," Thomas said back in June when the latest draft surfaced.
Now, what will be interesting is whether Fran signs the latest version into being before she leaves office, or whether she is pressured into leaving without getting her pen out. If that happens, it's possible that her successor could side with the ARC and insist that another draft be put together.
That would be almost as ridiculous as the numerous studies that Yellowstone officials have been forced to conduct into snowmobile use in the park, even though every one so far has concluded that snowmobiles are bad for the park.
So stay tuned folks, it doesn't appear as if this battle over conservation of the national park system is over just yet.