They're older, graying if not already gray, and not the least bit timid about challenging the hierarchy of the National Park Service or Department of Interior.
No, in fact these days it seems the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is spoiling for an opportunity to defend the national park system from ... the appointed leaders of the NPS and DOI. That's not to say the three-year-old coalition is contrarian by nature. But the more than 550 members of the coalition have spent a little time around national parks -- about 12,000 years worth, collectively -- and know better than just about anyone what's good for the park system.
That's why you can find their membership testifying before Congress, being quoted in newspapers from coast to coast about parks management, and showing up more than occasionally in my posts.
But who are these guys and gals?
That question resonated recently with the editors at the High Country News, and so they dispatched Stephen Lyons to Arizona to catch up with Bill Wade, who chairs the coalition's executive council, and Rob Arnberger, a member of the nine-seat board.
The story Lyons penned is quite a read. Unfortunately, you can't read it unless you can find a copy of the High Country News or buy an annual subscription, which gets you access to the paper's on-line archives. But here's a nugget that underscores the coalition's bent:
Park budgets ebb and flow according to the whims of each congressional
session and presidential administration. But the retirees see something new and
malign in the Bush administration’s funding priorities and management aims. They
see an intent to fundamentally change — rather than leave unimpaired — the way
the parks are used.
Particularly, the retirees decry what they see as the administration’s lack of an environmental ethic and a resulting tendency to discount science — whether it’s evidence for global warming or the environmental impacts of snowmobiles in Yellowstone — that conflicts with political goals.
The coalition, if you didn't know, played a huge role in obtaining a leaked copy of Paul Hoffman's proposed, and later trashed, revisions to the Park Service's Management Policies. It also seems wonderfully adept at obtaining other memorandums and letters that shed light on the Bush administration's tinkering. And many coalition members, even though they're retired and should be enjoying more time playing golf or on a cruise, always seem to be available to comment for a reporter. And it's all done without regard for a paycheck.
From the beginning, the coalition leadership wanted it to be different than the traditional, often slow-reacting environmental advocacy group. Arnberger likens the retirees to a quick-strike force. They communicate mostly by e-mail. They have no office, no staff and no bank account (although they have an application pending with the federal government for nonprofit status and hope to hire professional grant writers soon). They use the Washington, D.C.-area media relations firm the Hasting Group, and The Wilderness Society handles what money the coalition receives from grants and donations. The small 444s Foundation based in Bellevue, Wash., whose mission is to "protect wild lands and wildlife in western North America," has given the group $25,000 in the last two years.
What must irritate the hell out of groups that find themselves opposed by the coalition, such as the American Recreation Coalition, is that Wade, Arnberger and the other 550 or so coalition members carry far more credibility with not just reporters but the general public when it comes to park issues. I mean, how can you not believe someone who spent their whole career not just working in the parks but in managerial roles?
"We’re not a bunch of bumbling, fuddy-duddy old farts running with bobby socks wound around our ankles. OK?" Arnberger tells Lyons. "We’re skilled, skilled workers, and we know the issues and the policies. We helped write the policies."
You'd think the appointed NPS and DOI leaders would have figured that out by now.