Too often politics and management of the national parks are entwined. Doubt it? The fingerprints of Vice President Cheney are all over the Yellowstone snowmobile fracas, as well as on failed efforts to safeguard the park's famed cutthroat trout populations.
And as the conviction and sentencing of J. Steven Griles demonstrates, the Department of Interior is not as squeaky clean of influence peddling as one might hope.
The vice president's influence on Yellowstone's management decisions, as well as other environmental issues, are laid out in a Washington Post story. As one might expect, Mr. Cheney went about his business very shrewdly.
"His genius," Paul Hoffman, a top Interior Department official who worked to see that the Clinton administration's snowmobile ban never took effect, told the Post, is that "he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision."
As for Mr. Griles, while he likely enjoyed his ties to Jack Abramoff, that was not evidenced yesterday when he was sentenced. No, the 59-year-old broke down in tears before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle. The judge, though, was not impressed and shipped Mr. Griles off to ten months in prison, twice the term prosecutors had recommended. You can read about Mr. Griles' sad day in court here.
Will the Interior Department and its subordinate agencies ever be free of political meddling? No, that would be too much to ask from our political institutions. We can only hope the harshest, most damaging, political pressures will be revealed and cast off.