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What's Your Vision for the Centennial Initiative?

National Park Service Centennial Logo

National Park Service Centennial Logo

How do you think the National Park Service's Centennial Initiative (or Challenge, depending on whom you ask) should be funded? And how do you think those funds should be spent? There were quite a few suggestions tossed about in Washington today as both the House and Senate held hearings on legislation proposing ways to fund the Centennial Initiative.

One thing everyone seemed to agree upon: The Park Service needs more money, and not simply to celebrate its centennial in 2016.

We can only hope Congress can get it figured out before the birthday arrives. But there are a few impediments.

For starters, there are at least two versions of legislation that aim to provide $1 billion or more for the National Park Service to spend in commemoration of its centennial. A main difference between the two bills pending in the House of Representatives is that the administration's proposal calls for upwards of $100 million a year for the next decade -- but only if $100 million is raised annually from private sources -- while the version introduced by Representatives Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia and Raul Grijalva of Arizona would provide $100 million a year without the need for a match.

And the Bush administration is not at all happy with the billion-dollar funding proposal laid out last month by Misters Rahall and Grijalva.

"We have serious concerns about the funding mechanisms and certain other provisions contained in H.R. 3094," NPS Director Mary Bomar told Rep. Grijalva during a hearing his House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held on that legislation and the administration's proposal, H.R. 2959.

And then there's big business, which was represented at the hearing by Gary Kiedaisch, the president and chief executive officer of The Coleman Co. His testimony made it quite clear that the parks should be run more like a business, like destination resorts probably not too far removed from Disney World, than as national parks, touchstones of America's natural, cultural, and historic treasures.

"Imagine recruiting executives from the country's most successful entertainment companies, health-care companies, travel companies, outdoor companies and auto companies, as well as countless others, and setting them to the task of repositioning the national parks as destinations, not just places to visit," said Mr. Kiedaisch. "I ran a four season ski and golf resort and know, all too well, the painful difference. Marketing is what drives business and marketing, along with park revitalization, will be the driving force behind this campaign's success."

Marketing, marketing, marketing. Just imagine the possibilities.

Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the meeting nor listen to it on the web, but I wonder if Mr. Kiedaisch volunteered that his company is a sustaining member of the American Recreation Coalition, which would love to see more ATVs and other motorized toys in the parks?

"Coupled with the right park offerings, visits and length of stay will increase," he said at one point. "By identifying and funding new activities that will attract today's consumer to the parks, participation rises and everyone wins."

Everyone? I wonder what "new activities" The Coleman Co. would like to see in the parks? Perhaps the survey by the Outdoor Industry Association, the one in which two-thirds of the respondents said they preferred a national park vacation filled with solitude, not motorized toys or even bikes, failed to reach Mr. Kiedaisch's desk.

Fortunately, there were others who offered testimony at the two hearings.

Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, made it quite clear that while the current funding attitude in Washington is nice to see in terms of the parks, Congress has a looonnnggg way to go.

"Let me emphasize at the outset ... that this proposal alone will not solve the problems and address all the long- and short-term needs of the parks which have resulted from decades of funding shortfalls during many administrations and Congresses," Mr. Kiernan told the subcommittee. "It must be thought of as one part of a concerted, comprehensive, multi-faceted, multi-year effort to restore and adequately fund the nation's parks. Substantial increases in park funding, particularly for operations in addition to this bill, sustained over many years, will be needed to make the parks whole."

For those who believe the national park system is hurting for visitors, perhaps, just perhaps, a better-funded Park Service could not only buff up the park system but create interpretive programs and activities within the agency's mission statement that would attract more visitors and so do away with the need to turn the Yosemites, Yellowstones, Shenandoahs and Everglades of the system into destination resorts.

"It is essential that the Park Service focus ... on how it needs to evolve in order to fulfill its mission in the next century and to integrate the parks into the lives of more Americans and keep them relevant to the communities in which we live," said Mr. Kiernan. "If that occurs, Congress can be fully justified in making a ten-year commitment to enhanced park funding."

While some folks are concerned that the the philanthropic component of the Centennial Initiative will be tainted by commercialization, Vin Cipolla of the National Park Foundation tried to allay those fears.

"I can assure you that both the foundation and its partners understand and share the concern that corporate support for parks not become confused with and not lead to commercialization," he said. "We will work carefully within Director's Order 21 to ensure that corporate involvement adheres to this guideline. Over the last number of years, we have looked at this issue far too conventionally. Today's media environment creates multiple opportunities for donors and parks to work together in new and creative ways that do not lead to the commercialism of parks."

At the same time, Mr. Cipolla told the subcommittee that corporate partners and philanthropy in general can do wonders for the national park system.

"This renewed interest in encouraging park philanthropy and partnerships creates many opportunities. First is the opportunity to connect and strengthen the fabric of support for parks on a national and local level," he said. "Our parks offer the best investments in the areas of youth-enrichment, education, health, and volunteerism, yet philanthropic potential on a grand scale and in line with contemporary thresholds has not yet been realized."

However, philanthropy should not be viewed as a panacea, cautioned Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"While we strongly believe in the concept of philanthropic support to national parks, and note the huge values and benefits accrued to the national park system since its inception, we have been very skeptical of the administration's proposed efforts to generate additional funding by including a matching provision in the proposed legislation," said Mr. Wade. "Given what we've all witnessed over the past decade or so relative to the increase in greed in the corporate sector and declining ethical behaviors by both corporate and government officials, it is hard not to be suspicious about the motives of the 'giving' organizations -- especially commercial and some special-interest organizations -- and the quid pro quo expected from, and sometimes provided, by the recipient organizations.

"When coupled with the increased pressures placed on park managers to take advantage of the incentives offered by private money to offset declining budgets, we are very concerned about keeping national parks public and national."

This game is just in the first half, folks, and it will be quite interesting to see how the two pieces of legislation are squeezed, prodded and poked as they move through Congress. Will the politicians be persuaded that the parks should really be operated as destination resorts, complete with all the "marketing" that entails, or will they agree the parks should continue to operate -- hopefully with better funding -- to preserve the unique tapestry of America's natural, cultural and historic resources?

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Beamis, here is the difference. No other species but humans classifies humans as humans, other animals as other animals, and sets up a value system based on those differences. They simply act; some act in the best interest of their species, some in the best interest of themselves, some to the detriment of themselves. Many animals do think about how best to act in the circumstances they find themselves, but they don't set up a moral universe where those who act as they do deserve certain benefits because of who they are and what rights who they are afford them. The concept of a "right" is absolutely foreign to every other species that we know about in the universe. You don't need to be pro-human (or anti-human) to value yourself and others you love. All you need to do is love and value them.

I am going to eat, live, destroy other things, kill plants to survive, walk on ground, stomp, and change the order. I don't need a moral justification system based on who I am in order to do this. It's that arbitrary line in the sand that leads to the vast environmental destruction and the lack of relationship for which we as humans (as people who can think about "what it means to be human") are capable of - we've set ourselves inside of a box, instead of relate to the world as we would be prone to do otherwise.

But, after so many millennia of raising up civilization as a virtue and centuries of raising up rights (the true capital of the moral universe) as the guarantor of virtue, we are truly stuck with what history has thrust upon us and the consequences of our vanity. It's not hard to understand why some have turned to woe when considering how humans should relate with the environment. It feels like an unfathomably difficult mess. How do we return home so that we can simply enjoy the mist of the falls and not think about the consequences of privatizing Old Faithful? The fact is, we can't be blissfully ignorant. Here we are, humans, a class of kings without a clue. How do we get back home? to Eden, or my preference, the shores of Yellowstone Lake as the sun sets and the moon rises.

Your anti-authoritarian instincts are admirable. I think if you followed your instincts against government and totalitarianism to its core, you would see that your capitalist tendencies are based on the same lies of privilege. But, how do you tear down towers of Babel? I don't think I'd entrust that to Bechtel or to George W. Bush. It might as well start with us, human beings, who still have to figure out how to relate with our environment.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Beamis, thanks for your reply...let me ponder over this a bit. But, doesn't Zen Buddhist equate all life equal with humans? I don't think they consider themselves as despoilers of God's creation on earth.

I'm with Merryland on this one! Stomp away my bumpkin friend!

In response to lennea's query: I have heard lots of people espouse the notion that humans are have no more value than any other life forms and that we are just another cog in the larger and much more important "ecosystem". Luckily no other animal species has this notion in their head as they "selfishly" fight for the own existence and the survival of their progeny. Only humans, it seems, have the ability to doubt their own worth as a species and to see themselves as a despoiler of creation. Sad but true.

Wow, all that philosophy is making my head hurt. I just love the National Parks. Can't wait to dress up like a colonial bumpkin and visit some historical parks during the Centennial celebration. Maybe even step on a few colonial cockroaches too.

-- Jon Merryman

Yes, but that's not the same as value neutral or postmodern or relativistic. Yes, I don't believe there is any case for speciesism at all. Yet, from the particular case that I don't think that there is a reason to value one species over another (though certainly, as a living and breathing person, I do assert myself) does not entail that one is value neutral on all questions. In fact, I have framed this issue in terms of what I take to be the highest value of all, which is reason. There is no reason to presume that a human being is worth more than any other being; there is no reason to presume less. That is quite far from what the postmodernist says; reason is more of a fad of convenient expression for the postmodernist, not value par excellence. I further claim that speciesism is dogmatism, that is a claim made without reason, an arbitrary assertion (essentially the kind of assertion that relativists and postmodernists make all the time; the reduction of value from reason to the human being was the modern revolution; the reduction of reason altogether was just the postmodernist extrapolation - a pox on both houses for usurping reason.)

Secondly, in a world where I as a human denounce anthropocentrism, denounce speciesism, does not mean that I therefore denounce humans or the value of human beings. That, I argue, is also speciesist. In fact, I hold humans to the highest value possible, one among many in a community of inter-related beings, a community where worth is determined not based on what something is but rather why something is done. I eat and breathe not because I am more just, not because I am more rightful on the basis of being human but rather because that is who I am and what I am inclined to do in relating with the environment we all inhabit. The value, then, exists in the actual senses, in the actual acts of beings, not because we are members of a class of beings, but because we are. What more profound thing does reason point to but Being itself (to God, if you will), and to the great dynamism and diversity of being.

You have spoken fallaciously because you took a particular instance where I denied a value and derived a universal about my stance about values. Your quote only confirms your fallacy.

My original intent on replying to what you wrote was not to disagree with you but to suggest that you raised an important point about misanthropy, to suggest that whatever one's beliefs about the value of people, that we gain little if we don't recognize the human role in the environment. It just so happens that I take misanthropy to be an extension of speciesism, not a valid consequences of my view, though many who have called themselves anti-speciesist have ended up being anti-human (that is an internal inconsistency in their view). I wanted to suggest that whatever side of that value continuum we are on, that the point you raised was important.

In any event, I don't think either of us really believe that the government should be pronouncing grand visions of what the Park Service's centennial is, though perhaps for quite different reasons. I don't believe that reason provides anyone with that kind of foresight and that the dogmatism that these kind of visions often lend themselves to is quite dangerous. In your case, you would not leave a vision to a group of people you've judged to be misanthropic, unaccountable, and incompetent. In effect, it's not terribly different. In truth, you are right, that there is a big difference, though you haven't said anything which makes me confident that I have communicated my actual view to you (do postmodernists talk about anything actual or real? I suppose like dogmatists they assert anything that fits into their arbitrary template from which they've pre-ordained the world)

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Beamis, you stated in response to Jim's blog: "Again, the sad part is that many others feel that way as well", in what way or ways are you referring too. I trying to read between the lines on this one, can you please be more specific. It's interesting what's being said here between both parties.

You said "I don't believe that humans have any more intrinsic value than anything else, not as far as I have ever been able to prove to myself." In essence that means, in your estimation, a human has no more intrinsic value than, say a cockroach or a field mouse. There is no other way to interpret your statement. You can frame it any way you want to philosophically but that is the core message of what you said.

It's written there for all to read. Again, the sad part is that many others feel that way as well. There is no argument. You have stated your case.

But, I'm not a postmodernist or value neutral. That's the fallacious jump you make about my views; I would argue to the contrary that totalitarian dictators throughout history have expressed a value not different than the one that sets one being without reason over another; they just happen to draw the line irrationally at a different place. Yet, when it's not reason that sets those lines, then nothing prevents the slippery slope that ends up with racism, classism, sexism, and all kinds of elitism.

I am a rationalist; the closest thinker you can find to my own is Leibniz. One can be a pluralist, one can be humble about the extent to which our view on reason can extrapolate certain values, without being value neutral.. I have nothing but disdain for relativism (the postmodern champion) and dogmatism, which I think are largely the same because neither position sticks to claiming to know what one can know. Please don't confuse my own sense that we cannot determine arbitrary values with a belief that all values are neutral. How does one logically make that leap? Show me how my view entails relativism. I do not think I would make such a value claim if I didn't have a strong sense of the value of reason; in fact, that's what I appealed to in throwing my arms up in the air on that question.

What is the argument?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

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