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?


I think that one very important point needs to be made: NPS is severely underfunded, and cannot have the same number of interpretive programs that it did in the past, hence the visitation declines. I know that Great Smokies used to have day-long, ranger-guided hikes every Saturday in the summer. Now, it's once or twice in a season 9and this year, the summer interp schedule didn’t even start until the 3rd week of June!) I would go to the park just for those hikes, but they've stopped offering them, so I've stopped going as often.

It's direct cause and effect. Give NPS the money it needs!
President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens

I'm not so sure throwing more money at a non-responsive bureaucracy will help. It didn't help with public education; post WWII, spending doubled every 20 years, average class sizes fell, and the proportion of teachers with master's degrees increased, yet public schools are in a terrible mess.

The NPS, instead of looking for more money, should do more with the money it has.

I just found out a very interesting fact about Eugene O'Neill NHS. In 2004, the park's budget was $358,000 and hosted 2684 visitors. After doing the math, I realized the NPS spent $133 PER VISITOR to run the site. Would any of you pay that much to go the site? Yet the government does, because it's wasteful. The NPS should trim the fat; how many of the 390+ units are like O'Neill? How many of them spend an outrageous amount per visitor?

I just checked Yosemite, and the cost per visitor is about $7. Guess most of the $20-$25 entrance fee is going to fund the war and to subsidize other parks. Trimming the fat would lower the cost of visiting Yosemite for everyone and allow the NPS to manage what it has far more effectively!

Your anecdotes and numbers are fascinating but don't begin to present the whole picture. The idea that Yosemite entrance fees are funding a war in the Middle East is ridiculous. That war funding will likely be taxed from your great grandchildren who aren't even born yet. And the fat you'd want to trim to make visiting Yosemite cheaper would wipe an existing historic site from the map so you could save a penny or two, if that. EUON is difficult to visit because there's no parking next to the house, and that's as it should be. We don't need to keep adding asphalt so we can get the $133 number down and make it so much more convenient for people to see the place. At EUON you make a reservation, in advance, you park elsewhere in Danville, and get a shuttle up to the house. Controlled visitation -- what a concept. It's what you do sometimes when preservation is a high priority. The park is also closed two days a week, and many parks that found themselves in the position of having to make maintenance the highest priority (thanks to this administration) have been forced to cut back their hours. You don't find the park worthwhile while thousands and thousands of others do.

-- Jon

Your anecdotes and numbers are fascinating

No anecdotes here. Just numbers. And they aren't my numbers; they're the fed's lifted from the NPS Green Book.

Funny that you never answered my question (would you pay $133 to visit EUON?). I'll take your non-answer as a no.

EUON is just one example of the wasteful pork barrel spending attached as riders to major legislation.

Take Steamtown NHS for another example. In a NYT article:

a number of historians and museum curators around the nation call Steamtown a second-rate collection of trains on a third-rate site. They say that while such historic recreations have a place, the Federal Government should not be financing them simply because influential members of Congress want them for their districts.

And officials of the National Park Service, in interviews over the past week, said Steamtown and other such Congressionally mandated projects were diverting the agency from its historic mission of preserving and maintaining great national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. "It is the most serious problem we face in the next 10 years," said James M. Ridenour, director of the Park Service. "We're spending lots of money creating new parks, which may or may not be of national significance."

Steamtown's budget is over $5 million a year to administer a 62 acre site that is suffering from drastically declining visitation. By comparison, Crater Lake administers a 183,000 acre site that receives half a million visitors a year and does it with $1.5 million LESS and 10 more employees than Steamtown. Does Steamtown really need a superintendent making over 100k a year? What about an assistant superintendent? A public affairs specialist? An IT specialist? A chief of visitor services and public affairs AND a supervisory park ranger? Lava Beds, which received about 40,000 more visitors in 2006, managed to serve visitors and preserve the resource with 40 less employees. And sadly, this isn't just an isolated case. There are hundreds of leaches bleeding the national park system, sucking its lifeblood. Scrape off enough parasites, and you'll saved more than just a few "pennies".

The park is also closed two days a week, and many parks that found themselves in the position of having to make maintenance the highest priority (thanks to this administration) have been forced to cut back their hours.

You insinuate that declining budgets are forcing EUON to cut its staff and operation hours, but if you look at the Green Book, the site received a budget increase every year except one since 2000, and the increases seem at a glance to be in line with inflation.

You don't find the park worthwhile while thousands and thousands of others do.

Yes, about 3000 visitors from California enjoy this park a year. I'm not saying the park isn't worth saving; I'm saying let California or a private trust save it.

Again, selective numbers to bolster your argument. I didn't visit EUON last year or the year before. I still find it worthwhile. If I remember correctly, they had recent (meaning the past ten years) earthquake damage to repair yet didn't receive a budget increase to specifically deal with that issue. Why is acreage an important number to bring up as though that's some measure of a place's worth, value, or bang for the buck? Let's see the acreage numbers for Ford's Theatre as a comparison. Acreage is meaningless unless you're just trying to sensationalize to make some sort of point. If you want to go down that road, let's give back all the useless acreage at Yosemite where people don't actually hike. All they do is look at it, why should the feds own that land, eh? How much is a view worth anyway? Heck let's just replace all the National Parks wth Imax theatres... Why should we keep all that land in the national trust just so people can stand there and look at it? Sure sounds like a waste of money and lost business opportunity to me. I'm all for consolidating positions and marrying up nearby parks with a single superintendent and other roles as well. That's a good idea. Those North Carolina outer banks seashores could easily be one big park under a single name (U.S. Grant and Truman in Missouri, Fort Raleigh and Wright Brothers in North Carolina, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt sites in New York -- the possibilities are endless).

Interior IS experimenting with new arrangements for ownership and upkeep of new park entities (Chesapeake in MD/VA, Pinelands in NJ, Valles Caldera in NM to name a few). Once places like that are evaluated for efficiency, effectiveness, accessibility, and any other criterion you wish to examine, then perhaps it's time to consider changing the formula for existing parks. You don't jump into that sort of thing just because it feels right or props up your political leanings, because once you go down that road it's very difficult to undo.

Your $133 dollar question is a bogus question. The park has no admission fee and the shuttle is also free. Now factor in the same figures for Yosemite or another park with high entrance fees and your extreme example isn't so extreme any more. Again, selective numbers and an incomplete picture to support your argument. And as Eugene O'Neill probably would have pointed out to you if given the opportunity, it's 40 fewer employees, not less.

-- Jon Merryman

And as Eugene O'Neill probably would have pointed out to you if given the opportunity, it's 40 fewer employees, not less.

About the critique my writing (a low blow and a diversion from weaker arguments): Modern standard English practice does not reflect the between less and fewer. When not followed by than, fewer is more frequent only in formal written English, and in this construction also the use of less is increasing: This year we have had less crimes, less accidents, and less fires than in any of the last five years. As for formality, old practice forbids starting a sentence with a conjunction. And I'm here to write colloquially, not formally. Enough with this trifling.

Here are some selective numbers for you (all from 2006):

The approximate amount (I may have left out a park on accident) spent to operate all the "national park" national parks (not seashores, monuments, historic sites, etc.). Note that it's about 8% of total NPS budget that year ($1.7 billion). It's also about 14% spent operating NPS units.

The amount spent on NPS support programs (bureaucracy) including multiple field offices. Note that it's twice as high as what was spent on maintaining national parks.

The approximate amount (again, with possible error) spent to operate all the national monuments. (When NPs and NMs are added, it amounts to about $350 million for places like Joe Blow National Historic Site and Fear Island National Seashore that in my opinion could be managed more effectively at the local level. Again, this number is not "pennies".)

The cost to operate all units.

NPS budget for FY 2006.

Bottom line: NPS is bureaucracy heavy, and decentralizing management (in addition to helping parks adapt to local needs and being more responsive) would eliminate the "need" for multiple service centers, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. These are not pennies.

But I see no point in continuing this thread. There are those who see no problem with waste and bureaucracy and will continue to use slippery slope arguments to defend inefficiency and calcified government.

After 15 years in the NPS I have come to the conclusion that the NPS in it's entirety should be abolished and all sites, monuments, ect, returned to state control. We are a wasteful fraud. WE are the biggest threat to most of these national treasures.

I don't know if PT is really a 15-year veteran of the NPS but I had a 10-year career and agree with his sentiments 100%.

Unfortunately most supporters of continued federal control of the national parks are just like the folks who blindly support the warlords in the military, corrupting agricultural subsidies and welfare dependency of every kind. They cynically believe in their hearts that without the use of force the mostly ignorant mass of common folk would not act in the best interests of humankind or the environment. They seek redress through the iron hand of government to wield the power neccesary to do the things that would not occur through voluntary free choice and cooperation.

If PT is truly who he says he is his words should ring in all of our ears "WE (the NPS) are the biggest threat to most of these national treasures." Sad but VERY tue.

Beamis, yes, 15 years in the NE area as a maint. mech. then a supervisor, 8 in the Air Force, 4 as a civilian in DOD. The fraud, waste and abuse I have seen in DOI far exceeds any thing I saw in DOD, and that's saying something. If you have something precious, the last entity on earth you should entrust it to is the federal govt.

Most of the supporters of the parks don't actually work for the NPS but are sincere individuals that harbor romantic notions about a "sacred mission" to protect America's "crown jewels". Sort of like the people who sincerely believe that the invasion and occupation of a sovereign country is something that "protects our freedom" and promotes "truth, justice and the American Way."

I'm glad to hear your two cents PT. Frank and I were beginning to get a little hoarse from all of our howling in the wilderness. I hope you stick around and contribute to the dialogue. We need to hear more from people on the inside. Change will never come from the top down in an organization as corrupt and incompetent as the DOI. Believe me, I know what you're talking about from actual experience.

Hmmm, critiquing my critique -- an appallingly low blow to divert attention away from your argument's weakness... I'm shocked! :-) "Modern standard English practice" can be used to explain away just about any misuse of the English language. Gnome sane? Ah, but I digress. I just thought it was funny, that's all.

Yes, most supporters of the parks don't actually work for NPS. That will always be a true statement, so what's the point? That only the precious few who have been part of the problem are entitled to an opinion? Curious - why is that bailing out of the organization seems a better way to institute change about something you seem to care so much about? I've served this country in the Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard but that doesn't make me a guru on strategy in Iraq or VA hospital services to reserve soldiers or anything else outside of my job while I was in the military. Speaking of which, so long as we're spending a billion a week in places like Iraq (and have simply misplaced or can't account for more money and goods than the past two decades of NPS budget figures combined) methinks your priorities are a tad off... feud for thought...

Sure let's break up the parks into a zillion baby bells, watch many of them fail miserably, and watch the new behemoths grow as greedy bastards everywhere profit from the commercialization of our national treasures. Sounds like a plan.

-- Jon

Agreed, it sounds like a plan.

No. Simply defending my writing from your attack. By the way, language evolves. Government should evolve, too, but clearly your conservative leaning (everything should stay the same), exposed by your view toward language, is also reflected in your view toward government.

Hey, not sure if you ever took a logic class, but here's a lesson right out of Philosophy 001:

Arguers also often link the slippery slope fallacy to the straw man fallacy in order to attack the initial position:

1. A has occurred (or will or might occur); therefore
2. B will inevitably happen. (slippery slope)
3. B is wrong; therefore
4. A is wrong. (straw man)

A=Government no longer (mis)manages national parks
B="it [will be] more expensive for everyone as these companies attempt to raise enough cash to pay their exhorbitant [sic] contractor salaries."

The slippery slope claim requires independent justification to connect the inevitability of B to an occurrence of A. Otherwise the slippery slope scheme merely serves as a device of sophistry.

Nice spelling by the way.

Please show me where I stated that Gubmint "no longer mismanages national parks."

Conservative leaning? Ha! That's a good one. Let's follow what you learned in Philo001:

1. I made statements supporting the existence of some National Historic Sites (including some fabricated ones for effect).
2. I made statements concerning Gubmint that might arguably be interpreted as anti-Libertarian.
C. I pointed out an error in your use of the word "less", more or less.
Conclusion: I must be a conservative who believes everything should stay the same!

Wow, I'm truly impressed.

Language devolves as well. The collective ignorance of millions of lazy Americans shouldn't be a badge of honour, worn as though you're doing the civilised world some sort of favour. This is the problem many public school systems and the U.S. military have -- lower your ethical and educational standards and people will stoop to meet them. Hck, wh dn't w jst drp ll vwls. Th'r nt ncssr t cmmnct, r th?

If you want a real "discussion" on issues, I'd like to suggest that you come out of the shadows and perceived safety of anonymity. Otherwise you simply come across as disgruntled former employees on a witch hunt.

-- Jon

I find the logic splicing and pigeonholing fascinating and fun, but can I say something tangentially on anonymity? I think that it absolutely must be protected on a Web site, especially for those who may be disgruntled ex-employees. They most of all have something to fear from exposing themselves. There are a million reasons why people can't be as out-in-the-open as some of us. Someone's ideas can rest on their own merit regardless of who they are and what their claimed experience is. If their experience is relevant and they are anonymous, that may hurt the force of their argument, but by no means should we call people out. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them the safety of anonymity. Yes, people abuse anonymity over and over again, but for all those who do, I would never want to exclude those who need its protection, especially in a world of privilege. I have put myself out there, but I am not the more admirable because of it. It's just how I have chosen to operate.

Women (and in some cases men) trying to hide from abusive people in their lives, children, people with employers watching over their shoulders, people with politically incorrect or radical ideas may all have very good reason to be anonymous. I think we need to respect that and give people the benefit of the doubt. Where relevant, we can point out how anonymity perhaps hurts an argument. Otherwise, so be it. Even in public settings where we see each other, I have known organizing that has found a way to respect anonymity or pseudonyms or masks. As long as the space is being respected, that's all that matters. We shouldn't fear or look down upon those who choose not to open up. We should perhaps work for a world where people feel they can open up, but it should never be a requirement of participation but rather a consequence of the space we live in.

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

Jim, thanks... Guilty as charged. I really think all the sniping that goes on between people in a forum such as this happens because people aren't required to be fully accountable for their statements, and the presence of anonymity brings out plenty of inappropriate behaviours as well (primarily from but also toward anons). Your comments, coming from an unnamed source, would have certainly carried less weight.

Regarding EUON, from the Foundation's website:
"The enabling legislation stipulated that the National Park Service is responsible for operation, maintenance and public programs. The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House is responsible for artistic and educational programs. The National Park Service’s General Management Plan, signed into the Federal Register in 1991 describes the plans for the site: small scale theatrical performances, an artist in residence program, full public access, seminars and interpretive tours. Through the efforts of the foundation, Tao House became a National Historic Site. The National Park Service has shown tremendous commitment to the project and has restored the house to its original design."

Add to these facts the additional knowledge that EUON is co-managed with both John Muir's home and Port Chicago, it seems on the surface as though NPS is being somewhat responsible in attempting to keep costs down. So my next question is this -- were the budget figures quoted earlier specifically for EUON only, or was that a combined EUON/JOMU budget figure? Here's another question -- all the people that visited EUON for the Foundation's artistic and educational programs, were they included in the visitation numbers? Admittedly, the reservation requirements for visiting the site make it difficult if not impossible for a spontaneous visit to EUON. Heck they don't even give you directions to the place until the reservation is confirmed.

-- Jon Merryman

OK, so back to the Centennial Initiative... :-)

I hope C&O Canal gets all the money they want and then some. I own property adjacent to the canal so that'd be a great windfall for my property values.

-- Greedy Bastard

Mr. Gary Kiedaisch's vision of marketing the parks as competitive businesses is truly frightening. And the reference to "destinations" rather than "places to visit" -- ya lost me there, Gar... The entire collection of parks is its strength -- that which allows smaller, otherwise independently unsustainable areas to remain in the national collection of important places to visit (or destinations or whatever you want to call them) -- and the fact that we do some things out of principle, not because there are shareholders to please. Do we need to do more with less? Sure, good idea. Does that mean we need to kill NPS to accomplish it? Heck no.

Waiter, there's a fly in my soup. Your options:
1) Eat the fly with the soup (denial)
2) Pluck it out and eat your soup (pragmatism)
3) Make a huge scene, blame the waiter, the cook, the busboy, the hostess, and the people at the table next to you, inisist on a new bowl of soup, a new spoon, a new napkin, write a letter to the editor calling the owner "Communist Big Brother", call the health inspector, and never eat out at a restaurant or ever have soup again for the rest of your life (slight overreaction)

I don't know what national park site the two former employees who posted earlier worked for, but as a former employee of 7 different sites, I must say that I am shocked at the level in which you criticized management of the NPS. I'm sure that there are individuals, and even entire units, that are mismanaged, but to say that the NPS in general is the biggest threat to park lands is incredible. I worked with hundreds of dedicated, responsible employees who operated at the highest levels of fiscal responsibilty all while doing an incredible job protecting resources and promoting proper visitor use and appreciation. I worked in mega-parks and small parks. I worked in natural settings and historical settings. In no park did I see gross mismanagement and in every park I saw employees at all levels who did their jobs well. Bad employees and bad supervisors exist in any agency, but unless I lived 5 years of my life in a happily oblivious bubble those types do no dominate the NPS.

No, I'm not the NPS cheerleader for the day, I just don't want those previous comments to define NPS 'insider' opinion on the matter.

The article above states that "the Park Service needs more money", but there are those who would argue that the NPS has plenty of money and should cut or eliminate its massive bureaucracy.

I understand, and am a little surprised, that you didn't see mismanagement and/or waste, but I and others who have worked for the agency could write volumes about waste and the pervasive attitude displayed by the phrase overheard numerous times: "Good enough for government work!"

Would you be willing to share in what division you worked?

Reform the National Park Service!

I don't understand why all the sudden "swift boating" of the NPS. As they would say in the corporate world...they were just disgruntled employee's!

The truth is I am not a digruntled employee, but was a highly regarded mid-level supervisor with awards and performance bonuses dotting my employment record. I enjoyed my work but left the agency because I could see that at its core it was a politically driven government agency full of careerists and self-promoting image mongers whose priority was not the lands under their purview but power and greedy self-advancement. Once in the system it was impossible to fire anyone, so highly incompetent people were shuffled around and generally promoted into higher paying positions where they could do the least harm.

I guess one of the biggest reasons I left, which shocked many of my careerist co-workers, was the overall misanthropy of the rank and file NPS employee. It was in general a real humanity hating bunch. I was constantly hearing how the earth needed a "good cleansing" catastrophe to wipe out a vast quantity of the resource consuming, environment raping species I just happened to be a member of.

Park service couples have very few children because more humans are a definite burden and detriment to their false god of rocks and trees: Mother Earth. To a wide swath of NPS employees humanity was a scourge and a threat to all that was sacred and dear to them: their home planet. I remember that some were even looking forward to the time when the Yellowstone volcano would blow again so the earth could catch its breath after so much human caused degradation by a massive die-off. I needed to escape such cynical sentiments about my own humanity and become a part of something that worshiped God and the human spirit and not the so-called "wilderness" where the defilement of everything good and sacred that is profaned by our existence can be escaped from and avoided.

That was no place for a happy boy who loves his own species to hang his flat hat. Disgruntled I am not. Glad to have my own parks oriented business has been nothing but a blessing from God and I am grateful. That I think the parks should be released from federal bondage is a view that I share with many others and is something I will advocate until it eventually happens. It is easy to dismiss this as sour grapes but I'm sorry to say I am inspired by optimism and a belief in my own species to do what is right for themselves and their planet.

Certainly, the tension between humans, between humans and non-humans, and the value judgments and rationalizations we make about all of those things will matter a great deal on our world view and our sense of parks management. If we don't believe in humans first, we still have to come to grips as humans deciding what we as humans ought to do, how to come to terms with our place in the equation (that's why I think that the wilderness purists are actually anthropocentric in many respects). If we do believe in humans first, we still must come to terms with the way everything else relates to us. We have to understand the boundaries and the rationale.

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. Unfortunately, others who share my belief have sometimes not understood that anthropocentrism is a curse toward preventing humans from loving each other. Instead, they have sometimes created new hierarchies with human beings at the bottom. Then, we see racism and classism, especially, seen as secondary ills to the environmental ills.

One of the puzzles constantly in my mind when coming to a site like this or thinking of my own site on Yellowstone is whether it's possible to focus on such important ethical questions with only a parks-only focus or a Yellowstone-only focus, and of course, one can't get around the reality that these places are political realities, human creations, of places that seem to be created by acts of God (keep the historical sites alone for a moment). Yet, the more we learn, the more we realize the human component for the last many thousands of years of the human role in all of our national parks, the more we realize that humans continue to have impacts on the ecosystem within and without those places. That's the way it was; that's the way it is, naturally or unnaturally for better and for worse. We cannot parcel off questions to a place, to a policy unit, to a before or a present state. We are bound to consider the whole. Yet, at the same time, if we simply spoke of the whole, without reference to a place, we wouldn't be speaking about anything at all. We need focal points, experiential reference points, a tree here, a person there, a touch there, a smile there.

All of this is to say that however we take the value of humans and the value of what's not human (the romantics called nature the "not me"), which is in itself an important question, we have to realize that we cannot draw too many conclusions without also recognizing the relationship of the one to the other and the values implicit in that both at the macro and micro scale. To recognize that humans are not at the top or that they are worth something hopefully will not lead us to some of the conclusions we see (like that AIDS might wipe out most of humanity - forgetting who is hurt most by AIDS, like hoping that user fees will keep more people out of the parks - forgetting who that hurts most).


On a vision for the Centennial Initiative, I don't have one. There are far too many visions for a tomorrow we cannot control with too many variables. We don't need any more vision than our eyes provide for us; if we realize that our eyes aren't performing as well as we'd like, then life must be spent deconstructing the obstacles that have made us more interested in abstractions like bureaucracies and ownership rights. This isn't to say I advocate blissful ignorance of what government is doing, or what corporations are doing, or what people do in the name of abstraction (actually, quite the opposite), it is to say that I see them as obstacles to clarifying my relationship (smelling that lodgepole off the Grant Village employee boardwalk) with all that's "not me."

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

Jim Macdonald wrote: "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."

That says it all to me brother. You and I are so far apart in our views that I don't have words to express the gulf. You have, though, articulated a viewpoint all too common to environmentalism that I see as something extremely dangerous and is right in line with the type of thinking that shaped the deeds of totalitarian dictators throughout history.

Unfortunately your view is not all that rare, which is a sad and scary testament to how far humankind has strayed from a sense of solid sense of spiritual and moral grounding in the value neutral wasteland of the postmodern world.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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