Former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella says her bosses in the Interior Department, in effect, tied her hands on the question of recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. And now she says science should have the final say in whether snowmobiling continues to be allowed in the park.
In a short but telling interview with National Parks Traveler, Ms. Mainella also indicated that she had opposed Paul Hoffman's infamous rewrite of the Park Service's Management Policies as well as efforts to outsource jobs across the national park system.
Threaded through the interview, which ranged just shy of 17 minutes, the former Park Service director created an image of a National Park Service not following the letter of the agency's overriding directive to conserve the park system and its resources for the enjoyment of future generations but rather one that kowtowed to political appointees in the Interior Department.
Ms. Mainella, currently a visiting scholar at Clemson University, granted the interview after it became known that she wanted to join seven other former Park Service directors in urging Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to let science guide the decision on whether snowmobiles should be phased out of Yellowstone.
Those seven --George B. Hartzog, Jr. (1964-1972), Ronald H. Walker (1973-1975), Gary Everhardt (1975-1977), Russell E. Dickenson (1980-1985), James M. Ridenour (1989-1993), Roger G. Kennedy (1993-1997) and Robert Stanton (1997-2001) -- co-signed a letter to Secretary Kempthorne last Spring opposing an increase in snowmobile usage in the park and endorsing snow coaches as the most environmentally sensitive mode of motorized winter recreational travel in Yellowstone.
The only living Park Service director whose signature was absent from that letter was Ms. Mainella. That changed on November 19 when, in a brief letter to former Director Hartzog, she noted that ethics rules had prohibited her from publicly addressing any Park Service matters for one year after she left the directorship.
With that timespan having lapsed, she added, "I now am able to let you know that I would have joined with you and the other former NPS directors by signing your letter. In fact, through this letter, please consider me an official signatory effective immediately."
Of course, Ms. Mainella's letter begs the question of why she didn't hold that position during her tenure as director, when two Environmental Impact Statements and an Environmental Assessment on the snowmobiling question stated that snow coaches were the environmentally preferred alternative when it came to motorized winter recreation in the park.
Reached Thursday evening at her Clemson University office, Ms. Mainella explained that she did not hold the final decision on snowmobiling in Yellowstone.
"All I can say is that those decisions, I chose to have my discussions in the 'house' of the Department of Interior, so whether I agreed or disagreed was reflected in those meetings," she told the Traveler. "Once a decision was made by the Department of Interior, I did come out and speak on behalf (of it) because I felt that was my responsibility in the position (as Park Service director)."
Pressed a bit later on whether she supported the science of those environmental studies, as she now says the Park Service and Interior Department should do in the latest chapter of the saga, Ms. Mainella said:
"We helped develop the new snow coaches to further enhance the improvement of snow-coach use in the national parks. Those were some of the things that we were able to do," she said. "But again, all I can tell you is that those decisions were decided at a level beyond our office. A pay grade higher than mine."
While Ms. Mainella now wants to add her name to her colleagues' letter to Secretary Kempthorne, though, she does not have a specific position on snowmobiling in the park. Indeed, she says she hasn't reviewed the latest Record of Decision or the science that went into it.
"I certainly promote the snow coaches, but to completely, going to full elimination of snowmobiles, I can’t speak to that right now," she said. " And when I signed onto the letter my intention wasn’t necessary to say whether it was to be zero snowmobiles. ... I’m not specifying a limit of snowmobiles, I’m just saying that the limit should be what the science says it is.”
On other matters, the former Park Service director alluded to both the attempt by Mr. Hoffman, at the time a deputy assistant Interior Secretary, to drastically rewrite the Park Service's Management Policies and efforts to outsource Park Service jobs as endeavors she opposed.
“I was happy that both under the Management Policies, because I got it back to where it belonged, and then competitive sourcing is the other issue that I felt like I was able, during my time as director ... particularly once I created the preliminary planning concept, you had no jobs being put out to bid during my time, from basically '02 or '03 onward until I left," said Ms. Mainella. "So those are things I was able to, by staying and working from inside, was able to get those back in my position.”