Former Park Service Director Mainella: Interior Department Called Yellowstone Snowmobile Decisions

Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis (left) and former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella (right) review snowmobiles in this J. Sullivan photo illustration.

Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis (left) and former National Park Service Director Fran Mainella (right) review snowmobiles in this J. Sullivan photo illustration.

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.”

Comments

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.

Yet Ms. Mainella and many other national park advocates want to keep park management in a political system. Does this make sense to anyone else? Ms. Mainella opposes outsourcing NPS jobs, but perhaps it's time we outsource--no, eliminate!--all political appointees (isn't the director a political appointee?) and most management.

Come on, the parks are funded by tax money. And decision and oversight on the use of tax money is the first and foremost task of politics. So unless you find a different form of finance for the park, they will always be and have to be a part of the political game. Stop whining over political influence and get your voice heard in a constructive way in the political debates. Frankly, I'm fed up with your style of contributions here.

I agree with MRC! Frank get with the program and recognize that Dick Cheney's pals in the Wyoming snowmobile industry have the juice to get the NPS to do it the way they want it done in Yellowstone. That's the way the ball bounces in the real world my friend because "oversight on the use of tax money is the first and foremost task of politics."

Those with power and influence generally get their way and the poor suckers who point this out are just sniveling whiners. MRC is fed up with your style of contributions Frank, so I suggest henceforward that you just pay your taxes and stop your pathetic "whining over political influence". It is indeed unbecoming of you.

At least we're clear about the so called objective professionalism and science focused decision-making that is a supposed hallmark of the NPS. We now clearly understand that these vital matters of resource protection "will always be and have to be a part of the political game." Fran Mainiella has now said it out loud (we sorta knew all along didn't we Frank?) and it has been amplified by MRC.

I'm certainly glad that was cleared up for all of us. Now can we all move on to more civilized matters like Christmas ornaments?

Beamis,

You are so right. From now on I will stop asking questions, stop pointing out how politics are ruining our national parks, and just accept the political game to which the NPS will always be subject. I apologize most sincerely to those who have become perturbed over my whining about how politics are ruining our national parks.

Those are some fine ornaments, though! I particularly liked the cave ornament. Such a classy design!

So not to perturb anyone, let me discuss my wonderful winter solstice tree! I drove to the national forest and cut down a noble spruce planted in a clear cut by the Boy Scouts in 1983. For a 25-year-old tree, this one was pathetic! A real Charlie Brown tree! Thanks, Boy Scouts! Anyway, my ornaments aren't imported from China. They're real Sequoia cones (the same cones on the NPS belt, although many rangers think they're merely pine cones--ha!) gathered from one of the 6000 sequoias planted around Portland. I've painted them silver and gold.

Happy solstice! :)

We should all aspire to a time when, as would make not only Frank but so many of the citizenry of our nation terrbily pleased, the NPS and other managers of national lands are turned back into the public stewardship organizations that they were meant to be, and not politically laden private interest groups who are subservient to no other than those signing their checks. Acceptance of the current regime and their mindset is not an option.

True, the park system is indeed financed by tax monies, but not directly. There is no specific tax muiltiplier in the national tax code designed to divert a fixed portion of federal taxed to the NPS. Their budget is at the whims of the afore mentioned special interest groups who control the Senate and House votes, who along with the President, are bought and sold every election. For the proper long-term sustained operation of the park system, the need for a separate taxing body has never been more evident. Akin to the school district on your local property tax bill, this body would levy a tax based proportionally on the national budget of the system, and be responsible for the infrastructure, manitenance, land aquisitions, marketing, scientific budget, and unfortunately, environmental issues that the current managers have absolutely no control over, as the current state of the operating budget is a fluctuating, random, arbitrary figure at best. The only way to effectively resolve this dilemma is to sequester the park budget from the controls exerted by the Washington cesspool.

An initial tax offering based less on percentages and more on population (family members per household) could easily be factored. A simple $10/person rate would initially bring a revenue stream of approximately 30 billion dollars. Reduction to a flat rate of $3/person generates an annual budget of around 1 billion. The vast majority of Americans wouldn't even notice the difference in their annual incomes. I'd even offer to submit a proposal from taxing foreign nationals to assist in alleviating the burden on the consumer. This would also serve to help eliminate the alleged need for corporate sponsopship and the related issues that are generated by their involvement in the system, as they (corporations) serve no real purpose other than to disturb the equilibrium and quality of the system as a whole.

We are all forced regularly to "shut up and pay up". When this pertains to something of which we are all supposedly co-owners, I see no justification for the mentality of silence and ignorance. Speak loudly and proudly to those who can institute changes, or the future of the system as a whole is bleak. Our national lands are too precious a resource for us to allow them to be mismanaged, pillaged and otherwise destroyed. We enjoy a deserved reputation from travellers throughout the world as the home of some of the most unique landscapes on the planet. What nature has taken untold eons to create, once lost, cannot be replaced. Let's collectively demonstrate some pride of ownership and vision for the future.

While this doesn't qualify with Bart's "Simple Proposal" series, at least not in the simplistic nature of the proposal, it does qualify as a systematic change that can and should be effected for the betterment of the parks, the visitors, and a method of guaranteed preservation of the lands for the appreciation of future generations.

Next up.......Redesigning the Mission, and Those Who Drive the Boat