Strange Bedfellows: The National Park Service and the American Recreation Coalition
It's nice to have your cake and eat it too, isn't it? Of course it is. But it's not always appropriate, is it?
Take the National Park Service. One of its main jobs is to preserve beautiful places. But can it adequately do that if it cozies up to industries that pollute those places?
That question pops to the surface as top Interior Department officials -- including the assistant secretary who presides over the national parks -- are preparing to gather in warm, sunny Arizona on Friday to dedicate the "Outdoor Recreation Village" in Glendale. The "village" is the latest in the department's efforts to "get kids outdoors."
Despite a remarkable base of national parks, forests, refuges and other lands covering one-third of the nation’s surface, fewer Americans are deriving physical and mental benefits from visits to these lands. Changes in family structures, the lure of computer games and large screen TVs and more have left American kids six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike, the National Park Service says in touting this dedication. The rise in childhood obesity is dramatic and medical researchers now predict a reduction in life expectancy of 2-5 years unless drastic changes in lifestyles occur. In addition, the disconnection of the next generation of Americans from the outdoors poses a real threat to popular support for America’s conservation programs and traditions.
The village, now, tries to tackle this problem with a "mix of tutorials on using the Internet to overcome past problems in finding healthy fun outdoors, demonstrations of new activities and technologies like geo-caching which add fun for younger Americans in the outdoors, a large fishing pond with trout and interactive exhibits delivering proof of the fun of recreation."
While it does seem a bit odd that this "village" tries to sway kids with the very same devices that are purported to be the enemy -- computers, the Internet, interactive exhibits -- rather than actually taking kids out into nature itself, that's fodder for another post.
No, what I want to zoom in on is the list of dignitaries who have been invited to join Lyle Laverty, the assistant Interior Department secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and Mark Rey, the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the Agriculture Department, in Arizona.
Among them is Derrick Crandall. I note this for two reasons.
One, Mr. Crandall heads the American Recreation Coalition. Among the ARC's members -- members who enjoy Mr. Crandall's lobbying efforts and schmoosing with the likes of Mr. Laverty and Mr. Rey -- are the American Council for Snowmobile Associations, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the American Motorcyclist Association, Bombardier Recreational Products (which include snowmobiles), the Marine Retailers Association of America, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America and, well, you get it -- the carbureted industries.
And two, Mr. Crandall went on the record this week to oppose stronger emission standards for off-road vehicles, which include snowmobiles, ATVs, and personal watercraft, motorized toys that are trying to gain greater inroads to national parks, national seashores, and national lakeshores. The case at hand hails from California, where Attorney General Jerry Brown brought notice that he would ask the federal government to tighten the emission standards.
That did not set well with Mr. Crandall, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Crandall said the consequences for strict new emission standards might reach beyond making off-road equipment such as motorcycles, ATVs and boats less powerful and lighter weight.
"It just might even rule out certain kinds of vehicles in their entirety," he said. "We need to be very careful about major new public policy initiatives."
Or, I suppose it might force the manufacturers to be more innovative. After all, a decade ago two-stroke engines were all the rage in the snowmobile industry. Now, cleaner burning four strokes are gaining marketshare (although that's not to say they're clean enough for national park use).
Back to the point. Should the Park Service, which is mandated to preserve the most magnificent natural settings in America and which rightly should encourage children and families to get out and enjoy these places, be aligning itself with a lobbyist whose paychecks are made possible by the motorized recreation industry that wants him to get more of their "toys" into the park system?
What do you think?