For a number of years there's been a move, at least in the National Park Service's Rocky Mountain region, to evaluate the agency's "core operations." The idea is that once each park completes this analysis, it will have a blueprint for how best to spend its funding.
Well, apparently at Dinosaur that analysis indicated that law enforcement, maintenance work, and interpretation, not paleontological research, are at the top of the monument's core operations. Here is a section of that document:
Dinosaur National Monument – Implementation of Core Operations
Core Operations is the strategy that the National Park Service has developed to accomplish its highest priorities with available funds. In the past, many National Park Service units have lived with eroding buying power of the dollar by lapsing positions when they became vacant. While that strategy allowed parks to operate within their budget, it did not ensure that the core operations and highest priorities of a park were being met. The core operations process was developed to provide a systematic approach to ensure funds are allocated to high priorities and core needs. This process focuses on functions that are essential to meeting the park’s needs and that have to be accomplished by NPS employees.
Over the last decade, the emphasis of the paleontology program at Dinosaur National Monument has gradually shifted from a focus on the development of the Carnegie Quarry to a broader effort directed at fossil resources throughout the monument. With this change there is a greater need for flexibility and efficiency so we can target funds, personnel, and resources to much needed scientific resource management projects.
The park plans to streamline the geology, paleontology, and museum programs to eliminate duplicate or overlapping responsibilities. Funds will be shifted to accomplishing those tasks that are core to the mission of Dinosaur National Monument and must be accomplished by NPS employees, such as law enforcement, interpretation, and maintenance.
Paleontology project work will be accomplished through avenues other than full-time permanent National Park Service positions, such as partnerships with universities and museums, contracts, volunteers, etc. Under this approach, staffing and resources can be easily adjusted to meet the needs of changing program projects under the direction of the monument’s Ph.D. Paleontologist. Some of the funding that is freed up through reorganization can be used as seed money to leverage grants for scientific research and attract more researchers to Dinosaur National Monument.
This strategy and emphasis on research also dovetails nicely with the construction of the curatorial facility and paleontology laboratory in Vernal. Planning for the facility continues with the next step being the development of construction drawings. The National Park Service is working with Utah State Parks to develop a partnership agreement for the State Parks to manage the Dinosaur’s museum collection. When completed, the facility will not only serve as a repository for state and Federal collections, but will also attract researchers from outside the area.
Read that last paragraph again. Not only is Dinosaur's superintendent planning to invest in a state-owned and run curatorial facility and paleontology laboratory in Vernal, but she wants Utah to "manage the Dinsoaur's museum collection."
I alluded the other day to the possibility of the diminished stature of Dinosaur National Monument if the park superintendent succeeded in firing two of her three staff paleontologists. By doing that, and shifting the monument's collections and curatorial responsibilities to the state of Utah, that will be accomplished.
What's disconcerting about these plans is that they reveal a conscious decision to phase-out the Park Service's research and curatorial mission, at least at Dinosaur. That seems to run contrary not only to the core mission of the National Park Service but to the stated strategies of the Centennial Challenge as laid out by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Park Service Director Mary Bomar just about a year ago. Under the challenge's "Stewardship" heading here's what they had to say:
The National Park Service leads America and the world in preserving and
restoring treasured resources.
Our national park system concept has been described as "America's best idea" and we are
dedicated to setting the global standard for park system management, landscape design, and
maintenance. We remain steadfast in sharing the history of our American heritage while ensuring its preservation for future generations. And we are tenacious in connecting youth to the servicewide missions of conservation and natural and cultural resource stewardship.
Of course, I suppose that mission could be contracted out. But if the Park Service opts out of its responsibility and allows universities and museums to take over the paleontological research at Dinosaur, or the ecosystem research at Yellowstone, or the archaeological research at Mesa Verde, will that put those resources and research that much more out of reach of the park-visiting public?
Independent researchers long have worked in the park system, and many in collaboration with Park Service scientists. Nevertheless, when a park dismantles its science staff and outsources its curatorial responsibilities, isn't it cutting at the core of its mission?
Is the Park Service getting out of the science business? Surely, if the Dinosaur plan is a model, why would any budding scientist now in college consider the Park Service for a career?