Is It Time to Overhaul the National Park Service and the National Park System?

With the National Park Service's centennial eight years off, it's not too early to take the measure of both the service and the National Park System it manages. Is all well across the 391-unit system, or has the time arrived to overhaul and strengthen this venerable agency?

The National Park System must be temporarily reduced to a size for which Congress is willing to pay. Let us, as a beginning, close Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Canyon national parks -- close and seal them, assign the Army to patrol them, and so hold them secure till they can be reopened. They have the largest staffs in the system but neither those staffs nor the budget allotted them are large enough to maintain the areas at a proper level of safety, attractiveness, comfort, or efficiency. They are unable to do the job in full and so it had better not be attempted at all. If these staffs -- and their respective budgets -- were distributed among othe areas, perhaps the Service could meet the demands now put on it. If not, additional areas could be temporarily closed and sealed, held in trust for a more enlightened future -- say Zion, Big Bend, Great Smoky, Shenandoah, Everglades and Gettysburg.

Guard against fire, clean up after litterbugs. Protect and restore the wildlife, even wolves and mountain lions, in order to keep the balance of nature, but do it in a show window where millions can thrill to see it. Offer high-grade adult education to all who ask for it and many who don't. Rescue climbers trapped or injured on the cliffs, tourists wounded by the bears they have been (against the rules) feeding.

Do what you can about America's slop-happy habit of defacing signs, tearing up shrubs and wild flowers and throwing candy wrappers, bottles and beer cans in creeks and springs and geysers. Be patient when tourists balw you out for something "because I pay taxes for this." Do it all on a pitifully inadequate budget, with collapsing equipment and an overworked and undermanned staff and smile. The picture is gruesome, but it is neither sensational nor exaggerated.

Those statements about the National Park System could have been made yesterday, but in fact they were made 55 and 53 years ago, respectively. The first was voiced by Bernard DeVoto in a column not-so-subtly titled Let's Close the National Parks that appeared in Harper's Magazine. The second was uttered by none other than Wallace Stegner in an article that also was not-so-subtly titled, this time simply We Are Destroying Our National Parks, that ran, believe it or not, in Sports Illustrated.

How stands the National Park System today, a half-century after these demands or recommendations were made? Some might easily argue not merely that little has changed, but that things have gotten worse, that the agency has become hamstrung not just by underfunding and politics but that it has become more focused on fostering recreation than conserving the resources for future generations, more concerned about appeasing gateway communities than standing firmly in defense of natural resources.

Today the National Park Service is saddled with a maintenance backlog guesstimated at somewhere around $8 billion; the agency's annual shortfall is pegged at roughly $800 million; solemn Alcatraz Island has been transformed, at least for one night, into a garish amusement attraction; the White House is telling Yellowstone National Park officials that like it or not they will indeed maintain snowmobile access through the park's East Entrance even though the park lacks the money to safely do so; at the same time, Dinosaur National Monument, a unit built around paleontology, is dismantling its paleontological division because it can't afford it; politicians are playing name games with National Park System units; air pollution is despoiling vistas and resources at parks such as Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Sequoia; off-road vehicles and personal watercraft are creating resource problems.

Those are just the tip-of-the-tongue examples of why the National Park Service seems to be shuddering. tumbling, teetering along the way toward its momentous birthday party. You easily could go on, pointing out the lack of full-time personnel across the system, commercialism some see seeping into the parks, a pecking order among the 391 units, and more.

These comments are not mere hyperbole. Rather, they're a quick collection of examples that has more than a few folks worrying about the future of the National Park System. Is it a system in decay, stricken with dry rot?

In 1991, noted conservation writer Michael Frome saw his book, Regreening the National Parks, first published. Now working on an update, Mr. Frome is not likely to be glowing in his latest analysis of what has transpired the past 16 years. "Virtually all of my research and continued study show that our treasured national parks have suffered from political interference and profiteering power, and are being reduced to commercialized popcorn playgrounds," he says.

As with DeVoto and Stegner before him, Mr. Frome is beckoning us to take note of what is transpiring and to react to it. His voice is not alone in the wilderness.

"Stegner was certainly being dramatic, but he was not far off the mark," offers Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley, a former chief historian for the National Park Service. "The parks are undergoing gradual physical decline due to lack of proper funding. The maintenance backlog throughout the NPS is officially between $5 and $8 billion. These figures are at least two years old, so the correct figure might even be higher.

"How will the NPS catch-up with an overall budget of $2.4 billion?" he continues. "One might correctly observe that the national parks are not being overtly destroyed, but there certainly exists a slow-growing cancer of benign neglect and misdirected leadership that is eating away at the integrity of the parks every year."

Rick Smith, who spent three decades with the Park Service in a range of positions, including associate regional director for Natural and Cultural Resources in the agency's Southwest Regional Office, Santa Fe, and continues to advocate for the park system as a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, says that Mr. Stegner was "voicing a fairly common concern about parks in those days." That said, he doesn't believe the words of Stegner nor DeVoto were overly dramatic.

"It is particularly important to have people like Wallace Stegner, his son, Page, Dr. Roderick Nash, Joe Sax, etc., speak out because they have great credibility and people listen to them," says Mr. Smith. "If they find their criticisms credible, they apply pressure to their elected officials for corrective action. That is the way it has worked for a long time.

"It is only recently that this cycle seems to have broken down a bit, the victim, I believe, of the overly partisan nature of our national dialog now," he adds. "What passes for environmental debate now is, for the most part, shrill posturing with little active listening being done by either side of the debate. It's pretty depressing."

The pertinent question today, though, is how much longer can the National Park System endure under current conditions? Is there a need for a thorough revamping of the National Park Service, with how we as both a government and people steward the National Park System? Can the system continue to survive with more and more additions but scant financial and manpower resources? Are there questionable units that could be better served if they were cast off, given to states or even communities to tend and so free the National Park Service to better spend its meager resources?

A core problem with how the National Park System is being managed today is that it too often finds itself at the center of a tug-of-war between special interests -- take your pick between the motorized recreation industry, environmental and conservation groups, gateway communities, states and, yes, even the National Rifle Association -- with Congress as the referee and whoever resides in the White House playing the role of final arbiter, though "final" probably isn't the best adjective in light of the role the courts play.

At a time when the American population is becoming more and more diverse, when budgets are becoming leaner and leaner, and when tougher and tougher choices need to be made, isn't it more vital than ever that broader consensus be gathered for how the National Park System is to march on?

Is it essential that the National Park Service kowtow to every special interest and strive to transform the parks into some creation that sates every constituency's demands? How far should the latest electronic technology invade the parks? Do we want visitors turned into drones content to be led about by their cellphones and Ipods, or does it make more sense to rely on knowledgeable interpretive rangers who not only can answer questions but stimulate imaginations? How many recreational constituencies can, and should, be catered to in the parks? Are the simple pleasures of a walk in the woods, a night under the stars, appreciation of art, a better understanding of the American melting pot, now passe?

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees for some time has called for a national dialog to be conducted on the future of the National Park System, a talk to be handled through a non-partisan National Park Service Centennial Commission (see attachment).

Understandably, given Congress's past handling of reports churned out by commissions -- remember the 911 Commission? -- there's an apprehension from some for appointment of such a commission. But short of such a commission, a body that can not only sort through the quagmire that today bogs down the National Park Service but also work to shine light on the shortcomings, who will?

Beyond such a commission, it's imperative that politics be removed from management of the National Park System. The National Park Service must be overseen by a director free of the bit and bridle that politicians saddle the agency with. Give this director a 6- or 8-year-tenure that overlaps presidencies and a prime directive to do what's best for the parks, not the politicians.

Much has been made of guiding the National Park Service into its second century, which commences in 2016. But readying the agency and its system requires more than simply luring in more dollars through philanthropy, sprucing up the facilities, and calling for greater diversity both in the agency's ranks and also the parks' visitors.

There's a paradigm change on the way. What remains to be seen, is in which direction it takes the National Park System.

"Any clear vision for the national parks for the 21st Century must uphold their reputation in the worldwide realm of parks and protected areas. That is both challenge and responsibility, as President John F. Kennedy recognized," says Mr. Frome. "In welcoming delegates to the First World Conference on National Parks held in Yellowstone National Park in 1962, Kennedy declared:

Growth and development of national park and reserve programs throughout the world are important to the welfare of the people of ever nation. We must have places where we can find release from the tensions of an increasingly industrialized civilization, where we can have personal contact with the natural environment which sustains us. To this end, permanent preservation of the outstanding scenic and scientific assets of every country, and of the magnificent and varied wildlife which can be so easily endangered by human activity, is imperative. National Parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of our national resources. It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our national resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.

An earlier president, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1903, after camping with John Muir among the ancient sequoias of Yosemite, listening to the hermit thrush and the waterfalls tumbling down sheer cliffs, wrote that 'It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.' Then TR went to Stanford University, where he declared: 'There is nothing more practical than the preservation of beauty, than the preservation of anything that appeals to the higher emotions of mankind.'

As the National Park Service stands at the cusp of its second century, we must do more than kick the tires and look for rust. The engine, arguably, needs to be overhauled and our compass bearings checked before heading on down the road.

Again, Mr. Frome: "To sum up, national parks when they were new yielded discovery, adventure, and challenge. They should always do that. And they can, if we set our minds and hearts to it. As the rest of the country becomes more developed, and super-civilized, national parks should be safeguarded to represent another side of America, free of technology, free of commerce and crowds, free of instant gratification, a pioneer, self-reliant side of America. I do not want them closed. I want them to serve as models for a quality environment of life."

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Comments

Kurt, as long as the federal government is at the helm you can expect these same types of problems to continue ad infinitum. The very nature of centrally planned bureaucratic management always works against efficiency, good sense and an orderly set of institutional priorities. All you have to do is look at public education, the military or transportation planning to see it writ bold: IT JUST DOESN'T WORK! You don't arrive at an $8 billion backlog in maintenance by paying attention to details and growing an organization wisely.

In the NPS it starts with very simple things and quickly blossoms out from there. For example, just in the way that it hires seasonal and permanent employees is a boondoggle that has become more and more cumbersome with each passing year (nowadays even a seasonal naturalist must pass a background check from Homeland Security) with the result being that many potentially good hires walk away from the agency due to the aggravations of landing a fairly low paying entry position. Moving up the ladder is even more complex and harrowing. Only the persistent survive, not necessarily the most talented.

Then try and get rid of a bad employee! Good luck if it takes you less than a year and hundreds of man hours in documentation and painstaking performance improvement plans (PIPs: a real acronym---no lie) and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

When you start delving into all of the waste on unneeded projects, politically motivated decision making and being slaves to the latest trend of the moment like podcasting and diversity enhancement initiatives it is little wonder that the parks are in as good a shape as they are in their currently shabby state of being.

I think it is foolhardy to think ANY government has the ability to reform its inefficient and wasteful ways. We've known that military procurement has been a steaming cauldron of fraud and mismanagement at least since the Sixties and the postal service for even longer and I won't even go into Fannie and Freddie Mac and the trillions of dollars of losses it is about to rain down upon the heads of taxpayers for generations to come. Does anyone out there seriously believe that the NPS will be the lone exception in being able to overcome the curse of federal governance?

If so, I think your optimism is misplaced and not supported by history or good sense. Let's try something else.

So, is the answer to propose a Fed Chairman like position a la what Kurt talks about here, who is relatively independent but ultimately becomes accountable to almost nobody? Or, is the answer to have an NGO, or a corporate oligarchy, who is accountable only to their largest funders?

Or, is the paradigm shift that we are talking about not radical enough? The only way that accountability for public lands happens if there is a radical decentralization of decision making in society - that is, a society made up of units small enough for individuals to have voice. However, that doesn't happen when you have big capital and big government, either or both. Right now, the choice is between corporate control or government control, but neither is free from corruption, both prove almost impossible to stop if either makes the wrong sorts of choices. Unless we are willing to take on anything that keeps us from having a voice, then there is no way that we can have reasonable discussion about what to do in our parks.

In the short term, the only question is what is the biggest danger to the parks, but apart from a long term analysis of what we need to do, it's kind of silly. You don't remove politicization from decision making in the parts; all you can do is reduce the amplitude of it - make it smaller and more innocuous. However, what that typically has meant in our society is ceding government control for private control, which does nothing to reduce the amplitude when mega corporations control everything. We need to make them smaller and broken up as well. That starts, frankly, with community organizing - with building local community. And, in the meantime, just hoping and praying that the rest doesn't go completely to hell.

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

There's nothing wrong with thinking bold, with truly thinking outside the box. Brainstorming produces dozens of ideas and possibilities, but not all will fit, and you don't enter into such a process expecting all to fit. You simply carry hopes someone will suggest something that does fit.

I think a director in the form of the Fed chairman would be a great start, as long as she/he is the right person for the job and the supporting legislation that creates the role includes a political shield...as well as a system for ensuring this individual doesn't get too carried away.

The NGO model raises concerns; look at what The Presidio Trust has become. Formed, in theory, to help the Presidio become self-sufficient, the trust has turned the Presidio into a business commons and threatens to dilute the history of the place. Imagine if that played out across the entire system.

Beyond such a change in leadership, perhaps serious consideration needs to be given to breaking up the National Park System. I know that's blasphemy in some circles, but if you look at the existing 391+ units, you've got an untenable mix of national parks, of historic structures, of the arts, etc, etc.

What would be the reaction if the National Park Service only oversaw "national parks," ie the 58 units that carry that distinction? What if some/most of the other 333 properties were spun off, some back to the states, some to NGOs, some to the National Trust for Historic Preservation? Give the NRAs and national preserves to the BLM; that's surely a better fit, and perhaps even the national seashores.

Perhaps if these various scenarios and others not mentioned become part of a national discussion there will be a clamoring for better funding and a serious look at how the National Park Service conducts business. But to discard that idea or this idea for being too idealistic or doubting that the backbone exists for serious change benefits no one.

The biggest danger to the parks, I fear, is to do nothing but let the current course play out.

YES. Nothing short of complete separation from the political umbrella is satisfactory. As I've stated in previous discussions, the least painful manner of maintaining the system in its present form is the creation of a NPS business unit, with some painfully strict modifications from most "big business" operations. Some examples are:

1) The "Director" post, or chairman, president, Big Kahuna, or whatever, is a single term position with duration of a maximum of 5 consecutive years. This position is supported by 5-7 "regional" managers with similar term limits, each charged with specific geographic responsibilities which are determined by an ability to actively render first-hand accounts of issues pertaining to a segment of the NPS. They are in-park managers, geographically dispersed such that they can physically be on-site at any unit in their territory within a matter of not more than a few short hours, particularly to function as liaison between the unit and the NPS offices during times of importance (e.g. weather-related events, wildlife issues, search and rescue, and other "major" issues including earthquake, volcanic or other "natural" disaster relief) to give credence to allocation of resources to ease conditions within the NPS unit in question. Additionally, the Director has the primary responsibility for private sector fundraising activities, acquisition of additional lands as required to maintain the overall health and long-term protection of the system as a whole, and to function as the public "face" or the organization.

2) Speaking of fundraising and how it is planned and executed to maintain a system that is solvent, the following is to be implemented immediately:
The NPS will collect a minimum flat $10 per person "tax" (precise final amount to be determined from actual current fiscal obligations) from every US citizen annually, NO EXCEPTIONS / EXCLUSIONS. EVERY citizen of the US pays, even those who choose to dwell "off shore". This will form the basis for the annual minimum operating budget of $3BB. Additionally, the parks are to be run as a "for profit" business, with SEVERE limitations on overall profitability. Quite obviously, all costs of doing business are to be inclusive in the fee structure charged for lodging, meals, entrance fees, permits, etc. and are to include ALL costs associated for staffing, personnel, equipment, REGLUAR required maintenance on structures, roads, trails, and grounds, and more than I care to include in this post. A detailed investigation of current annual operating expenses specific to current salaries, vehicle costs, building maintenance, road repair, grounds maintenance (e.g. snow removal, landscaping as required to maintain pedestrian and vehicular traffic, etc.) would be undertaken and modifications of entrance and associated fees would be implemented by the end of the first fiscal year of operation.

3) To encourage "private ownership" and pride in our national treasures, the NPS will be allowed to sell stock in the NPS, a kind of personal stewardship in our land. A maximum, or cap on purchasing a designated overall percentage of available shares is too implemented such as to avert the possibility of one person, family, corporation, trust, etc. of gaining a "majority" in the overall Park Service Business. These shares do NOT include a voting right in the general operation of the business unit or the nomination of Board members, Director or Managers. In return for the purchase of stock, to encourage promotion and visitation, dividends will be issued BASED ON ANNUAL PROFITABILITY. The park service will be encouraged to maintain a "percentage over costs" of profit, with a finite dollar volume to be determined, and 100% of those profits are to be returned to the general operating fund. ANY profits over and above the "cap" as stated in the annual allowed budget will be returned as dividends to the shareholders. If profits do not reach their annual allowed cap, no dividend is to be issued.
Example: fees collected from the "citizen tax" and each park unit, if budgeted properly, should allow at a minimum for the continuation of the service as a whole. An attendance rate of say 1-20% over projections makes the system more solvent. And at >21%, portions of the profits are returned to the stockholders, beginning with the first percent over 20.

4) Salaries at the Manager, Board and Director levels are quite meager given the responsibilities with which they are charged, generally <$150K at the Director level. This is indeed more of the "true" public service opportunity. But upon leaving the NPS, WITHOUT the corporate "golden umbrella", your visibility to the private sector would be such that acquisition of the high-6+ figure remuneration position would be almost guaranteed, provided you've shown some level of competency. This differs from our current political system where you actually gain more by being incompetent, hitting the lecture circuit, teaching "How to Circumvent the Law" at universities, going on talk shows and writing a book about your experiences. Or you can go the way of Kenneth Lay and the rest of the Enron buttheads and rot in your country club prison, "not knowing how we're going to get by with just our one $12.5MM house".
Unfortunately, on this thread I can only begin to articulate the overall business plan, but I have factored in more checks and balances to keep any one person from gaining total control and manipulating the system than you might imagine. No one person signs off on anything. An odd-number of regional managers report to an odd-number of general Board members. Each group initially functions within their own group prior to presenting issues to their superiors, such that those in the field know and understand the scope of the entire system just as well as do those up the food chain. The Board Members have the critical responsibility of trying to triage prior to presenting a short-list to the Director. The Director is similar to the current President of the Senate, who is called upon solely to determine issues when voting is hopelessly deadlocked. And even after balloting has been cast on issues, prior to funding being allocated, three signatures are required, one from each level of the management team, and who is chosen to represent the team BY the team, with no fewer than 1 dissenting vote on each level. It sounds more complicated than is it in practice, and at first glance it seems like total gridlock, but I've been involved in something similar in the past, and the tri-level committee functions quite well. What it prevents is any one person or group manipulating the direction of the overall team.

There is much more to discuss along these lines. I know someone's first objection if going to be, "How in hell are we going to get anyone competent and diligent enough to undertake this responsibility for that kind of money?" My initial reply is that SO many of you are absolutely thrilled with your political representatives now, be you Dems or Reps, why would the fiscal concerns bother you? Do you have a clue what Representatives, Senators and the President are paid at the current point in time? How about your governor, state senators and representatives, mayors, etc? Another objection is bound to be,"Geez, this'll take FOREVER to set up." I estimate not more than 2 years, max, from inception, primary "billing" of the public tax thru collection of initial revenues to first issuance of stock certificates. Let's not argue the list of candidates at this juncture for Managers, Board and Director posts. But let's also no longer debate whether or not the general idea is feasible, or whether or not the time has finally come, due to political mismanagement and simply not caring enough to act to protect our public interests, and create the private trust that we, as Americans, deserve and are entitled to protect of heritage and safeguard our future.

Reporting live, from La-La Land...........

"What would be the reaction if the National Park Service only oversaw 'national parks,' ie the 58 units that carry that distinction? What if some/most of the other 333 properties were spun off, some back to the states, some to NGOs, some to the National Trust for Historic Preservation? Give the NRAs and national preserves to the BLM; that's surely a better fit, and perhaps even the national seashores."

This would be a very good start Kurt. I think some NRA's adjacent to National Forests could be a good fit for that agency, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation which currently manages similar type areas of their own.

Off the top of my head I can see the state park system of Florida being a good fit for the Canaveral Seashore; the Mormon Church running Pipe Spring N.M. (they have a lavish budget and an expert staff for managing their historic sites and parks) and maybe have the presidential homes of such past chief executives as Hoover, Johnson and Carter turned over to private trusts or universities in much the same manner that their libraries are run. It is fun to consider the alternatives while stirring up the paradigms.

A decommissioning board or whatever you want to call it would be a very useful tool in trimming the excess fat and steering some of the smaller, less nationally significant units towards the care and oversight of more locally focused entities.

As I said all of these things would be a good start, as is this thread.

Thanks for the forum to share.

I like the idea of having everyone pay a simple $10 tax each year. I would rather pay this than $25 each time I visit a park, and it wouldn't be a huge financial burden on anyone to pay it (ie - eat out one less time or skip your Starbucks once a month).

Anonymous, but, why should we be giving more operational funds for a park like Yellowstone, for instance, that makes such horrible management decisions? Whatever we think about budgets for parks, it doesn't do any good if the parks are mismanaged. And, while I don't really agree with many of the proposals outlined here, at least I understand what is driving them - a sense that the Park Service is making a lot of bad management decisions and that something needs to change.

As for user fees, I totally agree - that all user fees are obnoxious if they are for things really held to be public goods - whether it's for a bus ride or for entering a national park. But, I think that's another discussion. When it comes to user fees and national parks, it's a small issue - the poor are already priced out of most of the crown jewel parks before user fees are ever involved. The issue of user fees, like the issue of park management, can't be treated in isolation from considering other systemic social ills.

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

Jim,

My comment wasn't intended to be about any specific park - just that having every American pay a flat, relatively small tax instead of nailing park visitors sounds like a good idea to me, especially when you consider that there are ~300 million of us, so 10 times that would be nearly $3billion. Add to that the money NPS gets already from Congress, remove the entrance fees and BANG!, you have a pretty sweet funding structure.

Jim-

Allocation of funds for any individual park unit, if you're comments are directed to the manifesto outlined above, wouldn't go directly to a specific unit manager to be misappropriated or mismanaged. Park managers report to regional managers, who have the responsibility of coordinating project requests from their entire sector and presenting these requests to a higher level board, who in conjunction with the regionals, the Director and the CFO triage, based on immediacy of need, available budget, and many other factors, prior to cutting loose any monies to any specific unit. The managers of any particular unit, be they Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Badlands, Petrified Forest, Arches, or any "lesser" unit, are charged solely with making proposals which are placed in the hands of the regional managers. The relative import of each proposal would be determined by a series of "higher ups", from the unit manager level, those who hold responsibility for the health of the system as a whole, not the health of any individual park. This fail safe mechanism is one of the keys to maintaining the function of all the park units equally, rather than having the "popular" units manipulating the lion's share of the funding based, as currently done, largely visitation numbers (i.e. public pressure), political pandering, and private special interests. While virtually no system can place the immediate influx of capital required to eliminate the total maintenance backlog in one fell swoop, at least with this system of prioritizing, done solely from within and free of the external meddling that currently clogs the wheels of progress, those issues that are wrought from conditions that are "dangerous, require immediate attention due to safety concerns and updates that are long overdue" can receive the attention they have deserved for decades and which have been ignored by having people in charge of allocating funding who truly are oblivious or just plain don't give a damn.

While the National Park Service & System is often treated as a political football (to its detriment) by actors & agents external to the system, officials within the Service are themselves highly politicized agents, acting from within. This part of the reality can seem glossed over, but is really a large element of the politicking.

The politics-issue is not just an outsiders-meddling problem, but is also an insiders-agenda problem. The problem of politics and the NPS can be neither accurately described without acknowledging the role of Parks people themselves, nor effectively addressed without doing the same.


I expect to see further diversification of the components of the NPS, in accordance with regional and State realities, and ongoing incremental movement away from a monolithic central-Federal model. This trend could be strong enough that the Fed will take steps to secure its role & turf, by 'creating' contexts to emphasize a need for its centralized functions.

Alaska's distinctive arrangements have now proven themselves solidly successful across a meaningful span of time. The examples available for study in the newest components of the Park contain a foment of suggestions applicable to the older components. Pay special attention to the eventual resolution of the State's conflict with the Federal government, over the implementation of ANCSA and ANILCA requirements to support subsistence.

The recent ruling to let Park firearms regulations follow those of the jurisdictions different Parks are located within, is itself an important step toward a local-driven model.

There is the potential for substantial differentiation and local-adaptation of our Park-resources, and in some cases the preparations appear to have been deliberately cultivated over considerable time.

I would not expect this to look like a planned overhaul, but to occur as part of the process of evolution & adaptation that has been a hallmark of the NPS throughout its history.

The beloved paths of the very conservative Grand Canyon National Park, for example, were dynamited from the cliffs ... and they were quite proud of themselves, at the time. History reminds that in living memory Yellowstone had bleachers at the garbage dump, seating for tourists to watch as the Park systematically feed garbage to several hundred bears often brawling in the refuse...

Although there has been an ebb & flow to periods of change in our Parks, my sense is that the system has been malleable all along ... right down to the present. There are needs & improvements aplenty to address, but whether this amounts to a crisis is less clear.

National parks are considered playgrounds by those who recognize them as lands to be used solely for recreation (snowmobilers in Yellowstone, for example) without regard for the greater purpose of the parks' creation. Thus, (hopefully) as a marker of a paradigm shift in parkland management and a symbol of America's commitment to preserve the natural wonders of our parklands unimpaired for future generations, we must cease calling them and treating them as "parks" per se, instead redefining these lands as great ecological preserves, and treating them as such. Hence, we'll have Yellowstone National Preserve with private motorized vehicles of all kinds required to be left outside the front gate. Of course, the current definition of "preserve" will have to be changed. Maybe then taxpayers will recognize parklands as places not for thrillseeking, but for celebrating, studying, and exploring our most spectacular wildlands, which are allowed to exist without the threat of motorized vehicles and thrillseekers hell-bent on conquering nature rather than experiencing it on its own terms. Perhaps this is an overly idealistic view, but weren't the dreamers of the national park system and the Wilderness Act equally idealistic?

"The NGO model raises concerns; look at what The Presidio Trust has become. Formed, in theory, to help the Presidio become self-sufficient, the trust has turned the Presidio into a business commons and threatens to dilute the history of the place."

I confess to not knowing the details of the Presidio Trust, but for the Presidio itself, which has a long history of use and occupation and located in America's third largest urban area, it seems appropriate to redevelop this city park with commerce in mind.

I believe the "NGO model", or conservation trust model, is essentially sound. There are numerous examples of successful conservation trusts in America and in the world, the largest of which is the Nature Conservancy. Some comparisons to the national park system:

Area protected
NC: More than 117 million acres
NPS: 84.4 million acres

Annual Funds
NC: $1 billion
NPS: $2.4 billion

The Nature Conservancy has more than a million members and 84% overall program efficiency. The NPS doesn't really have "members", but instead has taxpayers, and I'm not sure anyone could tell you the efficiency rating (a percentage of funds that goes directly toward conservation rather than organizational maintenance--bureaucracy) for the NPS, but I'd be willing to wager it's much, much lower. I would love being able to "buy in" to the parks and being able to be a supporting member. I'd readily pay at least $100 a year for such a membership, especially if the managing organization could be as efficient as the Nature Conservancy.

One of the most attractive features of conservation trusts is the insulation of park management from politics, distant bureaucrats, and corporatism.

I'm glad to see this thread and suggestions to repair the system. I believe that at the very least, as some have suggested, cutting loose from NPS management all but the 58 "national park" units is warranted.

I don't think that delisting should be an answer, but that NPS is ment to protect not sell of units to others like a bussiness. However, maybe a compromise would be that some parks be opterated as assocatied areas. This means that they still keep their titles, NPS still montiors and helps run them, and all laws governing the management of National Park Units still apply like with assocatied areas today.

"What would be the reaction if the National Park Service only oversaw "national parks," ie the 58 units that carry that distinction? What if some/most of the other 333 properties were spun off, some back to the states, some to NGOs, some to the National Trust for Historic Preservation? Give the NRAs and national preserves to the BLM; that's surely a better fit, and perhaps even the national seashores."

This is a horrible idea. And I'm appalled that many commenters here support it. Despite the problems, National Park System units are managed WAY better than any other federal land units and almost all state lands. They are permanent, unlike any private or corporate arrangement. And they have a longer proven record of continuous protection than any other public or private land systems.

The Forest Service and BLM are disasters -- they're rapidly ruining the lands under their "management." We should be taking lands away from them and adding them to the National Park System. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows a wide array of destructive activities. Many of our wildlife refuges should also be transferred to the National Park System.

The idea of privatizing ANY public lands is totally unacceptable. If you want to see the results of a mostly privatized landscape, take a look at Maine Woods, where conservationists have been working to create a new national park to save the area from private developers and corporations that are clearcutting, subdividing, and developing remote wildlands. The only reason our parks are still intact today is that they were under National Park Service protection. If they had been private they would be long gone. If they had been managed by other public agencies, they would have been logged, roaded, grazed, mined, drilled, and open to ORVs.

It's a sad day when people who are supposed to be national park supporters are openly talking about decommissioning parks and turning them over to anti-preservation federal agencies, state governments, or private interests. The National Park Service and park system clearly need to be revitalized. So let's do it. But we should not even consider dismantling or gutting a system of park units that took more than a century to create.

On the contrary, we should be greatly expanding our National Park System. Just look to the north at Canada, or at other countries that are creating new parks. Argentina, Australia, China, Denmark, French Guiana, Gabon, Iceland, and Russia have all created new national parks in just the last few years -- ironically, many with the help of American conservation organizations. Meanwhile, the American national park movement is not only stalled, it's going backwards.

But there is hope. There is a new generation of grassroots activists across the country who are advocating the creation of new national parks. They are proposing new or expanded national park units to save not only the Maine Woods, but also West Virginia’s Blackwater Canyon, Utah’s Glen Canyon, Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument and Tejon Ranch, Oregon’s Mount Hood, Washington’s Mount St. Helens, and other extraordinary places. This would save millions of acres of endangered wildlands. We should be supporting their positive vision and helping them in their efforts.

"If [National Park Service units] had been managed by other public agencies, they would have been logged, roaded, grazed, mined, drilled, and open to ORVs."

The NPS has conducted mining in national parks. Check out a satellite image of an open-pit mine in the side of a cinder cone at Lava Beds National Monument. The National Park Service mined (still mines?) cinders here. A satellite tour of other national parks will reveal more mining operations conducted by the NPS. They will also reveal toxic waste storage in a variety of NPS junkyards.

Roads? Search for roads at the NPS site, and you'll get 14,700 hits. As for "roaded", 8,500 miles of roads, including 1,736 bridges and 67 tunnels, slice through national parks.

Logged? Well, cutting a 1,500 year-old giant sequoia to protect a 50 year-old cabin, which the NPS did in Sequoia National Park, might not count as logging, but it might be arguably worse. Does removing trees to build parking lots, visitor centers, and other facilities and then selling the wood in the campground count as logging?

The NPS uses ORVs at least in one national seashore and allows ORVs in several national recreation areas.

I could continue, but won't.

My point is not to tear down the NPS, but to urge all of us to remove our rose-colored glasses when viewing governmental land management. National parks are far from pristine, and the NPS has played a major role in facilitating their degradation. My first few seasons, my coworkers and I berated the Forest Service believing the NPS was far superior. I discovered that many USFS areas provide a far more natural experience than parks, and that the NPS isn't perfect, which is evidenced by the current state of national parks. The system is highly political, and this affects preservation.

If anyone doubts how highly politicized the NPS has become, check out this graph showing the establishment of NPS units by type and year. You'll find that far more NPS sites were created during election years (to curry favor in home districts in the hopes of reelection). And if you check out this graph, you'll see that non-"national park" and non-"national monument" (such as national recreation areas, national historic sites, etc.) consume over 60% of the NPS operating budget.

So all those expensive (in terms of visitor to cost ratio) sites, such as Golden Spike and Steamtown, which have questionable historical integrity or national significance, are draining resources from Yosemite, Yellowstone, and our other national treasures. Turning some of those over to state park systems or non-profits could help save our national parks.

National parks are far from pristine, and the NPS has played a major role in facilitating their degradation.

I never said that national parks are perfect. But you're letting the perfect be the enemy of the very good. You have cited a few oddball situations as if they're the norm in national parks -- they're not. But they are the norm on other federal, state, and private lands.

• Mining, Oil, and Gas. I'm sorry to hear that there are a few old mining operations, waste dumps, and junk yards in national park areas. They should be eliminated. But how much land do these cover? A few hundred acres? Major expanses of national forest and BLM lands are threatened by mining, oil and gas drilling, and oil shale and tar sands mining. Mining is a looming threat, even in highly sensitive ecosystems and roadless areas such as these. Oil and gas drilling is a huge threat on national forest lands in California, Pennsylvania, and across the country. BLM lands are even more threatened, such as those in Utah and Colorado. Then there are plans for vast oil shale and tar sands development on millions of acres of BLM lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It's absurd to even begin to compare the tiny infractions on National Park System lands to the massive abuses on other public lands.

• Roads. Of the 84 million acres of National Park System lands, almost all of it is roadless backcountry. About 40 percent of the National Wilderness Preservation System is in national park units. You think 8,500 miles of roads spread across 84 million acres is a lot???? The National Forest system has 380,000 miles of roads! And that's not including countless miles of ORV "trails" that crisscross the national forests. The BLM is even worse. For example, the agency is proposing the designation of 1,947 miles of roads for ORVs and conventional vehicles crammed into just 1.4 million acres in the Monticello Field Office area in southern Utah -- adjacent to roadless national park lands, by the way. That's 22% of the total National Park System road system! And this is typical of all BLM lands. So national forest and BLM lands have at least 100 times the road density of National Park System lands. It's a joke to even compare them.

• Logging. When it comes to logging, there's no comparison between the National Forest System and National Park System. Yes, over the last 118 years Sequoia National Park has apparently cut a few sequoia trees (and that's not a good thing). Meanwhile, next door in Giant Sequoia National Monument, "protected" by the U.S. Forest Service, the agency has already done extensive logging and has been rebuked by the courts and members of Congress for planning additional illegal logging under the guise of "fire prevention." Conservationists are advocating transferring the National Monument from the Forest Service to the Park Service because they know that the Park Service offers the best protection available for this area.

• Livestock Grazing. You didn't mention livestock grazing, but it is almost nonexistent on National Park System lands. However, it is endemic on national forest, BLM, and even many national wildlife refuge lands, and it is deeply subsidized by the public. Livestock grazing is tremendously destructive to native ecosystems, endangered species habitat, scenic values, and recreational uses. It is almost everywhere on western public lands -- except national parks. In fact, National Park System wilderness areas provide the strongest protection of any federal lands, because the do not allow grazing.

• Natural Experience. I don't know where you have gone in national parks and national forests, but I have been in a lot of both across the country. As touched on above, the natural experiences on national forests, except in wilderness areas, are being destroyed by logging, drilling, mining, roadbuilding, and other abusive activities. There are a few areas in national parks like the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, Yosemite Valley, Cadillac Mountain, and Cades Cove in national parks. From the way national park advocates rail about these areas, one would think that they are typical. In reality, along with roads and other facilities, far less than 1% of National Park System lands are developed at all. At least 99 percent of National Park System lands are designated or de facto wilderness. There is no question that overall, the national parks are far more natural than national forests or BLM lands.

• Budget. It's totally unrealistic to think that we can decommission some National Park System areas and still keep the money in the system. That would be the next step in the downward spiral. The anti-park forces want to totally get rid of the parks and privatize them. By talking about eliminating parks, you just offer them an opportunity to get their nose under the tent. And I don't agree with your premise that Golden Spike, Steamtown, or any other national park areas should be eliminated, even if it would free a few million dollars for other parks. I think E.O. Wilson addresses the futility of this grasping for crumbs approach well in the latest National Parks mag.

• Bureaucracy. I'm sure that anyone who has worked inside the National Park Service has had negative experiences with the bureaucracy. I'm fully supportive of significant reform of the agency, which clearly has some significant problems. But I can see the results of National Park Service versus other public land management, and it is far superior. The facts speak for themselves. My point is that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. The idea that National Park System units even come close to being as threatened as other public and private lands is a dangerous myth that needs to be debunked.

If anyone doubts how highly politicized the NPS has become, check out this graph showing the establishment of NPS units by type and year. You'll find that far more NPS sites were created during election years (to curry favor in home districts in the hopes of reelection). And if you check out this graph, you'll see that non-"national park" and non-"national monument" (such as national recreation areas, national historic sites, etc.) consume over 60% of the NPS operating budget.

I forgot to comment on these points:

• Politics. Yes, the National Park Service is political and so is everything else. I'd like to hear which public agencies, corporations, or nonprofit organizations are not political. In any event, politics is not always a bad thing. In fact, I think the graph showing how new park designations follow congressional election cycles is a positive indicator. It does not at all prove the conclusion you seem to draw -- that the new parks created during these periods were unworthy. It is very difficult to pass new national park legislation, especially since the 1980s. History shows us that most National Park System units took many years to go from vision to reality. What I think is going on is that members of Congress know that national parks are popular. That makes them more willing to go along with park proposals when they know they are up for election. That's a good thing, not a bad thing!

• Budget, Part II. Why is it a problem that non-"National Park" sites get 60% of the budget? Most of the heaviest-visited sites are not full National Parks. And many involve historic buildings and archaeological sites, which cost a lot to restore and maintain. So what's wrong with allocating adequate funds for them? I refuse to accept that we can't get the funding that is needed for the National Park System. A couple of days of the Iraq war would fund the whole agency for a year.

I repeat, national park advocates need to stop being negative, obsessing on flaws in the parks, and trying to find ways to cut the National Park System. And they especially need to stop claiming that other types of land agencies or ownerships would do a better job of protecting these lands -- that's demonstrably false. This is the losing approach that has helped to perpetuate inadequate budgets and undermined efforts to add outstanding new areas to the system.

Just one more post on this thread.

"And they especially need to stop claiming that other types of land agencies or ownerships would do a better job of protecting these lands -- that's demonstrably false."

I disagree that other types of agencies or management systems can't do better than the feds. I invite you to visit Oregon's state parks. If you investigate the Oregon state park system, you'll find it to be very decentralized and well funded. Additionally, you'll find hot showers in campgrounds along with highly maintained infrastructure which includes AFFORDABLE yurts and cabins and clean campgrounds. You'll also find soap in the campground bathrooms. You won't find any of these things at Mount Rainier National Park. A federal representative was pushing to move Silver Falls State Park, Oregon's largest park, to national park status. What would this accomplish? Oregon is doing a far better job than the feds.

If you investigate the NGOs that Kurt mentioned in his latest post, such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, or the World Wildlife Fund, you'll find highly respected and decentralized, depoliticized, and efficient organizations that have preserved far more acreage unimpaired than the NPS.

As for "politics", I'm speaking of the following definition: "exercising or seeking power in the governmental or public affairs of a state, municipality, etc." As long as public lands are funded by taxes doled out by politicians, interest groups (such as the NRA, ORVers, hikers, the hospitality industry, etc.) will lobby congress to gain favor, and representatives seem to capitulate. The Forest Service is a prime example, and you touched on this with cattle grazing and logging. Taxpayers are subsidizing both because interest groups lobby congress. If public lands were not under the jurisdiction of Congress and were insulated by public trusts boards composed of members from university faculty, conservation organizations, scientists, local businesses, then lobbyists' efforts would be nullified. I have a hard time believing that the Nature Conservancy or other organizations listed above, if it managed the BLM lands you mentioned, could be pressured to allow tarsand development on these lands. The federal government, however, seems highly capable of being influenced.

I'll concede that the magnitude of preservation threats to the USFS and BLM are greater than those threatening the NPS (particularly logging, mining, and grazing). But the current political system has created significant threats to NPS preservation, as evidenced by NPT's many "plight of the parks" posts.

If national parks are to remain under the directorate of the NPS, which seems likely, then we must understand the political system to which it's attached. Funding will wax or wane depending on the political administration in charge. Unless we pry loose the politicians' grasp on the NPS, it will continue to be lobbied by dozens of interest groups. Under a parasitic, transfer seeking economic and political system, the battle to preserve these lands will rage with no end in sight at the cost of billions and billions of dollars, and meanwhile the parks will suffer.

over and out

Frank,

One comment re the Oregon state park system, which you know way better than me. I had one encounter with Oregon's state parks oh, about six or seven years ago, long enough that I don't remember which one though I think it was inland of Sixes. I was astounded by the garbage and soiled TP that someone half-buried.

That said, I also recall some state parks along 101 near Cape Blanco and Bandon that were downright gorgeous and well-kept.

The bottom line, I think, is that you'll find some national parks that are wonderfully kept, and some that aren't so wonderful. Ditto with state parks. Ditto with corporate-run campgrounds.

I'd also like to mention that both Florida and Tennessee run a tight ship when it comes to their state parks. I visit both often and am quite impressed with the sense of pride that their employees show towards each individual unit. Most of the rangers stay put and are generally from the local area where the park is located and this seems to add a certain personal touch that I often find lacking in the NPS where employees are encouraged to move around and not stay too long in any single park for very long.

I have long advocated that Canaveral National Seashore would make a fine addition to the Florida state park system and you could go ahead and throw in De Soto (essentially a Bradenton city park) and Castillo de San Marcos as well. None of these areas could truly be said to be of national significance and would be better off with more localized control and staffed by community based employees.

I like what they have done recently in St. George, Utah where the local Congressman from that district helped obtain funds to purchase a dinosaur track site that will be run by the county park system instead of the NPS, as originally proposed. County management of this area is less costly and certainly less bureaucratic and is a sound first step in finding better and more locally focused ways to run natural and historic sites around the country.

I disagree that other types of agencies or management systems can't do better than the feds.

• State Parks vs. National Parks. I have been to Oregon state parks and they seem pretty well managed. But Oregon is only one state with a pretty small acreage of parks -- most of which are managed for recreation, not wilderness. Many state parks are not well managed. And they are much more subject to local political pressure than national parks. For example, in 2006 the Maine legislature passed legislation to allow expanded motorized access and bridges in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The Allagash is a National Wild and Scenic River, but it is owned and "managed" by the state of Maine -- one of only a handful of such rivers. The Maine legislature caved in to pressure from a few local anti-wilderness interests and the timber industry, against the wishes of the National Park Service, which only has a minimal role in managing the waterway. The threats by the state are so great that American Rivers listed the Allagash as one of America's Most Endangered Rivers for 2008. The Allagash would be much better protected under National Park Service management.

If you investigate the NGOs that Kurt mentioned in his latest post, such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, or the World Wildlife Fund, you'll find highly respected and decentralized, depoliticized, and efficient organizations that have preserved far more acreage unimpaired than the NPS.

• NGOs vs. National Parks. National Park Service critics seem to have an inordinate affection for The Nature Conservancy and other land trusts. I am all too well acquainted with the work of TNC, WWF, and other NGOs. WWF doesn't own land and is working in other countries to create new national parks. The same with Conservation International. Good. But while TNC has done some good work, it is certainly not free of political maneuvering. In Maine, TNC signed off on a horrible deal with Plum Creek "Timber" Company to purchase "working forest" conservation easements that are completely toothless. They would allow logging, roadbuilding, mining, cell towers, sludge spreading, a number of "camps," and other destructive activities. In return, TNC has helped Plum Creek greenwash its plans for the largest real-estate development in Maine history -- the size of the City of Portland -- on pristine forestlands near Moosehead Lake. Other conservation groups are outraged by this deal -- TNC never consulted with them before selling out. Moreover, they oppose large-scale wilderness protection in the Maine Woods. TNC also allows logging in Maine, the Adirondacks, and the California redwoods, grazing, and ORV use on a growing proportion of their lands. Most of their lands do not allow camping or other overnight use. Finally, TNC lands -- like all other private lands -- are not permanently protected. For example, TNC was going to acquire and convey the Gray (Diamond A) Ranch in New Mexico to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Instead, they caved in to local political pressure and [url=http://nm.audubon.org/NM_birding/iba/ibawriteups/grayranch.html ]sold the ranch back to corporate ranching interests[/url] that continue to allow destructive commercial livestock grazing and only allow extremely limited public use. None of these things would happen under National Park Service management. In fact, TNC lands could all be sold or developed in the future. All it would take is a hostile takeover of the board, a change in bylaws, and a decision to sell off or develop "preserve" lands, to reverse all the decades of preservation. There is no public oversight or accountability.

I'll concede that the magnitude of preservation threats to the USFS and BLM are greater than those threatening the NPS (particularly logging, mining, and grazing). But the current political system has created significant threats to NPS preservation, as evidenced by NPT's many "plight of the parks" posts.

• NPS vs. Other Federal Lands. I have worked for more than 20 years on National Park System, national forest, BLM, and wilderness issues. I am well aware of the threats to all of these land management units. Again, I'm open to seeing evidence to the contrary. But aside from designated wilderness areas, everything I have seen indicates that the threats to National Park System lands pale in comparison to the threats to other public and private lands.

Glad some of you are finally agreeing with me.

From a post I made back on August 5th, 2007 (Setting Precedents in the Parks):

<><><> Having the NPS pendulum sway back and forth from left to right, from administration to administration, is more of a problem than ANY of the superlatives I've seen mentioned here. No, that doesn't mean privatize it. It means create some buffers to protect the parks from the direct influence of a potential idiot in the oval office, whether left or right. In all their haste to make the president du jour happy, in the long run, NPS can easily wind up going nowhere and having spent a lot of money in the process. Perhaps consider installing NPS directors in the same way that Federal Reserve or CIA directors are... subject to approval by congress, and largely independent of the whims of politicians. <><><>

PS -- Canaveral National Seashore, like many other NPS units, is a buffer between civilization and a highly controlled federal area (NASA) and will always remain in federal hands. Just like Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a buffer between CIA headquarters and the surrounding communities. There are many such examples out there that will always stay in federal hands and don't seem to amount to much when compared to the crown jewels of the system.

-- Jon

Canaveral National Seashore encompasses more than 57,000 acres. It is a rare undeveloped stretch of Atlantic Coast and one of the only protected remnants of an ecoregion that WWF considers to be "critical/endangered." Only by ignoring Canaveral NS's enormous ecological importance could one claim that it does not have national significance or doesn't seem to amount to much. This area (and De Soto and Castillo de San Marcos, which have also been suggested for sacrifice) deserves to be in the National Park System and should stay there.

No one has suggested that these areas be "sacrificed", just that maybe the rangers would be wearing different uniforms and driving different colored trucks.

The Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve (50,000 acres) is the last remaining piece of undeveloped natural Florida prairie left on the peninsula and is considered to be of great national significance by scientists and preservationists all across the fruited plain. I'm happy to report that after a recent visit to the Kissimmee Prairie it is doing just fine as a unit of the Florida State Park system. The rangers were knowledgeable, the campground was clean and the trails were well marked and free of litter. Florida was treating its national treasure quite well.

Monticello, Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, is certainly one of the most important historical homes in the U.S. and is doing just fine outside of the purview of the NPS, as is Mount Vernon and the Hermitage.

Just because something is important doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be subjected to federal control. In fact the places I've mentioned are much better off without the politics, budget shortfalls and institutional neglect that is inherent in a massive federal bureaucracy. It would be a sad day indeed if any of the places I've mentioned above were to come under the administration of the Department of the Interior.

Americans are quite capable of successfully administering nationally significant areas without the involvement of Washington, DC. I'm quite sure that most of my fellow citizens would agree.

Just because something is important doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be subjected to federal control. In fact the places I've mentioned are much better off without the politics, budget shortfalls and institutional neglect that is inherent in a massive federal bureaucracy. It would be a sad day indeed if any of the places I've mentioned above were to come under the administration of the Department of the Interior.

Beamis,

And just because something is not federal doesn't mean it's good. No one can seriously claim that state governments are free from "politics, budget shortfalls and institutional neglect." In fact, that's exactly what many state park systems have suffered from. And nonprofit organizations are certainly not free of those problems. I think I cited the example before of the huge problems facing the California State Park system. The Massachusetts state park system has been starved for years. Other states that are having major problems with underfunding and inadequate protection of parks include Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Michigan. It would be absurd to say that special places would be better protected and managed by these states than by the National Park Service.

I'm glad that Florida parks seem to be doing pretty well. But that's the exception, not the rule. I'm also happy when states do a good job of protecting special places. My point is that they often cannot be depended on to do so. And to advocate off-loading national park areas to states assuming that they will do the job is simply not based on the real situation.

Mr. Kellett-----with all due respect, the federal government of this country is flat busted broke. Years and years of running a welfare/warfare state on Asian credit cards is about to come to a crashing end. The reckless spending binge has finally caught up with the Beltway Bandits and they are about to become members of the poorhouse, dragging along many of us with them.

Your enduring faith in Leviathan to do the right thing is frankly astounding. It ain't just Bush my friend. The whole system is rotten and everybody in the world besides the average American knows it. (You can thank our government run schools and compliant mainstream media for that.)

We all need to plan now for the inevitable bankruptcy and be prepared to take care of these parks under a variety of different umbrellas. Advance planning will save the day for many places now under federal control.

Beamis,

I appreciate your honest thoughts. However, my point is that in an imperfect world, the National Park Service has provided the strongest protection for the largest amount of land for the benefit of the largest number of people for so long. No state or private entity comes close (the closest is New York State with Adirondack Park, but that is an anomaly). Yes, the federal government has problems. So do the states and private nonprofits. I have hope and confidence that the American people will work together to solve the current problems with our federal government. I guess you've lost hope.

It's interesting you bring up the word hope. A compelling essay on that very word came out today, which dovetails quite nicely with our current discussion:

http://snipurl.com/3i2rg

Thanks for sharing, Beamis! I particularly enjoyed the Ben Franklin quote, "He that lives upon hope will die fasting." I think anyone who has read Government's End would see that the American people working together IS actually THE problem when it comes to government's dysfunction. No amount of hope will alter our parasitic economy and pry loose the strings of government from narrow interest groups.

Beamis,

Thanks for the discussion. This is an interesting essay. The Ben Franklin quotation is typically multi-layered in meaning, of course. But anyone involved in the American Revolution had to be a level-headed optimist down deep, no matter how much he protests. And the writer of the essay sounds the same way, speaking favorably about Camus but then saying:

All in all though, The Audacity of Hope is written by a man who sounds articulate, capable, intelligent, conscientious, considerate, and genuinely committed to a politics beyond the narrow interests of himself or his party. Americans ought to feel, if not hopeful, at least grateful that Barack Obama is in the running.

I think the author is saying that blind, unrealistic hope is a dead end. But he seems to be saying that hope based on realism can change things for the better. If you agree with that, then maybe we're not as far apart as it may seem.

FrankC,

[T]he American people working together IS actually THE problem when it comes to government's dysfunction. No amount of hope will alter our parasitic economy and pry loose the strings of government from narrow interest groups.

I agree that our government has been substantially captured by special interest groups. However, I don't know how you can say that the American people are the problem. The problem is that the people have been deceived and cut out of decision-making process by politicians who are beholden to special interests.

If people have the facts and leadership to help them find the way, they usually make the right choices. That's what happened when Franklin Roosevelt rallied the country during the Depression and World War II. The only way to get our country back on track is to engage and energize the public, as Roosevelt did, and Obama is trying to do. I have hope that he can....

"I agree that our government has been substantially captured by special interest groups. However, I don't know how you can say that the American people are the problem."

I refer you to Jonathan Rauch's Government's End, particularly the third chapter, titled "Hyperpluralism". From page 50:

"Th[e] lack of uniqueness is one reason I renounce calling the groups 'special interests'. Another is that the 'special interest' label is more than three decades out of date. Groups are interested, yes; often narrow, certainly. But the fact is that seven of ten Americans belong to at least one association (according to a 1990 survey conducted for the American Society of Association Executives), and one in four Americans belongs to four or more. Further, many of these group members have no illusions about what their own and other people's organizations are doing: In the 1990 survey, half of the respondents said that the main function of most associations is to influence government. And so we're kidding ourselves if we pretend there is anything special about either interest groups of their members. Almost every American who reads these words is a member of a lobby."

I'll clarify my previous statement that the "American people working together IS actually THE problem when it comes to government's dysfunction." By organizing into many, many disparate interest groups to influence government ("working together"), the American people have made government dysfunctional.

Check out the book. It's illuminating.