Paul Hoffman Still Defending His Proposed Changes to the National Park Service's Management Policies

Paul Hoffman continues to defend the changes he proposed to the National Park Service's Management Policies back in 2005.

Nearly four years ago Paul Hoffman's name became well-traveled as he was defined as the architect of a proposed overhaul of the National Park Service's Management Policies, a drastic overhaul at that. For some reason, he still feels it necessary to defend himself.

Towards the end of the summer of 2005 and into the fall of that year many conservation groups and newspapers pilloried Mr. Hoffman for his proposed changes to the policies, changes that critics described as weakening the National Park Service's conservation mandate and threatening to open parks to more motorized recreation, among other things.

No one publicly has clearly documented a cause and effect, but back in March 2006, just months after the furor simmered down, Mr. Hoffman was transferred from his job as assistant deputy director of the Interior Department's Fish, Wildlife and Parks section to Interior's Policy, Management and Budget section. There he tended to the Government Performance and Results Act until he left government.

Despite that seemingly inglorious downfall, Mr. Hoffman -- who rode to Washington, D.C., from tiny Cody, Wyoming, on the coattails of Vice President Dick Cheney -- hasn't gone particularly quietly into the night. Indeed, after the Los Angeles Times ran a piece by Julie Cart last week that examined the landscape of the National Park System, figuratively and literally, after eight years of the Bush administration, Mr. Hoffman felt a need to rise once again to his own defense, even though he was mentioned only briefly in the lengthy article.

In another controversial act, a Bush appointee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior Paul Hoffman, tried to weaken environmental rules and allow more commercial enterprises in parks. Interior backed away from most of the proposed changes, but (Bill) Wade, of the park service retirees group, said the episode was telling.

"It was a boldfaced attempt to change the mission of the National Park Service," Wade said, adding that the Obama administration -- by its selection of a parks chief -- could reaffirm the agency's dedication to preservation.

Seeing that story, Mr. Hoffman emailed Ms. Cart a post from his blog, Talk it Up America, to defend himself. Mr. Hoffman had written the post in question last September, curiously titling it, Will the Real Paul Hoffman Please Stand Up?.

Opening with a self-appraisal -- Mr. Hoffman described himself as holding "a reputation as a good listener, a collaborator, a quick study, respectful of and kind to people regardless of their position, a keen ability to help find resolution to complex problems, a straight shooter, a person of conviction who is fair and when necessary decisive" -- the post then turned to a point-by-point task of explaining his proposed changes to the Management Policies and what they would, and wouldn't, do if adopted.

His mission in suggesting changes to the Management Policies, which, in essence, is the guidebook park managers use when confronting issues in their parks, was to return "enjoyment" to the park system, he wrote. (Indeed, during an October 2005 teleconference with reporters Mr. Hoffman said the 2001 version of the Management Polices had created an atmosphere of "anti-enjoyment" in the parks.)

The crux of the National Park idea debate throughout its first century has been the relationship between conservation and enjoyment and what constitutes “impairment” knowing that all enjoyment has some impact on resources—the dichotomy is too much enjoyment and when conservation should prevail in order to prevent impairment.

Over the years, many observers of the National Park Service believe they had moved away from enjoyment and leaned disproportionately toward erring on the side of conservation. Modern technology was resulting in more ways for people to enjoy parks. Growth in the National Park System and the populations surrounding parks was leading to more conflict between enjoyment and conservation. For many park managers, the easiest decision was to just say “No.” However, in many cases to just say “No” ignores the primary mandate of the Organic Act, “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of… …by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes…” (emphasis added). Now, there is no debate about what to do if a specific use cannot be regulated by such means and measures to prevent impairment. Under those circumstances the park manager is morally and legally obligated to prohibit the use. But, just saying “No” because it is the most expeditious decision, abdicates the responsibility of the park manager to manage.

While many who reviewed his proposed changes said they, if approved, would lead to more motorized recreation in the parks, more cellphone towers, more low-level park overflights, the possibility of mining in some parks, more commercialism, and even erasure of the concept and explanation of evolution in favor of creationism, Mr. Hoffman maintained that those interpretations were "patently absurd."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Hoffman's reappearance surprised some folks. Among those was Bill Wade, whose lengthy Park Service career included a stint as superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and who now sits as chair of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which was one of the groups most opposed to Mr. Hoffman's proposed revisions.

In a response to Mr. Hoffman's email, Mr. Wade noted in part that had Mr. Hoffman truly been a student of the National Park Service Organic Act, he would have clearly understood "why the drafters carefully and intentionally placed 'conservation' preceding 'visitor enjoyment' and why; and you might then have been less persistent about trying to provide your own biased interpretation of the Act rather than acceding to what those drafters really meant and intended by writing the Act the way they did."

"... Fortunately, it became clear in the end that the NPS workforce – those who, unlike you, had thousands of years of accumulated experience managing national parks – and the public overwhelmingly disagreed with what you claim would not have happened, or wasn’t intended, if your version of the NPS Management Policies had been implemented," continued Mr. Wade.

"All your attempts to explain and justify now are too late. Your “redline version” of the policies spoke for itself, and for you. Your mischief and intent were seen for what they were, and were soundly trounced; and the National Park System and the American public are better off for it."

Comments

Thank you, Bill. It is officials like Hoffman who pose the greatest threat to the National Park System. It takes dedicated managers to stand up to the short sighted people, such as Hoffman, and refuse to compromise on the mission of the National Park Service as stated in the Organic Act.