Odds and Ends from Around the National Park System: Interior's Transparency Woes, Plowing Hurricane Ridge, and More

A look around the National Park System finds an interesting potpourri of issues, from the Interior Department's struggles with transparency and a move to see Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park kept open year-round to campfire restrictions in Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.

The Interior Department's Transparency Efforts

As we near the mid-point of the Obama administration, which pledged transparency from the start, the Interior Department continues to struggle with providing that transparency. It was back in February when Interior launched a webpage devoted to "providing the American public with timely, accurate information. ... The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to access any Department of the Interior records unless the information in those records is protected by one or more of the nine exemptions (reasons an agency may withhold records from a requester) and there is a sound legal basis to withhold them." (emphasis added)

Well, last November the Traveler filed a FOIA request to obtain a report from the Interior's Office of Inspector General. The report was the result of an investigation into how the National Park Service's Intermountain Regional Office handled a probe into charges that a man hired as the "Indian Trader" to run the retail operation at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site had misappropriated funds from the operation.

The OIG became involved in the matter back in November 2006. And while it completed a report, and forwarded it to then-Park Service Director Mary Bomar in January 2008, that document has yet to be released publicly.

Well, the OIG still has yet to respond to our FOIA request with a single page from that investigation's reports. That apparently hasn't been overlooked by Interior, as late in July the OIG office sent us a form apologizing "for the delay in processing your request."

The Office of Inspector General has made the elimination of our FOIA backlog a priority, and feel confident that our new process and procedures will be able to accommodate the large number of incoming requests we receive. First, however, the backlog must be eliminated to allow for our full-time attention to incoming requests. As part of our reduction plan, we are contacting all individuals to determine if the material is still relevant or desired, and whether we have current contact information.

Plowing Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

One of the best views from Olympic National Park is from atop Hurricane Ridge. From there you can glance out across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to British Columbia, or south to the high, snow-covered peaks in the park's rugged interior.

However, that view is not always available in winter, when the 17-mile-long road to the ridge is open only on weekends -- when possible -- to allow for winter enthusiasts to head up to a small ski operation, for snowshoeing, tubing, or simply to enjoy the snow and views.

But officials with the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce are confident they can raise enough money to help the National Park Service afford the plowing and crews needed to keep the route open seven days a week -- when possible -- through the winter months.

Currently, the Park Service is willing to help pay for the plowing on a trial basis to see if the expanded access will help tourism in the area.

Florida Officials To Vote on Land Purchase That Could Help Everglades

A key vote is scheduled for Thursday that will go a long way towards determining the health of Everglades National Park. At 11 a.m. EDT the South Florida Water Management District is scheduled to vote on whether to purchase a portion of U.S. Sugar Corporation's land holdings in the Everglades.

The purchase, though not as enormous as first proposed -- now involving just 26,800 acres, vs. the initial 181,000 acres -- is still viewed by proponents as invaluable to the national park. It will, figuratively speaking, straighten a kink in the natural plumbing of the region. Developments such as the sugar plantation have disrupted natural water flows from the lake into the park. Without them, the so-called "River of Grass" can't survive.

According to the South Florida Wildlands Association, "(D)rained of its water and filled with pollution (the Everglades has lost 90 percent of its wading birds and no fish caught within it are considered truly safe to eat), the ecosystem today is on life support."

Indeed, last week Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was happy to hear that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had returned the national park to its World Heritage Site In Danger list, citing "serious and continuing degradation of its aquatic ecosystem."

South Florida Wildlands along with other environmental organizations in south Florida believe this deal should go forward, the association said.

"Aside from allowing for ‘filter marshes’ capable of extracting huge quantities of runoff and other pollutants from Everglades water (which also happens to be the public water supply for most of south Florida), removing agricultural production is the best and possibly only hope for bringing the Everglades back from the brink," a release from the group said. "Part of the current purchase would also provide connectivity between Florida panther habitat in the southwest corner of Palm Beach County (in state Wildlife Management Areas well utilized by one of the most endangered species on the planet) and federal, state, and tribal lands (e.g. Big Cypress National Preserve, Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, and the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest) to the south and west."

If you can't attend the meeting, which is being held at the water district headquarters at 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, Florida, you can email your opinion to the commissioners at the following addresses:

jmontgom@sfwmd.gov, , , , , , ,

You can find details on the issue on this pdf.

Fire Conditions Force Campfire Restrictions In Kings Canyon, Sequoia

With August here and forests drying out, campfire restrictions are being imposed in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Under the restrictions put in place Tuesday "no wood or barbecue fires are permitted below 6,000 feet, except in designated campgrounds. This includes Ash Mountain Picnic Area, Hospital Rock Picnic Area and wilderness travel below 6,000 feet. Gas or propane stoves may be used at all elevations. No smoking below 6,000 feet is permitted, except within a developed area, a campground, an enclosed vehicle, or a building which allows smoking."

The restrictions will remain in place until further notice.

Comments

The National Park Service has a long way to go to even approach 'transparency'. A couple winters ago, I requested copies of the annual budget and staff organization chart from Mt. Rainier. E-mail, phone calls and a letter brought no response for over six months, at which point I contacted the FOIA office in D.C. I don't understand why this basic information is not routinely included on each park's website and am wondering if others have had similar experiences at other parks?

The fundraising drive to keep Olympic's Hurricane Ridge road open for next winter on weekdays has been successful:
http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20100817/news/308179994/hurricane-ridge-access-fundraiser-meets-its-goal

Congratulations and thanks to all the organizers & contributors! Additional funds will be needed for subsequent winters.