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Give Us A National Park, But Please, Not Its Regulations


Who wouldn't love to have Yellowstone, or Cape Hatteras, or the Grand Canyon as their backyard? But those pesky rules and regulations....Top photo by Kurt Repanshek, bottom to NPS.

We love our national parks. We love the wildlife they hold, the seashores with their sparkling sands, the forests with their wildlife and hiking trails, the soaring red-rock cliffs and plunging canyons.

But please, don't ask us to abide by their regulations.

Uproars over managing off-road vehicles in both Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Big Cypress National Preserve, the oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore, air traffic over Grand Canyon National Park, snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, and now bike races in Colorado National Monument all seem to drive home that point, no?

There are other examples, to be sure, whether you point to non-native fish being stocked in North Cascades National Park, off-road routes in the crooks and crannies of Death Valley National Park, or climbing fees being raised at Denali and Mount Rainier national parks so the Park Service can afford its climbing programs.

There's an interesting conundrum at play, don't you think? Congressional representatives and states clamor for a unit of the National Park System in their backyards, both for the preservation they bring and the economic boost they can provide. But after the ink is dry on the enabling legislation, those pesky regulatory details can be downright breath-taking, and not in the same manner as Yellowstone's Lower Falls.

* In North Carolina, the idea of Cape Hatteras being the country's first national seashore was applauded, as was the National Park Service's agreement to artificially maintain Highway 12. But what's this about seasonally blocking some access due to nesting birds and turtles?!?

* Yellowstone is beloved by Wyomingites, Montanans, and Idahoans, all who rightfully take pride in laying claim to the world's first national park. Just don't too loudly raise the issue of where or how you can snowmobile in the park, delve into the wolf recovery program, or mention bison, unless you're ordering a cut for dinner.

* Grand Canyon National Park was a god-send for northern Arizona, a hot, arid place in summer where the park's lure contributes significantly to the local economy. But now some air-tour operators are complaining that the Park Service's efforts to restore natural quiet to the canyon, something that no doubt helped lure many of those visitors, could put them out of business.

* At Big Cypress, never mind that the Florida panther, arguably the most-endangered mammal in North America, is a tail's length away from extinction. Swamp buggies are needed to pierce the dense undergrowth and boggy sections of the preserve for hunters, anglers, and wildlife viewers.

* And at Point Reyes, the tastiness of a farmed Pacific oyster is the cause célèbre in a battle over wilderness designation.

Never mind that there is better snowmobiling in the national forests surrounding Yellowstone than in the park itself; that the fishing off Cape Hatteras is better in fall, outside of the plover and sea turtle nesting seasons, than during the height of summer; that Drakes Estero isn't the only place to farm oysters in California (Tomales Bay oysters, anyone?); that there already are off-road vehicle routes elsewhere in Big Cypress; or that the Grand Canyon planners believe they have a system that will allow for 8,000 more flights a year that currently being flown while also reducing noise in the park.

No, those are all beside the point to some.

Of course, the National Park Service has no other choice but to uphold its regulations. And foremost among them is the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, a legendary work of conservation foresight that specifically directed the Park Service to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein ..."

Of course, there are those who are quick to point to the second half of that sentence, the part that also directs the Park Service to "provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

But as the late historian Robin Winks, who scrutinized the Organic Act to accurately interpret its intent, pointed out, the intent of the framers of the Act clearly was to place preservation of the resources above recreation.

The National Park Service was enjoined by that act, and the mission placed upon the Service was reinforced by subsequent acts, to conserve the scenic, natural, and historic resources, and the wild life found in conjunction with those resources, in the units of the National Park System in such a way as to leave them unimpaired; this mission had and has precedence over providing means of access, if those means impair the resources, however much access may add to the enjoyment of future generations.

Not impressed by Professor Winks' academic approach? Then know that federal courts have ruled more than once that preservation of the resources is the prime directive for the National Park Service.

In a case that arose 1986, for instance, National Rifle Association vs. Potter, a federal district court ruled that the Organic Act gives the Park Service "but a single purpose, namely, conservation."

Ten years later, in 1996, in Bicycle Trails Council vs. Babbitt, not only did the appellate court agree that preservation comes foremost for the Park Service, but it also ruled that the name of a unit of the National Park System -- in other words, whether the unit in question was a "national park" or "national seashore" or "national recreation area" -- did not alter that mandate. That ruling came after the court reviewed the 1970 General Authorities Act and the 1978 Redwood Amendment.

So what's the solution? Should states retake the national parks? Should Florida reclaim the Addition lands of Big Cypress, as one reader noted it could readily do? Should the "national seashore" tag be removed from either Cape Hatteras or Point Reyes? The locals are the ones seemingly most rankled by the regulations, and some outwardly maintain they could do a better job of managing the parks.

Of course, affording them is another question, as many states are finding it difficult to maintain their state parks. But that's part and parcel of deciding how to manage them, no?

Should the National Park Service Organic Act, that dusty, 95-year-old piece of legislation that gave the Park Service its marching orders, be gutted? Why not just take away that first part about conservation (which many have interpreted to mean 'preservation') and focus on enjoying them? And not for future generations, but right now!

Surely, by doing so free enterprise could be unleashed on the parks for hunters, anglers, off-road enthusiasts, snowmobilers, personal water craft owners, and who knows what other commercial enterprises that currently are shut out. True, that "national park" logo that comes in so handy with marketing would be lost, along with possibly millions of tourists who focus on "national parks," but that would solve some of the crowding issues in the campgrounds and moving about the beaches, no?

And no doubt some of the current open space could be done away with -- forests cut down, meadows plowed smooth, and asphalt laid hot and gleaming -- to make way for more lodges and restaurants and parking lots. That might detract a little from some of these places, but at least the Park Service wouldn't be around to police its regulations.

Perhaps the colonies should take a cue from the English, who have created a park system in which "(P)eople live and work in the National Parks and the farms, villages and towns are protected along with the landscape and wildlife."

But then, the concept of the American National Park System would be lessened, if not outright tarnished, no?

Though the above was typed only half-seriously, how should some of the issues raised by the vocal minorities that are complaining about how the national parks are being run be addressed? Should they just be dismissed as the rantings of local minorities, who in turn should be reminded that these are indeed "national" parks and not local playgrounds? Or should there be a serious reappraisal of some basic ground rules? After all, many of these locals moved to their present locations because they loved the parks and wanted to be close to them. But then, in some cases, lawsuits and regulatory changes followed them.

How seriously should the Endangered Species Act be taken? Wasn't it rampant development and sprawl that forced many of the listed plants, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, etc. into the dire plights they face today? And how vital is The Wilderness Act? Do we need it to preserve and maintain our wide-open expanses?

In the end, I suppose such questions hinge on whether we believe we should leave our grandchildren photos of Florida panthers and Ivory-billed woodpeckers and grizzly bears...or the real thing.

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Matt, I can't argue religion, but does God give man the right to choose what animals are desirable and what are not? You last statement has a major hole in it...why does everything have to adapt to us? Humans are one of the few creatures on this earth that makes everything else bend to their will...again, this is an impossible argument, so I will stop now.

GOD Chooses to kill off a species at a particular location.

NPS overrules GOD, because it is their job to do so!

Let me say this. "GOOD LUCK."

My Grandma said something to me when I became a parent as she shopped with me for Baby Gear. She said "You were raised with a bottle, washcloth and non disposable diapers..." and then she said "That much protection will only ruin his efforts to stand on his own"

With all we do to ensure some of these species survive are we not just making failure inevitable? Are we creating an environment that will never let them adapt? I mean these birds will no longer get the instincts to avoid the perals that await outside the seashore, because they grew up being pampered (no pun intended).

Matt, what should we do? Are humans a part of nature or separate? If we are part of it, then I guess we can just let things go and let "nature take it's course", because everything we do is just part of the cycle of life. I have a hard time with this one. I do believe that we are a part of nature, and just like any other animal we try to make our lives as comfortable as possible, but at what cost? We have altered the systems of this planet to the point that it is unrecognizable from 1000 years years ago, hell, we could probably only go back 100 years. Do we as humans, have the right to determine what lives and what does not? What is a desirable species, and what is not? Much of the predator control you speak of is of invasive species (not all, but many). If humans are responsible for placing these creatures there that are preying on native species, what is our responsibility?

I know, these are impossible questions to answer, but again, the law says that the NPS is mandated to protect native species, so until the law is changed, that is what will be done. I am not saying it is right, just saying that those folks are doing their jobs.

There may be no mention in the CD, but I find it more than a coincident that is only began after the threats to close the parks. Why is it that the NPS is only reactionary to any and all change? Why do they sit on their collective rears doing nothing until they are sued?

If these birds are so special, rare and important in Cape Hatteras why did it take more than ten years, after Cape Cod legislation, to enact something more to protect them? Why is it when you look back during this same time the enviros were trying to protect Ghost Crabs from the evil ORV's? Why is it that the Ghost Crabs are now the enemy? Are they not fuzzy enough top warrant an armchair enviro to contribute? My Opinion is that they failed on the Ghost Crabs so they went searching for a new poster child.

"As far as playing God goes 1000’s of sport fishermen do that in the Park every year deciding that this fish goes in the cooler and that fish will be released."

Here you go using oranges and apples to try and prove your point. I guess from this little bit of insight from you that the NPS will now be cooking up Fido and Felix and serving them with lemon. Sort of like you saying fisherman catching fish to protect the baits used to catch them with. The NPS does not release them they kill them. As much as possible those caught and not eaten are released back into the wild, mind you they did get a hook in the mouth and that will heal. A bullet to the head will not.

I hear all the time about the different options tried by the NPS to play GOD everything from snaring dogs to poisoning crows... that one really backfired didn't it! I makes me laugh to see the groups say protect this animal but kill off these to insure it can survive.

"What right does the NPS have to play god because the enviros told them to in court???"

Matt I believe you have misspoken again. I can find no mention of predator control in the CHNS to be any part of the “consent decree”. I know the Park does predator control with a specific purpose in mind but can find no reference that they were made to do it because of environmentalist.

As far as playing God goes 1000’s of sport fishermen do that in the Park every year deciding that this fish goes in the cooler and that fish will be released.

And it's NOT their money they are willing to spend! The money is coming from those that are being eliminated from the process.

Ryan you are correct except the NPS values a plover at approx 1 million dollars and 250 predators. What right does the NPS have to play god because the enviros told them to in court??? These Laws you speak of are killing thousands of predators, costing people livelyhoods and alienating people from the NPS.

Do I think one bird, wolf or fish is worth saving? Very GOOD Question.

I will simply state this "NOT AT THIS PRICE!"

Matt, I understand your frustration, but what are we to do? What precedent would it send to just let the plovers die off in that area? Is one bird, wolf, fish species, etc. worth saving? Or should we just sacrifice these animals in certain areas because of our "need" to recreate?

All of the world works under laws...the NPS has laws to follow and unless they are re-written or done away with, they are mandated to follow them.

The enviro's sued the park because they were not following the law...

ultimately there is no "right" answer as everyone wants what they want, and in the end no one is happy...

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