Call To Action: Growing The National Park System

If the National Park System is to expand, and it surely will continue to do so, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis believes his agency should recommend a more methodical approach, one that takes into consideration not just natural resources but also human stories.

Currently, many areas end up proposed for inclusion in the National Park System by members of Congress. Moving forward, Mr. Jarvis would like to see the Park Service recommend a more deliberate approach to which areas should be added. He wants the agency to submit to Congress a detailed plan that "delineates the ecological regions, cultural themes, and stories of diverse communities that are not currently protected and interpreted."

For instance, despite the many threads that Hispanics have woven into the country's fabric over the centuries, and despite the stories handed down by African Americans, just 3 percent of the country's National Historic Landmarks "represent the contributions of minorities to the history of this country," Mr. Jarvis told the Traveler during a recent interview concerning his Call to Action designed to ready the Park Service for its centennial in 2016.

"There are missing components of the American experience in what has been recognized ... so we are looking at themes. We have a very strong interest in the Hispanic contributions to this country, in terms of culture, in terms of art, in terms of land management, in terms of military conflict," he explained. "Hispanics served in the Civil War, they served in every war in this country, and obviously are a large component of American society today. Yet their contributions are not well-recognized, either within the current National Park System, nor on the broader landscape of National Historic Landmarks.

“So we’re looking to take a thematic approach to this and say, 'Where are the gaps?' The Park Service has the legislative responsibility to tell and recognize the sweep of American history and so we want to fill in those gaps.”

At the same time, the Park Service and its sister land-management agencies -- the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others -- are taking a look out across their landscapes to see how they can better fit together, particularly in the face of climate change, the Park Service director said. As temperatures get hotter and landscapes get drier, wildlife and vegetation will be on the move in an effort to survive, and the land managers need to work to enable that movement, said Mr. Jarvis.

“That’s a broader initiative than just the National Park Service," he said. "All the major land-management agencies are involved in this effort right now, to look out on the landscape and recognize that we need to create corridors for migratory species. We’ve been pretty good over the years of looking at migratory birds, but if you’re having to walk rather than fly, can you actually get from one area to the next?

"How can we leverage land conservation, conservation easements, even wildlife crossings of interstates? All those kinds of things to allow migratory species, that are going to be driven, that currently are driven, by climate change” need to be taken into consideration, the director continued.

Though it's just 24 pages in length, the Call to Action draws big visions, from the deliberate approach to expanding the National Park System and strengthening the parks' connection with America's youth and minorities to tying urban communities to the outdoors through a program revolving around parks, greenways, trails and waterways, and revising the 1960s-era Leopold Report on wildlife management in the parks.

All of that can be done, maintains Mr. Jarvis, without congressional approval and without new dollars.

“The basic premise of the Call to Action is everything within that document is within our power," the Park Service director said.