Recent comments

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   32 sec ago

    Nice post Harry, and it has led to an interesting discussion. I do not have the answers. When I first started working in Yosemite on a trail crew in 1960, park visitation was roughly 500,000. Upon my retirement in 1997, it was in excess of 4 million, all rough figures. In 1960, visitation to Tuolumne Meadows via the old Tioga Road was 25,000. Now it exceeds a million and half. The NPS has a really tough job not only keeping up with the facilities and maintenance of said, but constructing the additional infrastructure to handle this almost 8 fold increase in visitation at Yosemite. One approach is to encourage the development of new infrastructure outside the parks, but then the issue of day use access becomes contentious. Railroads, mono rails, shuttle trams have issues also. As Mr. Runte points out, population increase places demands on park infrastructure needs that persons in my age group see changing the parks as we knew them so many years ago. Many propose visitor use capacities, etc. to limit the visitation and the need for more development. This is a very tough sell politically and is currently unacceptable to many citizens.

    I don not know Harry, but I think the reality is that after the best history, science, public input is gathered and reviewed, the manager then must take into account the political realities existing at the time. That is out system. Hopefully, as has been pointed out, the constituency for our parks and public lands will continue to grow, changing the political equation to some extent. Tahoma, you make a good point, I have seen it myself. We do like to build things but much of the pressure to do so is an effort to meet the increasing demand. I could go on and on,, but had better stop here. I have found this topic quite interesting

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   14 min ago

    Perhaps we should see about creating a National Parks Lend - Lease Act. We can loan Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon to their respective states or counties or other interested organizations and let them manage them. Over a course of say 20 years, the NPS can evaluate what's left of them and decide if they want them back since they apparently have the resources to manage these four sites. In the meantine, the funding and staff currently allocated to these parks can be redistributed to the remaining 403 NPS sites to help out the "real" parks.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   1 hour 11 min ago

    To sum up so far:

    If the Park Service saves money, Congress will just reduce the budget again. A+ fpr that insight. That's exactly what Congress will do. Then will we let them?

    Leadership is the problem, and always has been. Again, A+ for that insight. Or would you rather I make the point by drinking 10 Buds? Come to think of it, that is a marvelous idea. On a scale of one to 10 Buds, how are we doing so far? One Bud--awful. 10 Buds--exceptional!

    The national parks are losing their relevance. Sorry, that's just one Bud. It's convenient doublespeak to mask the greater problem that the whole country is losing economic stability. Here in Seattle, a half dozen recent college graduates I know have student loans beginning at $40,000. The highest (undergraduate and M.A.) just told me hers totalled $150,000. Those $1,000 payments every month really inspire you to visit your national parks.

    The Park Service always seems to have money for the bureaucracy it wants. Yes, 10 Buds! And it's especially true of universities these days. Professors? What are those?

    Harry wrote a horrible article. 0 Buds, and a dunce cap in the corner. Oh, that's so un-PC! Everyone gets a Bud for trying! No, Scott gets a dunce cap for daring to suggest that a great piece of writing is anything but. I may disagree with Harry's conclusions, too, but I know sweat when I see it. So yes, I will now treat myself to 10 Buds, and sign off for the rest of the day!

  • Critics Say Legislation Penned In The Name Of Homeland Security Could Trample National Parks, Other Federal Lands   1 hour 28 min ago

    This is pure balderdash on the part of Rob Bishop. It's part of his continuing anti-environmental and Federal lands management agenda.

    When I visited Organ Pipe Cactus a couple of years ago, I asked several rangers and about half a dozen Border Patrol officers about this. I also talked with an Arizona DPS supervisor who manages the electronic surveillance center at Gila Bend.

    They ALL said that the chances of apprehending illegal border crossers is actually much greater on wilderness lands than on private lands. The reason being that any movement detected by electronic devices in wilderness or park areas can be quickly and easily checked against any permits. They simply monitor movement and snag the violators at a convenient road crossing or other place.

    On the other hand, movement on private land is a different matter. It's impossible to tell if it's something illegal or a landowner working on fences, herding cattle, or just spreading manure.

    The DPS man said he figures they have an apprehension rate higher than 80% on park and game preserve lands as opposed to about 20"% on private lands.

    So here's an idea: How about a bill that will turn all private lands within 100 miles of the border into Federally protected wilderness? That should be a much more effective way to protect our borders.

    Unreasonable? No more unreasonable than Bishop's bulloney.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   2 hours 19 min ago

    During my career in the Maintenance Division, I would say about a third of the work we did was not maintenance, but new construction and elaborate upgrades. This development work was always a higher priority and the most certain path to managerial promotion. This practice had a double effect on the maintenance backlog, first by diverting staff from existing maintenance, and secondly, by adding to the overall long-term maintenance load.

    I generally agree with Mr Butowsky. My one addition would be to examine if we really have a 11.5 billion backlog or a 10 billion wish list and 1.5mil of actual necessary repairs.

    That's a good question, ec. I believe the national backlog is real, but that it is well-padded with development (look for the buzz word 'enhance') masquarading as maintenance. Given the pitiful lack of NPS fiscal transparency, my best guess is probably about 50-50 for the modern list.

    What bureaucrat ever thinks they have enough money? Here at Mount Rainier, there have been at least $200 million in infrastructure improvements over the past decade and the staff has expanded from 125 FTE to 172 FTE during the past three years, but the tired old press releases claiming poverty and insufficent staff just keep coming.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   2 hours 28 min ago

    Travis - thank you for taking the time to provide solid responses to this incredibly weak article and incoherent stream of comments.

    "I say that means cutting parks." followed by "I would not cut a one". Huh? "simply put those parks back where they belong". Really.....it's just that simple....the states have so much money I am sure they will be lined up to take this one on. The use of the term "environmentalists" here.....c'mon lose the 60's baggage. Not all "environmentalists" agree on everything you know. Quite a few don't even like parks anyway, for a number of reasons (some of them valid).

    Look folks, this is a complex problem. Some points in the article are worthy and should be considered. But it is exceptionally far from complete or accurate. No one has a clear path here so everyone needs to settle down. There is nothing "PC" in Travis's comments. Again....so much baggage; so much anger.

    Harry - thank you for bringing some worthy points to the NP management discussion. Your article is horrible overall, but I do appreciate some of your points. I can agree there MAY be some parks that should be cut from the system, but that had better be handled carefully and any sweeping measure to cut 50% is a terrible idea in my opinion. I do like the idea of an educated workforce, but then I like education. Not everybody else does though, and I think Travis makes a worthy argument to your sweeping reform. I would certainly like to see more rangers that know their parks better. Overall, some ok thoughts. Not exactly a scholarly approach though. :-)

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   2 hours 37 min ago

    I agree with you trail advocate. The reality of our maintenance backlog, lack of staffing, poor quality or outdated administrative histories is there and if we continue on our present course I see disaster looming. There is no perfect or ideal solution but we do need a plan. I do not see a plan by the NPS to deal with our looming problems. I have offered my plan and it may not be perfect but it is a plan. What I hope to accomplish with my Op Ed is to start a discussion. To say that we can not build one F-35 to pay for 10 years expense for one park is not a plan. It will never happen so I invite eveyone reading this Op Ed to give me your plan. Let's see if we can get something positive going here and move the NPS in the right direction.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   10 hours 19 min ago

    Yep, there is reality out there to truly cope with. The fantasy is what it is. The sooner it's recognized as such, the better. Only getting worse and in a hurry!

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   11 hours 42 min ago

    But yes, interpreation had already fallen from a staff of 75 to a staff of 36. I believe now it is just 18. How do you make the parks more relevant by cutting job holders off at the knees? In Zion, another wonderful couple just left the park, knowing they would never achieve permanent status. Again, you aren't going to make the national parks relevant to anyone if all you do is keep adding parks. Every park needs a staff, and if the staff is asked to "volunteer," well, that is Dr. Butowsky's point. It just doesn't work that way.

    I know all too well the challenges in this sphere, Alfred. The Forest Service doesn't even have a BLI for interpretation/education, and we're working to find the dollars (appropriated, fee or otherwise) to keep our two visitor centers and interpretive programming alive on the Tongass. I'm wearing three hats and doing five jobs right now, from training/supervising interpreters to managing YCC programs, all as a GS-9 Step 1. And believe me, I feel lucky just to have a PFT 9.

    I just don't believe the answer to this problem is "close some of the national parks." For one, if you do that, there is no way Congress will simply say "OK, you can close 25 (50, 100, whatever) parks and keep your budget the same." The budget would almost certainly be reduced by about the same amount as those parks cost.

    Most of the parks you could conceive of "closing" aren't big, expensive parks anyway. So let's say you get rid of Nicodemus NHS... congratulations, you've saved $461,000, according to the FY16 Greenbook. Even if you're lucky enough for Congress to let the NPS keep half of that... you've gotten rid of an entire park system unit in exchange for enough funding for maybe three PFT 9s elsewhere. I have to ask you, is that really worth it?

    Are we so bereft of ideas and so destitute of rationale for our cause that we're willing to tear apart our own movement and pit park against park in a desperate search for the last small scraps of funding to be had? Because that sort of cannibalistic paroxysm signifies fatal weakness and terminal instability. It would firmly and publicly depict the national park idea — and the idea of public lands as a whole — as one in its flailing death throes. That is not the vision I believe we need for the future of public land management.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   12 hours 15 min ago

    I wish Mr. Smith could please point out where this "rule" about each generation is written? Maybe we should think about about the future generations that a have to pay for and administer these parks. Past generations can and have made mistakes and put places under NPS management that don't belong there. And as we've mentioned before sites have been removed from the system.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   13 hours 24 min ago

    I generally agree with Mr Butowsky. My one addition would be to examine if we really have a 11.5 billion backlog or a 10 billion wish list and 1.5mil of actual necessary repairs.

  • Savings On Zion Maps, National Park Posters Await Traveler Members   13 hours 35 min ago

    Alas, too late. Already bought my map and finished my Zion hikes today.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   13 hours 49 min ago

    Travis Mason Rushman, thank you for your posts. I enjoy both Harry's and Alfred Runte's posts and usually find I am in agreement with them, but on this issue, I am with you. I understand Mr. Runte's concern about the "population bomb' and in the larger context he maybe right. But I did find Harry's suggestions on this issue not to my own way of thinking. You are right about delisting NPS areas, An excellent book on the subject is Dwight Rettie, "Our National Parks". As both Alfred and Harry know, much administrative history written at the park level is farmed out to an educated staff person, who may or may not be an historian (or knowledgeable of the area), with strict time frames and the unwritten code on not being critical on past or present decisions made by management. It is not career enhancing to find fault with the public/private entity you are working for. That has been my own experience and is quite human.

    Turning these areas that represent the national ecological, historic and cultural heritage over to 50 states is, in my own view, not a good idea. . That the states could find the funding, resources, unity of purpose, etc. for them is highly doubtful, California State Parks a good example. The money is there Alfred, but the perpetual war machine is taking up over 50% of the discretionary budget, our 30 plus year war (longer really) in the middle east is a drain on the nations wealth, creating many problems nationally and internationally and well documented in such books as a recent New York Times best seller, "Dirty Wars" by Jeremy Scahill.

    I understand Alfred's basic premise, population is a very big issue, however many people are seeking solutions. Cultural and deep seated religious values, other considerations, make it a tough nut to crack. Most politicians do not want to touch the subject, it is "we will talk about it after the election". I understand the historian's frustration, but we might also want to consider how difficult it is to get the scientific expertise plugged in. Then of course there are the boots on the ground that are often ignored completely. I really enjoy history, but its the science that we are not paying attention to that is my major concern. It is difficult sometimes to find the line between the two fields, as history does delve into the decision process. Thank you Alfred, others, including a very recent jewel of a little book on willdlife management "Speaking of Bears" by Rachel Mazur.

    Finally, and please excuse this lengthly post, I think we must contiune to work for solutions, difficult as they maybe. In my over 50 years of working for the NPS, I have found the vast majority of employees at all levels to be competent, well trained, working hard to pass on the legacy, Todd Bruno (Worth Fighting For), Paul Berkowitz, (The Case of the Indian Trader), Barbara Moritsch (The Soul of Yosemite), just some recent examples and the list is endless of those persons making the effort (and include most on this websit. By the way Alfred, I ran into one of your old supervisors today during your tenure at Yosemite, Mr. Len McKenzie. He said to say hello.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   14 hours 17 min ago

    What do you mean by a national standard, Travis? Do you have one? All too often, the "standard" is what local interests make of it. After that, should their congressional delegation have the power, they get it pushed through Congress. The same applies to the truly NATIONAL parks. From snowmobiling to overflights, the locals get far more say than they deserve. Or am I wrong?

    As for parks that are "trending down," sorry, but all of the parks I know are trending up. Once again, the Park Service has nothing to offer but a news release suggesting that the parks are "deficient" because some group or class has found them "wanting." That is bunk. My "minority" friends and colleagues do not need to be patronized as if they were freshmen in a university. They do not need to be "led" by the hand, as it were, to appreciate nature. 187 countries in the world out of 240 have significant national parks. When "those" people come here, too, they will know to appreciate nature, that is, if first they can land a job.

    Worry about that and the rest will take care of itself. Now, "professional in the field." Do you think we are not professionals, too? Stick my head in the sand? Why, because I disagree with you? You are no professional if you cannot handle that. I spent much of my afternoon going back and forth with you to see what you have to say. I am not asking you to agree with me, but yes, I will hold you to the facts. And the fact is: With current generations it is not so much about "disinterest" as it is about paying off their student loans--at last count, $1.2 trillion. Just how many parks can you see with that debt load? Among the many recent college graduates that I know, the answer trends to few or none.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   14 hours 47 min ago

    Who gets to keep "their" national park? Those who are willing to staff it properly and pay for it. Will some fight the process? But of course. They don't want to pay for it; they want someone else to pay for it.

    As best I can parse this sentence, you are saying that national parks should be established and maintained not on the basis of any standard of national ecological, cultural or recreational significance, but on the basis of whether they have a community of interest willing to pay for that park to exist. Is that correct?

    The national parks already have "a broad constituency." Are you saying that the constituency is too "white" and affluent? Then say so. Stop beating around the bush with the PC jargon of a more "representative and relevant National Park System."

    It's not "PC jargon" to note that visitation at "traditional" nature-based national parks has been trending downward for some time, or that there is significant writing and research to suggest that my generation is not as connected with, or attracted to, natural and cultural resources-based experiences as much as ones have in the past (c.f. Richard Louv). If you wish to stick your head in the sand with regard to that trend, you are welcome to do so. As a professional in the field, a land management agency employee and as a person who believes in the ideals of public lands, I am interested in reversing that trend. If we are to enjoy our national parks, forests and conservation lands for another 100 years, it must be so.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   15 hours 28 min ago

    What do I want for my country, Travis? I would start my wish list with common sense. In the 1960s, my student colleagues trashed the State University of New York at Binghamton to make their statement about "The War." Trouble was: Those jets you mention were their future paycheck, too. When they started work for General Electric and IBM, the love beads came off and the suits went on. Hypocrites? Yes, and Americans. Here in Seattle, that military budget still supports 85,000 workers at Boeing--not to mention another 65,000 at Microsoft, et al. How many can we possibly "retrain" for something else, that is, something that will support a family? Not many, and so again, the article this morning by Dr. Butowsky rests.

    As you say, change is never easy. Nor has it been easy these past 50 years. The lack of jobs, rather than the abundance of them, explains Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore. And Binghamton, New York, my hometown. 25,000 jobs making shoes. Gone. 1500 jobs making furniture. Gone. 4,000 jobs making film and chemicals. Gone. 25,000 jobs building main frame computers. Gone. 5,000 jobs working for three railroads. Gone. What's left? The welfare line and a few hamburger joints. And the Little Venice, the best Italian restaurant in the world. Unfortunately, the sauce and meatballs don't make up for all of the losses, recently described as the Detroitification of upstate New York.

    If you can find me 93,000,000 good-paying jobs (the number of adult Americans NOT working), then yes, you can talk about the military, and military spending, and all the rest. I will agree with you. Turn those weapons into plowshares, and yes, properly fund the national parks. However, that statistic is also misleading. It's us old folks--now 65 plus--eating up all that Social Security and Medicare. One day in the next 20 years, I'll go to the boneyard. Meanwhile, I am gobbling up the budget and contributing more than my fair share to the national debt. What is the legacy of my generation? Debt! Do I want it to be that? No, but no one listened when Paul Ehrlich published THE POPULATION BOMB way back in the year of Our Lord 1968.

    How did all of this happen? While America was asleep--and yes--growing ever more politically correct as it outstripped its resources. Consequently, the deeper issues were never aired. Where are all those jobs I mentioned? In China. Is that bad? Not for China, but what does it do for us? A cheaper television set? A cheaper video game? Sure, and no interest paid to savers for the past six years.

    National parks first flourished in that other society--the one that started disappearing in the 1960s. It was still the society of "America First." Tax the wealthy? Put all their booty in a pile, and they still could not run the country for a year. Repeat after me. Middle-class jobs, and middle class wages, and middle-class retirements--that's America. And the minute you say that these days, someone will accuse you of being a protectionist and an opponent of "free trade."

    I've watched it unfold my entire life, and taught it, in the 1970s, as the inevitable conumdrum of population growth. "But Dr. Runte. The Green Revolution is feeding more people than ever before!" Yes, and now all of them want and need a job in an economy destroying jobs left and right. What did I read the other day? In 25 years, computers will be doing everything? In the movie Sleeper, Woody Allen got that right. The only thing left is the orgasmitron. Just don't turn it up to high.

    Unfortunately, none of this is funny. Good people predicted it and wrote about it daily, but all of them were ignored. Now it's here. The world they predicted--5 billion more people, and 4 billion of them still out of work and hope.

    Even if Congress would address it, the problem is now out of control. So I don't expect Congress to say: You're right! We'll cut the military and fund the parks. Why didn't we see it earlier? Gosh, that makes so much sense!

    This century, nothing will be making sense. And if the next 5 billion people predicted should in fact materialize, we'll be lucky to keep the parks at all.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   17 hours 49 min ago

    Sorry, Ghost, but I instinctively distrust any comment that begins with the sweeping "as we all know". It is a mathematical certainty that that statement will always be a self-serving and inaccurate generalization. Next time you might want to check with some of us before including us in your generalization used to support your position.

    In my experience the NPS has always been underfunded, and generally used as a political pawn in any budgeting process. The parks are treated at the national level similar to how, at the local levels, budgeting threats are leveled at schools, libraries, police and fire services.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   18 hours 18 min ago

    The money is certainly there. We spend uncounted billions and trillions on unnecessary jet fighters and pointless foreign wars. For the price of a single F-35, we would pay for the entire Tongass National Forest operating budget for a decade. Spending on land management agencies is barely a rounding error on the federal budget as a whole. The United States is not poor, let alone broke. What is needed is the political will to reprioritize our spending on parks rather than drones, historic sites rather than tax cuts for the wealthy.

    If you are suggesting that this will be difficult, I do not deny it. But which is the future you wish for this country's public lands movement: fighting each other over scraps and calling each other's national parks worthless and deserving of being shut down, or standing together to defend, preserve and expand our world-class system of protected landscapes and cultural heritage sites? Which is your vision for the future, Alfred? What do you want the legacy of your generation to be?

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   19 hours 13 min ago

    Sorry, Travis, this is not a plan. It is your opinion of what would happen "if" someone else's plan were followed. Your "solution," as you call it, is undefined. The national parks already have "a broad constituency." Are you saying that the constituency is too "white" and affluent? Then say so. Stop beating around the bush with the PC jargon of a more "representative and relevant National Park System."

    Just for the record, I disagree with that news release. Thirty-five years ago in Yosemite, fifty percent of my Park Service colleagues were female, Native American, Hispanic American, and African-American. But yes, interpreation had already fallen from a staff of 75 to a staff of 36. I believe now it is just 18. How do you make the parks more relevant by cutting job holders off at the knees?

    In Zion, another wonderful couple just left the park, knowing they would never achieve permanent status. Again, you aren't going to make the national parks relevant to anyone if all you do is keep adding parks. Every park needs a staff, and if the staff is asked to "volunteer," well, that is Dr. Butowsky's point. It just doesn't work that way.

    Who gets to keep "their" national park? Those who are willing to staff it properly and pay for it. Will some fight the process? But of course. They don't want to pay for it; they want someone else to pay for it. I am not agreeing with Dr. Butowsky about any numbers, but I know that limitless numbers are not in the cards. As it stands, we keep bargaining with the Devil (now Budweiser) to pay for the parks we have, and consequently no park has what it really needs.

    No family can run a household on its credit card forever. "Fighting each other?" The fight is over. Uncle Sam is flat out broke. "Weaken us?" We are already weakened by refusing to acknowledge that. What Dr. Butowsky said today took guts. I don't agree with all of it; in the end, I may not agree with most of it. I will have to think about it for several days.

    But I know truth when I see it. When I see Dr. Butowsky cite our national debt, I know he is struggling to deal with uncomfortable truths. As should we struggle before denouncing his plan simply because our plan is innately flawed. Certainly, all of my plans also end up by saying we need "more money." In other words, I am also forced to go back to the drawing board. The money just isn't there.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   19 hours 53 min ago

    As we all know, the NPS backlog is exaggerated and untrustworthy. That's how we operate; we tend to blame everthing on a lack of funds, so we embelish. Those that have been around awhile know that our budget has increased nearly every year, and for decades, often coming at the expense of other Interior agency's. Its not our lack of funding or being overextended that's the problem, its our leadership, managment and supervison; and lack of sound priority setting. It is not enough to just pour more money on a miss-managed agency and expect new, different and improved results. You must improve our leadership, establish mission based priorities / high standards and hold employees accountable for poor performance. From a history perspective, I agree that understanding our history is a key component for creating and maintaining agency culture / values, which supports high performance and ethical leadership. This is especially true regarding sharing our amazing early history, which created enertia and a pattern of agency success. Our modern-day pattern is fractured and our failing proud agency lies at the feet of our very poor leadership. Improve our leadership and everything else will follow. This leadership issue should have been number one on the listing, especially when the listing was created by a historian. Leadership builds values / agency culture, establishes high standards, clarifies priorities and this drive high performance. It is job number one. Otherwise, we could spend our time throwing a big expensive party and allow our leadership to creat a giant self-promotion campaign as our overarching priority. Oh, wait, that is exactly what we are doing!

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   19 hours 55 min ago

    While I admired Harry's professionalism as a NPS historian, I think he is forgetting one point when he starts talking about reducing the System or giving park areas to states. One of the enduring virtures of the National Park System is that each generation of Americans, speaking through their elected representatives, gets to add the to the System those areas that they believe merit protection in perpetuity. As a matter of generational equity, we owe it to those who have come before us to take the best care of those places we can.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   20 hours 37 min ago

    I can tell you where my solution starts: Building a broad constituency in support of a strengthened, representative and relevant National Park System.

    The "solution" pitched here would pit communities of interest - geographical, social, cultural and ecological - against each other in a frightful and wholly-counterproductive bout of internecine warfare destined to fragment and nullify that constituency.

    Do you want to spend the next 10 years building a stronger national park system, or do you want to spend the next 10 years fighting each other over who gets to keep their national park? I know which one is going to strengthen us and which will weaken us.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   21 hours 8 min ago

    So, Travis, what's your plan? Write it up and present it to us. And one more thing. Tell us where you will find the money.

    Meanwhile, I agree that Ethan Carr and Amy Meyer have written wonderful books. And is that not Dr. Butowsky's point? Who in the Park Service has even read those? Pick your seven books; pick your seventeen books. The point about being an educated man or woman is to know what you're talking about. And too many in Park Service management (yes, I will give the electrician a pass) haven't a clue.

    In the 1920s, many leaders--including Stephen T. Mather as director--referred to the national parks as the University of the Wilderness. Mather was a reader, and so was his successor, Horace Albright. And both were writers, too. One of the letters I cherish in my files is from Horace Albright praising my work as a historian. I have no other such letter from anyone else in Park Service management, although Fran Mainella has generously endorsed my work.

    In managing a great public institution, ignorance is no excuse. You have to manage from a position of strength and consistency. And good history is the prerequisite for both. You are right that some administrative histories are awful. Well, think again who gets to write those histories. And consider what they are paid.

    Each of my major books has required 10 years to research and write--full-time. In years past, the Park Service was famous for offering just $18,000 per history. Did I say that right? I did. Eighteen thousand dollars, with a deadline of six months. I helped change that, but again paid the price for it. My gosh! You mean that historians want to be paid?

    The backlog persists because we are cheap. As Americans, we want our national parks on the cheap. So, if you have a plan for how to fund 407 individual parks, let's hear it and see your reading list. We're all for it. We want solutions. Just don't tell us to "volunteer" while the big whigs still get paid.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   21 hours 42 min ago

    The "shrink the park system" is an objectively terrible idea and has always been so.

    For one, who decides what parks are no longer "worthy" of being managed by the National Park Service? Is it a popularity contest, and if so, whose popularity are we measuring? You have just said that 200+ national park system units should be closed — please name them. If you aren't willing to come up with that list and defend your choices, then this is nothing more than empty speechifying.

    For two, if you haven't noticed, almost every state is suffering even greater budget issues than the federal government, and funding for state and local parks has been slashed around the country. Dumping 200+ national park system units on local communities is completely infeasible and would result in vast selloffs and closures of public lands and facilities.

    For three, the idea that Congress would consent to massively shrink the park system without simultaneously massively shrinking the agency's budget is purely fantasy.

    Similarly, many of these other arguments and demands are simply nonsensical "sound-bite" ideas that are either useless or counterproductive. Creating a "mandatory reading list" is a good example of this. Force-feeding a personally-chosen and rather arbitrary set of books (I see you're in love with Alfred Runte, but what about Ethan Carr or Amy Meyer?) seems like A Very Bad Idea. As for administrative histories, some NPS administrative histories are great. Many others are, at best, poorly-written, and at worst, utterly misleading and outdated. Your idea would force employees to read these often-pretty-useless documents, to what end? Moreover, you'd subject *every* employee to this? Why does the staff electrician need to take a test on Alfred Runte? What is gained by this?

    I could go on picking this thing apart, but it's clear that this editorial just doesn't bear any resemblance to an actual plan for improving our national parks and public lands. It's rather dismaying to see it appear in the pages of this publication, actually.

  • Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial   23 hours 12 min ago

    An outstand Op-Ed with what should be a mandatory reading list! I would only change the priorities within his list. I would place his # 2 priority "make the park system fit the budget" the last priority, instead of #2. Honest zero-based budgeting, especially with a leaner agency would allow the NPS to address whatever the realistic "backlog" really is and the other priorities listed here. I believe if we had that political will within the agency, we may never reach that final option of turning properties back to anyone.

    When we previously went through the "zero-based budgeting" process, we had to assume that if funds were not there, the first step we would take is purely protect the resources including if necessary closing the gates to the public. If we were sincere in fulfilling the mission given the NPS, i.e., preserve the resources for future generations, we would take such actions in order to meet the other priorities outlined in this article. This step along with his comments about a leaner agency - especially in central offices - would free up more than sufficient funds to handle what is needed. I also applaud his emphasis on history. How many of the issues of today would be solved by looking to the past and "mining" the knowledge of past NPS employees. For me it is truly sad that the National Park Service hasn't the will or the support to do more than what we are seeing for our 100th anniversary.