Recent comments

  • $1 Million Grant From American Express Will Help Restore 178-Year-Old Lockkeeper's House On National Mall   2 weeks 1 day ago

    I grew up in Northern VA and lived there most of my life. I've literally driven past this building hundreds of times on my way to work, on visits to the Mall, and on staycations escorting out of town guests around the Capitol area. I think I might have even leaned on it a couple of times looking for shade on hot summer days. And yet I never knew what it was other than just a building sitting at 17th & Constitution. And I had no inkling that a canal ever ran through the city. So far as I was aware the only local canal penetrated no further than into Georgetown. Amazing! A canal actually paralleled Constitution Ave!

    Thanks for the history lesson. I now have a new reason to go visit the Mall - which, by the way, when I was growing up there was just the Mall, not the National Mall. I like the change in name though. It's so much more than simply a local attraction; it physically anchors official Washington and plays host to a myriad of themes and monuments central to our National epoch. It cannot lay claim to being a natural treasure the likes of Yosemite or Yellowstone but it's certainly a National Treasure and one that every American should attempt to see at least once before they die.

  • Is Global Climate Change A Threat to National Parks? Another Response   2 weeks 1 day ago

    Arctic sea ice extent for November was the 9th lowest in the satellite record.

    Which would be totally consistent with a flattening trend in temperatures but inconsistent with a claim that CO2 causes global warming.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    No your contention that regulatory agencies function as 'unelected' legislative, judicial and executive is what is unsound.

    Not at all. Congress makes the legislation, i.e. clean the air. The regulatory agency then sets the standards, enforces the standards and prosecutes and judicates violators. Congress has nothing to do with the day to day operation of these agencies. And all three functions - making the rules, prosecuting and judicating fall under one umbrella with no seperation of powers.

    In 2013 there were 56 times more rules and regulations written than laws enacted by Congress.

  • Is Global Climate Change A Threat to National Parks? Another Response   2 weeks 1 day ago


    The NSIDC conclusion about an "ordinary" increase in ice in November 2014 is with respect to the increase in Arctic ice compared with ice cover during the previous months in 2014. However, comparing Arctic sea ice in November of 2014 with past Novembers from the satellite record, NSIDC has this to say:

    <<Arctic sea ice extent for November was the 9th lowest in the satellite record. Through 2014, the linear rate of decline for November extent over the satellite record is 4.7% per decade.>>

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    It's been an interesting discussion, and I agree that these NPS bills were going nowhere on their own in the House. That's certainly unlikely to change in the next 2 years, so if they are going to pass, it will have to be on the coattails of a bill that "is too big to allow to fail."

    I'll suggest tongue-in-cheek that if this bill goes to completion, there's one new NPS area that even the Republican side of the aisle should be able to support for generous funding when the appropriations process gets underway: The new Coltsville site is based primarily on the history of the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    There was an agreement to, essentially, force the Park Service to yet again revisit wildlife management issues at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, endangered and threatened species be damned.

    You sound like your friends at UCS, fear mongering and distorting the facts. The wildlife management at CHNSRA is currently over the top, hurting visitation, hurting the local economy and has done nothing for improvement of the mostly just threatened species. It must be changed and will be changed.

  • A Quick Tour Of Germany's National Parks   2 weeks 1 day ago

    Thanks Jim-- As I was reading the story I was trying to remember the conversion into acres-- after your note i didn't have to go look it up!!LOL

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    I feel sure you know what i meant, ecbuck. No your contention that regulatory agencies function as 'unelected' legislative, judicial and executive is what is unsound. Congress, the elected legislative branch, sets the policy in legislation and directs an agency to write regulations to carry out that legislation. The legislation is then signed into law by the executive branch, and overseen by the elected President. The regulation if exceeding the scope provided by Congress has successfully been removed by the (unelected) court. Or, when Congress changes its mind about the policy, it changes the law, and the regulations follow. Even then, the agency writing the legislation as directed by the Congress submits it to the public for review and comment in the Federal Register, where often proposed regulations are substantially changed. Your concept of these agencies free wheeling around is entirely false.

    Also false, of course, is your second point: "commit to expenditures." There is no commitment to expenditures in an authorization bill. There is something called the Anti-deficiency Act. Agencies cannot commit to any funding until the actual funds are appropriated. That, ecbuck, is the law of the land, and it is worth remembering.

    These authorizations are in no way commitments. In fact, until the NPS/the United States obtains land within the park boundary, and receives funding to carry out provisions, there is no responsibility much less commitment.

    For example, routinely Congress would tell the NPS to produce a General Management Plan within some period of time, a year to 4 years typically. The NPS would not produce the plan, because no money for the plan had been appropriated. No one is punished or held accountable because there is no commitment until funds are appropriated. This is pretty simple stuff. Lately because they were tired of having it seen how these deadlines are ignored, the Congress has even taken to insert the clause "x number of years AFTER FUNDS HAVE BEEN MADE AVAILABLE." And, that is just the plan.

    Congress then gets the park plan, and starts to figure out how to pay for those parts of the plan it likes.

    There is NO commitment until Congress appropriates the money.

    And Congress is not appropriating the money in this Defense AUTHORIZATION bill, that allows money to be appropriated, but does not make any commitments that any money will be.

    Just read the Anti-deficiency Act.

    (check out the highway bills. Millions upon millions of dollars are authorized and NEVER drawn down, and NO commitment to do anything is required until all the money is in place.)

    I remember fondly the great days in America where courses in Civics were routinely provided to middle school students.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    is even less sound than thinking that regulation exists, as you suggested the other day, without checks and balances and functions as legislative, judicial and executive all rolled up into one !

    It is unsound to recognize that regulatory agencies exist? If you don't understand that, its no wonder you think we should commit to expenditures before we figure out how to pay for them.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    PPSS; the Tubman park in new york is the one with buildings you can actually trace to Harriet Tubman herself. These were not included in any national monument. There are 5 national historic landmarks in this small spot exemplifying the work Tubman did after the Civil War; her earlier work will be emphasized in the existing national monument in maryland, where she accomplished miracles after having achieved so much helping enslaved people escape, and having been a spy for the North. However it is true the people trying to keep her buildings maintained DO need money from the NPS and that will be a struggle, and they need the visitation that park status may or may not bring. But those who have been preserving the sites in Auburn New York deserve the opportunity to compete, because this is a crucial national story as important as any park in the System.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    Oh come on ecbuck. The idea that all the funds for a park can or should come in an authorizing bill is even less sound than thinking that regulation exists, as you suggested the other day, without checks and balances and functions as legislative, judicial and executive all rolled up into one !

    You cannot fund a park or anything else all at once. Often a project in mind but it will turn out it is not actually ready to go. The plans would not be in place when the park is authorized. Congress spends the money when it needs to.

    And, this bill is NOT a defense appropriations bill, it is an AUTHORIZATION bill. It is being used, as it has in the past, because park bills that have been reported by Committee have been repeatedly blocked by a few Republicans, when the majority of congress of both parties would vote for them if given a chance.

    Although Jim argues the situation is at its worst now, i remember when they tried to block adding the Alaska parks using the very same argument. I remember when they said they were going to take down all the great lodges in Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon, again "because the money is not there." These were among more than a thousand facilities on a list in the mid-1970s that would have to be closed and demolished. They said then, as well, that preservation should stop and all the money spent on operations. But guess what? NPS fought for and got the money instead. And, i have been told that the situation of facilities in parks were in much worse shape in the 1950s than now, when they conceived the "Mission 66" program that went into effect in 1956. Again, as now, they said the NPS would never get the needed funds.

    How many times can you fall for the same joke, or slip on the same banana peel?

    Again, its not the money, at 1/14 of 1% of the budget. And, Jim in all respect, the money that goes to new initiatives REALLY WOULD NOT GO to the existing needs if the new initiatives were not funded !

    Parks are visible targets because they are symbolic, and hence visible. That is why disproportionally you saw the parks on the TV during the Sequestration. If a Congressman wants to act out, to act out that he really believes that the problem with the economy is too much government spending, he gets to put a hold on park budgets, and gets to say he is anti-Obama. it has nothing to do with preservation needs.

    More important that maintaining facilities, Jim, is putting the line on the map around the resource. You will teach no one a lesson by preventing the authorization of new areas, so this idea will have no political impact. You have next to no displacement of funding for the real funding problems of the parks because the amount is so tiny. And if you cannot afford to maintain Hanford, then it will rust, whether in or out of the System. At least it will have the additional source of Energy Dept money. When the funds are available, as they were during the Stimulus bill, and other initiatives, then Hanford can compete against the existing priorities. If it really is more worthy than a new road through Tetons, say, then it should get the money. If it was not worthy of competing against the other priorities, then the NPS would not have testified for the bill and worked to perfect it with proposed amendments.

    For those who have suggested elsewhere that these items are not well considered, they have been reviewed extensively in studies, public meetings, testimony in several sessions of Congress, often repeatedly, in both House and Senate, and most with significant press coverage. They are ready and it is time. The Defense Authorization bill is just a bill even Republicans of this modern sort do not have the face to try to block, as they have so much other legislation a majority of congress would vote for if given the opportunity.

    PS: the "purposes" of the Blackstone bill do not only emphasize industrial villages. Right up front it makes a big point of the entire landscape, including agricultual areas and wetlands. It is essentially an environmental story of a watershed (specifically cited in the bill for the river and all its tributaries), a national model of the evolution of land use since colonial times, of development and its consequence of decay and collapse, and its recovery through new environmental policies. It is assumed that its costs will be about the same order of magnitude as it has received over the last 20 years.

    But it makes not sense, ecbuck, to provide all the money all at once as your suggest. That is what appropriation bills are for.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago

    I'm with Kurt on this one. The NPS related items have no business in a defense appropriations bill. They should be voted on their own merits and funded in the process. This approach is just more of the deficit spending mentality. Adding units when current funding does support the existing ones is what really would be ridiculous.

  • Is Global Climate Change A Threat to National Parks? Another Response   2 weeks 1 day ago

    In fact also shows the continuing 18 year cooling trend.

    The trend that not a single AGW model predicted (sceneriod) 20 years ago.

  • Is Global Climate Change A Threat to National Parks? Another Response   2 weeks 1 day ago


    You said that sea ice extent is significantly smaller than 30 years ago. But history tells us it was like that 60 years ago.

    The sea ice extents are larger and ice is getting thicker. NSIDC just said this was just another extremely ordinary year for sea ice.

    History says 75 years ago Greenland's ice was catastrophically loosing just as many Gts. Ever wonder why they called it Greenland?

    How can it be irrelevant? It just copies of all the major climate data (NASA, Hadcrut, UHI, and others) from satellite systems, surface records, and allows you to plot using the data. Might to be too complicated for you guys. There is actually much more accurate satellite data (RSS TLT) that shows 2014 as being quite an ordinary year. In fact also shows the continuing 18 year cooling trend.

    I have seen the considerations and projections based on made up data, the only way to claim 2014 is the hottest year ever.

    (edit) this satellite image black is no data, the fill is "made up" data

    I think an organization with a name like yours would actually be concerned about what is being "modeled". The models and projections have been wrong and very wrong.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 1 day ago


    Thanks for the insights on the FTE vs. dollars question. And yes, I understand the difference between the authorization and appropriation process; I'm just not convinced the appropriaters are in sncy with the authorizers when it comes to properly funding both new and existing areas.

    Although they may not be willing or able to articulate their rationale, the politicians who ultimately approve the annual overall budget for the NPS (and any other agency) have some maximum figure in mind that they won't exceed--and that includes money for operations, construction and the maintenance backlog, as well as for new areas. We can either think of it as the bottom line or a ceiling, but it's a reality.

    I'd like to think you're correct that adding new parks means adding more dollars to the NPS budget, and in fact the overall agency budget may increase slightly after additions to reflect new areas. I'm still inclined to believe, however, that those new dollars tend to come at the expense of needed increases for existing areas (and their unfunded positions); dollars for new areas simply soak up part of the potential (and often minimal) increase in the overall agency allocation.

    Am I for preservation? Absolutely. However, like it or not, there's clearly a limit on what Congress is willing to pay to maintain, and a look at photos of those facilities at Hanford simply scream "money pit" for long-term future maintenance. Will keeping all of that metal from rusting away 20 years from now be more important that repairing a leaky roof at Independence Hall...or countless other key facilities? The money simply hasn't been there for years in terms of appropriated dollars to do it all - or even a reasonable fraction of the job.

    Could current and future Americans understand the Mahanttan Project by visits to sites at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge? In my humble opinion, yes, and Reactor B and other industrial-scale leftovers at Hanford are examples of "nice to have but we can no longer afford" preservation.

    Despite what naysayers claim, there is an enormous maintenance backlog in our parks, and decisions have to be made every year about what will and won't be fixed.

    When it comes to additions to the system, we've reached a point where, like it or not, we need to start making hard decisions about what's essential vs. nice-to-have for preserving and telling our nation's story. Failing to do so does a disservice to the cause of preservation and all other NPS functions, both now and down the road.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Kurt: have you READ the Cape Hatteras provisions?

    They do not "damn" the threatened and endangered species. This provision in no way removes those protections. I would really, really like it if Congress did not consider it, but i really, really think it is better to do it now than to wait for what a Republican Congress could do.

    BTW, my point at least was not for "Congress" to "fight for the money." It was for park advocates to fight for the money.

    PS: CBO figures that you cite are not real money. We had CBO estimates for Gates of the Arctic NP in the 1970s that estimated that the park would have 5 aircraft, and facilities in several places. General Management Plans, after enactment of the park, is a much better judge of funding needs than the Congressional Budget Office, so why even quote that phony $75 M? I promise to personally write you a check for that 75 million if ever in our lifetime it is achieved for these parks. But if you believe in such hocus-pocus, then believe the committee chair who said that an adjustment elsewhere for the new parks has secured these funds. All nonesense. The truth is the approriations. The reason Delaware has not got money yet is, its Superintendent has been known throughout his career as an exceptionally conservative person when it comes to fighting for money by using the political process, but much more because it is a new park that has not yet completed its General Management Plan. AND, because it is a National Monument. Since you cite Grand Teton, know that for years after its Proclamation by the President as a national monument money was withheld. UNTIL the political will was gathered, and funding happened.

    Congress finds the money when the pressure is there. When Jeb Bush was Governor of Florida and he and the environmentalists pushed for it, every year millions were approriated to deal with the watershed emergency there. When the NPS was slated to get only 30 or so million of transportation money several years ago in the House and 80 in the Senate (TEA-21 bill i think), there was agitation and in the CONFERENCE committee the "compromise" was to give NPS $161 M per year. Lately, starting with the Bush administration, they have frozen highway taxes. Pretty independent from Interior appropriations, but important to the Federal lands Highway Fund.

    I'll bet the funding you are talking about for Smokies comes from that source. (although I don't know) If that is the source of those Smokies money it is part of a much larger problem of underfunded transportation, and the pressure is starting to build on the Congress to deal with it. Eventually, they will. But when they will it will be because of political will.

    Can you imagine transportation people saying, the way to deal with transportation shortfalls is to stop planning for transportation needs? No, they find graphic and unrelenting ways to make the needs unavoidable.

    (and they are not such dweebs as to come up with a self-negating term such as "backlog" as their battlecry ! Can you imagine a word better chosen to put people to sleep?)

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Hi Jim -- I also think your work, particularly your feature pieces, are quite fine.

    But of course I disagree with you.

    On FTE's -- FTE's are not restraining hiring. Funding is. The last time FTEs restrained hiring was under the Clinton Administration. NPS then was promised it could save 1100 FTEs if it reorganized. NPS obediently reorganized, only to find out it did not have the money for the positions. Not only that, but FTEs are a creature of the Office of Management and Budget, and a more soulless group of myopic individuals you will never find as the budget examiners for the Dept of Interior budget. Those people are subject to political will, as well, and i have seen them do backflips to hide from previous pronouncements whenever they were flooded with light. The problem the NPS has now with OMB is that this White House has never understood how Parks and the stories told in Parks can help to unite the nation, and provide important themes of patriotism. Other Presidents have. This is another failure of the conservation community to fight for Parks and make sure the White House gets the message. Iniatially recalcitrant Presidents such as Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton all realized as their terms went on what a value Parks are, and responded. Recently we are getting a few national monuments out of this President, but not much else. He needs to hear from Park supporters. Anyway, FTEs are not an issue but if they were, they respond to political will, also.

    As far as the national significance of the pending park authorizations, the National Park Service testified in favor of all the parks I believe, some subject to reservations. My understanding with Manhattan Project is that the primary reservation -- that the Energy Department must continue to take responsibility for the clean up and the safety and security of Hanford -- was agreed to.

    Besides that, if you look at the NPS budget over time you will see that the new parks is not where the money goes. They are minimally funded until planning is complete and congress appropriates. If you look at the money for new parks over time, like 10 year stretches (not here including these ridiculous Obama years where Congress is intent on ruining America just to nail Obama), you will see that the amount new parks have cost the NPS is actually a percentage of the INCREASE in funding coming to parks. And, there is a lot of anecdotal to show that the new money coming into the Service only comes in because of the new energy the new parks and new programs bring. The supporters of the old parks, where the big money is, forget to support their park and take it for granted. It is true that among the old parks some have benefitted greatly from fee revenue (something i personally despise, and would prefer us all to fight for the money for good employees, especially Seasonals and technical professionals like archeologists and interpreters), but those money are not well distributed, and cannot be used to fund permanent positions.

    Another reason we have money problems for Parks is "good government" environmental advocates and President Obama all supported the provisions to eliminate congressional earmarks. This was nearly as ridiculous as Kurt's editorial. When members of congress are fighting each other to put money in the NPS budget the result (you can see this by a long pattern of increase over time, yes interrupted by some bad years), then that puts tremendous pressure on the Budget committees. Even if Kurt's idea WAS a good idea (which of course it is not, as only those hostile to parks support the approach, together with a few old "yup & nope" type 025 grumps who actually think that killing preservation will mean those dollars will go to them), then having no earmark provisions mean members of congress cannot even fight to put the money in the budget to do what Kurt wants. Why not, instead, ask that the earmark be returned, so that the power of politics and the needs of individual members of congress to support their parks can again be harnessed?

    Also, although I have not yet found it in the massive Defense Authorization bill, the Washington Post had a story the other day, perhaps it was Politico, that except for the Defense Department (whose budget will be held on a very tight leash because of the desire to use it to get back on the President for his immigration proclamation a few days ago), that the pending (nearly negotiated) Appropriations bill will take the Sequestration foot off the neck of nearly every domestic department. The Appropriations bill, by the way Jim and Kurt, happens to be the vehicle for funding the government (NOT the authorizations bill: 'How Congress Works 101'). So presumably some funds are in the shoot, according to the buzz in Washington. However, uncharacteristically, the Chairwoman of the Senate Approps committee and the Chair of the House committee are being exceptionally silent about the provisions of their deal, so concerned are they to avoid the kind of mickey mouse going on elsewhere with such like the Tea Party, Senator Cruz and Kurt.

    I gotta return, Jim, to your point about "are they worthy." This is particularly reprehensible because i witnessed Secretary james watt try to look at all the parks created since 1972, especially those involving African American stories or urban and cultural stories, many in the East, declaring they were "not worth." His secret task force (later he denied it existed, but it did) showed that every single one of those new parks were very worthy. There was another hyper-rightist effort with HR 360 during the Newt years to examine all the parks in the East. These again are just efforts to divide one kind of park advocate from another, one part of the country against another. How, Jim, could you fall for such malarkey? Especially when the expenses involving radioactive contamination are not costs receivable from the NPS.

    In short, the new parks will receive practically no money at all until appropriations get looser. So new parks do not take money from old parks, an idea as primitive as thinking that deficit spending or Stimulus spending hurts the economy. (JIM: it IS true that in a particular YEAR there is a fight at the end in the Appropriations Committee, and it can be true that money that goes to one account may come from another, but on the whole, the new parks provoke Members of Congress to fight to put additional money in the budget for the new parks. Just ask the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management who are forever aggrieved by how the NPS gets funds when they do not.) New parks are not the source of the funding problem, the large old parks and roadways, the old facility-heavy parks with visitor centers are. This Director talks about no visitor centers for new parks, but using cell phone apps to guide visitors around park sites. Why not? And, FTEs have not been an issue for 20 years.

    There is a political issue, that you hint at. The point where you say about the kid who wants blank checks from his parents: yes, it is needed to keep pushing the preservation agenda, and to challenge the congress to find the money later. In the past, Congress has, and the point is, to make it do so in the future. As when President Theodore Roosevelt could not get the money requested for the Navy, he famously sent the Great White Fleet to the other side of the Pacific, and said "If Congress wants them back, they will have to pass the appropriation !" But Jim, you and Kurt are folding your cards without forcing the issue, and you punish preservation, not the source of the problem: the Members of Congress who attack parks. If the United States of America forgets the yearning for Preservation in the hearts of many Americans it is cutting off the main source of positive energy available for parks. Each generation has the right to bring forward part of the American story for preservation. If parks really are "America's best idea" you should not join the reactionaries to end that idea in our time.

    This is exactly what they are trying to achieve. Buck up and fight back, but don't fight the advocates of Preservation, guys.

    All government agencies have been losing valuable employees, in recent years, partly as a function of the Sequestration of course.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Gentlemen, when George W. Bush took office, he promised to eliminate the maintenance backlog, then "only" about $4-$5 billion, in his first term. Today it's more than doubled, and possibly almost tripled depending on the figures you choose to use.

    But this isn't simply about bemoaning the maintenance backlog, or about questioning the propriety of the prospective units, or casting a shadow on the national parks movement.

    It's about showing concern for the existing National Park System, the employees who manage it, and yes, even the taxpayers.

    * Delaware finally has a unit of the National Park System: First State National Monument. It had no dedicated budget its first year, but had to borrow from other parks to get by. This past year its budget was $200,000, no doubt most obligated to its sole employee--the superintendent.

    * At Mount Rainier, staffing is so short that just one employee calling in sick, or a too-green snowplow driver, can keep the park closed for hours during the popular winter season.

    * In Shenandoah, one person is both the PAO, FOIA officer, and the Lands Coordinator.

    * At Grand Teton National Park, a private fund-raising effort was needed to restore the worn and weary trail system at Jenny Lake.

    * The concessions mess at Grand Canyon National Park required 88 units of the park system to give up concessions fees they had collected for projects in their own parks.

    * Across the system, we currently are seeing park after park after park proposing higher entrance, camping, backcountry fees, and even interpretive fees.


    Because Congress won't fund the parks adequately. With the Park Service centennial less than two years off, facilities are run down, higher fees are being sought from the public, NPS staff is being overworked. And instead of bolstering the agency and the system, Congress is continuing to run them down.

    Indeed, the latest Best Places To Work survey shows the agency has dropped another notch. In "work-life balance," Park Service employees rank 303 out of 314 agencies surveyed. Is there any wonder morale is down?

    How much longer can we afford to wait for a majority in Congress "to fight for operations money"?

    Where is the $75+ million going to come to launch these parks tagged onto the defense bill? Which existing parks and programs would you suggest the funding be taken from?

    If these prospective units are so vital to the park system -- and that's not what's being debated -- then Congress should have the respect and even pride to provide the funding for them up front, not sometime down the road. Is the check in the mail?

    Remember the "Road to Nowhere" at Great Smoky Mountains National Park? More than four years ago, after a nearly 70-year battle, Congress agreed to pay Swain County, North Carolina, $52 million in compensation for a road that was flooded by the Fontana Dam and resulted in a community being cut off from its cemetery. Today that commitment has yet to be made in full.

    Sadly, with such experiences, hope that Congress will make the Park Service whole after adding these units is pretty thin.

    And don't overlook the horse trading that went on to get these units into the system. There was an agreement to, essentially, force the Park Service to yet again revisit wildlife management issues at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, endangered and threatened species be damned.

    The approach we at the Traveler embrace is one to support the parks and all their resources, and the employees who work to maintain them and make them come to life for visitors. To see the park system, and the employees, run down by Congress we will not applaud.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago


    I understand your points above, and agree that the amount of money that will be required for these new areas is very small compared to the maintenance backlog. I do, however, agree with an underlying principle touched on in Kurt's story – when Congress adds the responsibility for new areas to the NPS without any commitment for additional funds to operate—and maintain—those those new areas, they are simply ignoring reality.

    It's a bit like the kid who assumes that as long as his parents have blank checks in the family checkbook, they have the money for anything they want.

    My concern over this process is a bit different from Kurt's, since adding new areas without committing to new funding and (almost more importantly) new permanent positions simply means existing operating money and positions (separate in the NPS budget from maintenance and construction dollars) will have to be robbed from existing parks in order to open and operate the new sites.

    I'm not an expert on the NPS budget process, but my understanding is there is a ceiling in each year's budget authorization on the number of positions the agency is authorized to fill (known as FTE's). Add new areas, and the agency needs additional FTE's – and those also cost real money. When congress adds new areas without adding both operating dollars and FTE, the existing parks pay the price.

    Are all of the new sites NPS-worthy? There's always disagreement on those discussions. Some of these areas are already in federal ownership, which removes some or all of a sense of urgency in passing them off to the NPS. Chief in my concerns is potential cost for operating and maintaining the Hanford site in the proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park, and that is an area where current and future maintenance costs could have a major impact on the NPS budget and maintenance backlog.

    What is it costing the Dept. of Energy to maintain "the first large-scale plutonium production reactor in the world" and associated facilities, and what will it cost to keep up this enormous industrial facility in the future? No wonder DOE wants to give it to the NPS ... and we haven't even talked about future potential liability and expense involved with radioactive contamination elsewhere at Hanford. A look at this webpage from supporters of Hanford should give any budget officer pause.

    Was the Manhattan Project an important part of our nation's history? No question. Do we have to maintain the Hanford facilities at great expense to understand that story? Opinions clearly vary, but we'd better count the cost, and congress certainly doesn't seem to be doing so in this bill.

    This is just one example of the herd of elephants in the room in this bill. Maybe the key question should be, would all of those votes have been in favor of this bill if they included the commitment to fund the true future cost for the NPS of these areas?

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago

    d-2, I could not agree more with all of your points.

    Kurt, I greatly respect your views on national parks, but I think you are dead wrong on this one.

  • For Some Park Visits, Getting There Is Definitely Part Of The Fun   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Thanks for the info, Ranger Doug-

    That would be a shame for several reasons, as you mention in your post.

  • For Some Park Visits, Getting There Is Definitely Part Of The Fun   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Agreed, Ranger Doug, and we have some hopes that the change in governor will help out here.

  • For Some Park Visits, Getting There Is Definitely Part Of The Fun   2 weeks 2 days ago

    I would urge anyone who likes the Alaska Ferries to write the Alaska DOT about keeping them running. The AK DOT plans are to retire most of the current boats and go to day boats without staterooms, cafeterias, restaurants, bars, gift shops, etc. Gift shops have already closed. Currently two day-boat vessel contracts were awarded to the Ketchikan shipyard.

    The DOT's proposal can be found at:


    This decision is driven by politicians who favor more road building across not only Kupreanof Island but the magnificent Lynn Canal. One current plan is to move the Juneau ferry terminal 60 miles out of town, then link by day ferry to Haines, destroying Berner's Bay. A proposal also exists to blast through vertical granite in the upper Lynn Canal to Skagway. The Alaska Ferry system as we've known it, would be nearly dismantled and replaced by linked road/day ferries--a Scenic Byway no more.

  • Traveler's View: Senate Should Either Fund New Parks In Defense Bill, Or Strip Them Out   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Dear Kurt --

    even on those few times I have disagreed with you, i have always found your opinions sound and well reasoned.

    Except now. This is ridiculous.

    In terms of government procedure, there is great value to the nation when the Congress authorizes with one law, and funds (ie: appropriates) with another. It allows priority setting, good timing of funding so the money can be best used when necessary, restructuring priorities as the needs of America change (as every year America faces new challenges.) Yes, it does permit power plays between appropriators and authorizers, the two kinds of committees, in congress. Sometimes, stupidly. But on the whole, it is a good part of our checks and balances for one committee to authorize funding and another to fund.

    Second, it is ridiculous to think that these programs will affect the funding of the "backlog." First of all, the "backlog" as a concept was invented by Secretary James Watt in the Reagan Administration as a way to block new and necessary conservation action, and to pit park managers against park preservationists. Also, to split those in the public who want parks funded and those conservationists in the public who want precious resources protected. Slitting advocates and uniting foes is one of the most effective things people hostile to good government and to the environment use to stiffle and prevent needed action. It is amazing how willingly otherwise smart people will fall for this diversion. So much so that VP Cheney made sure this "backlog" strategy was used to oppose all manner of necessary legislation, while at the same time doing nothing for NPS appropriations. Kurt, you play to those who both don't want to fund existing parks and those who don't want to reach out to new critical preservation needs when you fall for this trap.

    Parks only cost 1/14 of 1% of the federal budget to fund. They are not being denied money because there is not enough money. Kurt, i know you are smart enough to know this. So preventing preservation recognition will not spring the money for the existing parks. You need to look at why the money is being denied, and apply the appropriate remedy.

    Third, setting aside lands for conservation are not only about maintenance money. There are many federal laws protecting resources from other federal programs (such as highway development, construction programs and on and on, including the many many programs run by states and localities using federal funding). Kurt, you and others who fall for this ridiculous strategy are denying these regulatory advantages federal conservation lands possess. Also, history demonstrates that when lands are within boundaries, developers think twice before buying and planning new development within park boundaries. Because they know that often the government may take a while to move, but can after a few years move in to eliminate the development opportunity. With the Kurt approach, developers will move in, especially now as economic development is being predicted as the US economy is improving. Last week was the best jobs report in a decade. It is a matter of time before more lands within some of these proposed park areas will be developed, that could be prevented just by putting a boundary around it.

    In the case of the Blackstone park, the boundary cannot even be established until after the legislation is created. You, Kurt, are really out of it to think you know it is OK to deny Blackstone protection when you don't even know the extent of the land slated for protection !

    Fourth, parks have a spiritual value to America that have nothing to do with your fixation on backlog. Many local preservationists have pushed for years to have a vital part of the American story honored by park status, and told. It raises the national stature of these lands and these stories when they are established as parks. They cannot wait. This spiritual pressure has been building for years for thousands of dedicated citizens, and it can be shattered and demoralized by the kind of frivilous action you propose, Kurt.

    Fifth, the budget does not work this way. The way the budget works when you examine it over time is that the Congress responds to its constituents. When the US has no responsibility for a resource, there is no pressure on Congress to find the money. Right now the Congress is not funding park increases because of political games, such as the impacts of the Sequestration, but other games that have led to "Continuing Resolutions" and flat 'Appropriations Bills' in every year of the Obama Presidency. The objective is to destroy this black President, and to do nothing whatever, even when he adopts Republican proposals, to make him appear effective. We now have a Republican House and a Republican Senate. We will see if they can continue to do nothing. In the past, after adopting the 'do-nothing' approach for a while, eventually a window opens and funding happens.

    Political will, Kurt, is what funds parks. It does not fund parks to take your gun out, aim carefully, and shoot yourself in the foot. Its like saying you will run into a truck if you don't get your way. Don't punish the parks, punish the cause.

    Right now we have an addition of a Negro League baseball stadium to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. This stadium will cost the NPS nothing new. It will raise the honor long ago due to the story of African American's who fought every way they could to have a complete life in America, even when black men could not play ball with white players. It shows the persistence of effort, so characteristic in our history, of the Black experience, from the African Burial Ground to the Underground Railroad, and more. These crucial and symbolic examples of these untold stories cannot and should not be held back any more. Denying this victory to those fighting for this RECOGNITION will deny the opportunity of the fundraisers for the stadium to use the NPS status for funding leverage. They (including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Baseball Hall of Fame) offered support for this stadium to the congress BECAUSE THEY NEEDED THE STATUS TO MAKE THEIR FUNDRAISING EFFORTS SUCCESSFUL.

    Kurt, you would be denying them this.

    For the existing parks that need the money, we can only say right now America has not shown the persistence and the stamina to make the POLITICAL WILL to fund parks stronger and higher. I don't know about you, but as i see this or that real, but not-characteristic failing of this or that park as the predominant things emphasized, NOT emphasizing what a Sequester or flat budget will do, I know that the "split environmentalists, unite the opposition" strategy is working. Lets instead fight in all ways for the parks, and now negotiate with ourselves. If we keep fall for these traps we will get neither the needed funds, nor the new preservation opportunities.

    I have seen this push-pull for over 40 years now. Ultimately, parks new and old can and do get the money. Preventing public expression of political will and support for parks only creates frustration for park supporters. You are doing nothing to support the existing needs.

    New parks, as someone said the other day, create a 'technical assistance delivery vehicle" and create a demand among THOSE CONGRESSPEOPLE WHO DO SUPPORT PARKS to fight for operations money. Much more serious than facilities funding is the stripping of staff from parks, from regional offices, for cultural resources offices, from the washington office. We need the professionals. We need to highlight the significance of their work.

    You claim, Kurt, that places like Blackstone are OK to be left out, after year after year of this bill pending before the Congress. With every passing year, the congress has had to extend the Heritage Area - managed by a federal commission not by the NPS as you say - by little two year bursts. Local people think Congress does not care for the unit, as if it were nationally significant one year, and not the next. Staff have left. Blackstone has been prevented from applying for new funding. It gets less than 1/3 now in combined appropriations than what it got just a few years ago. At no time recently has the Secretary or the NPS written any directives to other federal agencies -- as required in the Blackstone law -- to manage projects that will impact Blackstone resources; these people think the program is dead, obviously, and are letting it go.

    And of course Kurt, your site with a slight of hand will not cover the significant strategy representated by heritage areas -- to function to protect landscapes with the honor of parks but that are living landscapes with people and businesses inside the borders, and thus most people think do not qualify as park. The Park Traveler is not well position to say that heritage area 'status' will protect the area, since you have done so little to examine how effective that heritage area strategy is.

    Fight for the money. Don't attack preservation. Don't be ridiculous.

  • Is Global Climate Change A Threat to National Parks? Another Response   2 weeks 2 days ago

    Current global climate models accurately reflect long-term trends in observational data of climate change when natural and anthropogenic carbon dioxide are included. When anthropogenic green house gas emissions are not included, an increasing trend in global warming is not evident. For further reading, see: