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  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 24 weeks ago

    The controversy about Core Ops has raised lots of questions about how some of our national parks have been setting budget priorities and spending money. At Mesa Verde National Park, for instance---one of the parks within the Intermountain Region---a number of important and necessary positions had been left vacant for over a year while the park's original estimated travel budget for fiscal year 2009 was as high as $421,000----later reduced to just over $285,000. There was something wrong here---not only in how the park had done its budgeting, but in whether there had been any oversight or auditing of the park's budget. (In the interest of "full disclose" I should add that this past summer I did begin asking about this, eventually filed a formal FOIA request, and a lot has happened since them---see )

    Travel and entertainment expenses have been problems for years. Among small business owners they are the focus of frequent audits by the IRS, within corporations they are among the most scrutinized expenditures, and among tax accountants and attorneys they are the subject of endless debates. They are problematic because sometimes they are used as legitimate incentives and rewards for hardworking and deserving employees, and sometimes they are related to justifiable marketing and sales activities, to necessary and appropriate educational programs, and/or to valid meetings of management groups with outside vendors and regulators, and distant employees and customers. Unfortunately, travel and entertainment expenses also can be used inappropriately, illegally, and as no more than a thinly disguised effort to characterize personal expenses and activities as tax deductible business expenses, or to have the deep pockets of a business enterprise pay for trips and activities which have no real business purpose. To be sure, a lot of what is characterized as business related travel and entertainment expense is very legitimate.....but there is a lot that is not. Agents of the Internal Revenue Service know this, business owners and managers know this, and corporate shareholders know it. Consequently, in the private sector there are many checks and balances, and frequent auditing of expense accounts and a higher degree of due diligence when expenses related to travel and entertainment are concerned.

    Perhaps it’s time to become more careful and deliberate in how we view travel and entertainment expenses within the National Park Service. Perhaps it’s time to audit travel expenses more carefully, and to ask again and again: what are legitimate travel expenses for National Park Service employees? What kind of travel is justifiable? How much travel is necessary? And when should the Park Service be willing to pay for the travel and expenses related to education and training?

    There is no doubt that employees of the National Park Service are dedicated. Many work for the Park Service because it’s special, it’s different, and it’s loved. Nevertheless, for some, working for the Park Service also can be difficult. Stationed far away from towns and communities, virtually isolated in remote and inaccessible sites, and/or spending days and months leading the same tours, responding to the same questions, and following the same routines again, and again, and again......eventually some begin to look for reasons to spend more time outside the parks.

    There are stories of superintendents who seldom are in the park. And there are rumors of people who take courses in subjects they will never use, of people who repeat the same off-site courses year after year, and of those who get overly involved in each and every trade association, special interest group, or interagency or intra-agency function. And the need to collaborate, coordinate, and interact with organizations, committees, and groups both within the Park Service and outside the Park Service often seems to have no limits.

    Of course, the problem with excessive travel is not just the expense of the traveling itself, but also the lost time involved when someone is not in the park and not focusing on the primary requirements of their position description, and the consequential need for others to do what the traveling person should have been doing.

    I have only worked for three seasons as a seasonal....and I have loved each and every day. I love working with visitors and with being a part of the National Park Service; and I love the many opportunities we have to help people, to increase their appreciation of the parks, and to broaden their horizons. But I have also seen problems.

    Simply stated, I think money being spent on unnecessary travel is a serious problem within the National Park Service as a whole, and within some particular parks and regions in particular. There needs to be more oversight, better controls, and more frequent audits. It’s time to begin looking at travel the way many businesses do: asking questions, seeking justifications, and scrutinizing any and all expenses for travel and entertainment.

    For instance, we should be looking more carefully at any plans to travel and asking: Is this trip or meeting really necessary? Will it measurably enhance our visitor services and the experience of visitors? Is a meeting at a distant location or at the regional offices really necessary, or could it be replaced by a carefully organized conference call? And will having this person attend a particular training event or take a particular off-site course save the park money, significantly improve something the park or staff was missing, or have real benefit to the park, or will it simply add to one person’s resume, or increase one person’s list of courses taken or add to their life experiences?

    There are times when making decisions about travel can be difficult. How do you draw the line between what’s really necessary and what’s not? For instance, it would be nice if the Director of the NPS or regional directors could attend the funeral of every park employee, or the retirement events of every long-term employee, but can that be justified? Do we really want the Director or regional leadership spending all their time going to funerals and retirement parties? Getting involved on on-going Interpretive Development Programs can be helpful, but what does it mean if that results in the Chief of Interpretation or the interpretive Supervisors not having enough time to work with their own staff, or enough time to teach those interpretive skills regularly and conscientiously to their own interpretive rangers? And so admittedly, the process of deciding which travel is necessary and justifiable is not easy, but it can be done, it should be done, and in the private sector, it’s often done every day and for every trip.

    Of course, sometimes the best way to control spending on travel is simply to make travel budgets and expenditures very open and transparent. Knowing that your co-workers and the public know where you are going and that they will know how you are spending your time and spending taxpayer money often is the best incentive for self-regulation and self-control.

    On the day of his inauguration, President Obama wrote: “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” Maybe it is time for National Park Service travel expenses to become very accessible and very transparent. Maybe it’s time for some changes.

  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 24 weeks ago

    Thanks for the insight Rick. And, thanks for digging into these little-reported stories Kurt.

    Executive Director,
    Crater Lake Institute
    Robert Mutch Photography

  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 24 weeks ago

    I'm fairly new in the govt and couldn't agree more!! You just made my day by sharing this because, at the park level, we havn't even seen this memo yet!

  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 24 weeks ago

    Rick Smith could not hit the nail any better than this.

    As one who has worked for the NPS for over 30 years I can honestly say that the Core Ops process was flawed from the very beginning and only got worse through time as Snyder and his hit squad, very few of whom had any recent park experience (if indeed any at all), continued to raid park after park. It was the single most devastating event on employee morale that I've ever witnessed. That it was supossedly park based was ludicous - some decisions had been made before the workshops even began and if the so-called participatory process at the park didn't achieve the hoped for results well then it was just back to the closed door brokerage sessions between Superintendents and the so-called experts from region in order to arrive at the preordained lean and mean park structure. There was virtually no concept of a National Park System - only individual units and what their particular legislation did or didn't say.

    Of course the Bush Administration embraced the concept - it treated park operations in the Intermountain Region much like Bush treated all of his cronies - get rid of a bunch of the "little people" out there on the ground doing real work with real park resources and park visitors and bring in all sorts of high-graded underqualified people to the regional office... you're right Rick - nobody in the field has not noticed the hiring spree in Denver.

    Core Ops may have been based on a good concept but how it was implemented was a disaster. You don't start at the field level to eliminate waste, you start at the top. There was very little acknowledgement of the endless hours that park staffs spend responding to mindless tasks required by the central offices, most of which have very little value if any to the day-to-day operations at the park level. Far too much emphasis was/is placed on process rather than progress and once the deciders have decided it's career suicide to challenge or question their infinite wisdom.

    If this is the only thing Jon Jarvis accomplishes in his tenure as NPS Director he'll still go down in history as the best Director since George Hartzog. Thank-you Jon Jarvis for giving the field one of the best Christmas gifts imaginable.

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 24 weeks ago

    The claim that the concept of human influenced climate change somehow displays "arrogance" seems the reverse of reality. It is supreme arrogance to assert that we have no responsibility for what we have created, that we are somehow above the laws of nature. We have wantonly consumed and frequently wasted enormous finite reserves of oil, natural gas and coal with little or no regard for future generations or the natural world that is ultimately the foundation of all life, our own included. Atmospheric CO2 levels are now 385 ppm and likely will exceed 390 ppm within a year. That is a higher concentration than has existed over the past one million years. How can anyone deny that, 1. climate change is taking place and 2. we are contributors?

  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 24 weeks ago

    Leland 22--

    Let me give you another take on Core Ops, this one from the point of view of an NPS retiree who still has lots of contacts in the NPS. Core Ops was primarily applied in the Intermountain Region (IMR) of the NPS, the one that stretches from Montana to the Mexican border. The Regional Director, Mike Snyder, is the brains behind Core Ops. This is how I see it:

    Core Operations was Mike Snyder's own personal reign of terror over the parks and park employees ironically entrusted to his care as a National Park Service Regional Director. The hatching and execution of Core Operations underscored Snyder's career-long total lack of park experience and blatant ignorance of day-to-day park operations.

    Core Ops was short sighted and didn't allow park managers to leverage various fund sources and annual predictable lapse funds which enable parks to flex around tighter budgets. Managers need to be fiscally responsible and should be held accountable for their management or mismanagement. Core Ops missed the mark on every count. It homogenized parks and took away the authority of superintendents to manage their parks, their budgets and lead their employees. Millions of dollars were spent by Snyder and his Core Ops team on countless trips to IMR parks to jump park staffs through the hoops of Core Ops workshops. The outcomes were already decided by Snyder and yet park after park and employee after employee were made to go through convoluted exercises to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Work plans, performance plans and many documents for the years hence have had to reference a park's Core Operations report no matter how irrelevant or useless the document was to a park.

    Snyder and others of his team willingly sacrificed dedicated NPS employees for job abolishment to receive high marks from Department officials of the previous Administration. I imagine he received significant Senior Executive Service bonuses under the former Administration based on his development and execution of Core Operations. In the last year or so, the IM regional office has gone on a hiring spree of epic proportions. And many of these are newly created positions. It has not gone unnoticed in the parks.

    Present and former employees of the IMR, including those who were "Core Oped" will rejoice as this news becomes known.The biggest difference between Mike Snyder and Jon Jarvis is that Jarvis has both a brain and a heart. Jarvis also spent most of his career in parks - and it shows!

    Rick Smith

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 24 weeks ago

    I suspect much of the debate about climate change and whether it is influenced by human activity hinges on two factors:

    1. Economics. If we accept that climate change is a problem and human activity plays a role, there will have to be significant changes in the way we go about our lives, and those changes will cost money. Denying that there may be a problem allows the status quo to continue within minimal inconvenience for most of us in the Western world - at least for the time being.

    2. Political ideology. Many people associate the global warming and climate change issues with Al Gore and "liberals," so at least some "conservatives" therefore feel honor bound to reject the topic and any proposed solutions. This is merely one of many examples of a dangerous trend in American life, which is to automatically reject any ideas advanced by the opposing political party. I see that as a problem on both sides of the political spectrum. Heaven forbid we might have some reasoned discourse on a topic without worrying about whether it's a "Democratic" or "Republican" (or "liberal" vs. "conservative") issue - or about which party will get the credit or the blame for the problem and solutions.

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 24 weeks ago

    Brad, you're completely wrong and listening to those with personal agendas (like significant investments in oil stock portfolios).

    NASA itself has charts showing warming temperatures worldwide. NOAA and other, similar bodies worldwide have data spanning 100 years or so showing global warming is happening. Ice core samples shows CO2 levels matched historically only after significant volcanic activity (of which there hasn't been any, even counting Mt. St. Helens and others). Scientific analysis shows this CO2 is from burning of petrochemicals and nothing else. Scientific analysis can also show the warming is from increases in greenhouse gases and not from solar output or other, similar things. This can be deduced by measuring input from the sun vs. output from reflection. What remains = greenhouse effect.

    Besides, it makes complete, logical sense. Think about it:

    -- Oil is a direct result of the biodegradation of plant life from prehistoric times
    -- During prehistoric times, the CO2 levels were significantly higher than today. Orders of magnitude. This is largely due to extreme vulcanism during the early days of earth.
    -- Early periods in earth's history were dominated by plant species. Basically, nearly the entirety of the land mass was a jungle. Paleobotanists have conjectured the earth has never since been as dominated by plants.
    -- Over time, all these massive amounts of plants converted gaseous CO2 into other forms of carbon (leaves, sticks, etc.), giving off O2 (oxygen) into the atmosphere. That took a loooooooong time. O2 then gave rise to animal life.
    -- All this plant matter carbon then took millions and millions of years to "cook down" to oil deposits. This "cooking down" greatly reduced the volume of carbon (like a compost pile reduces in volume as it cooks down). Coal is the same except compression is the force at work there.
    -- The nature of carbon, plus the fact that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are low compared to early Earth, tells us the carbon content of oil and coal is roughly equal to that of all the plant matter that existed during that particular prehistoric time. It's just greatly compressed.
    -- So, there's a buttload of compressed carbon buried in the earth in multiple forms. This compression means it contains a lot of energy.
    -- Now, start burning that oil or coal. Burning carbon creates CO2, natural chemistry.
    -- But you're burning COMPRESSED CARBON. You're taking eons and eons of decayed plant matter and releasing it in a very, very short amount of time. 100 years vs. millenia.

    Clearly it can be deduced that taking something that took 600 millions years to compress, and only 100 years to decompress, is not a good thing.

    Oh, and we are close to decompressing all of it. Google "peak oil whistleblower" for more. Which brings up other points:

    1) Peak oil is upon us. With dependency on oil, we are looking at WWIII as countries fight for oil. Big reason to get off the stuff.
    2) There is a direct corelation between fossil fuel use and health issues like asthma. Big reason to get off the stuff.
    3) Wars are continually fought over oil. Big reason to get off the stuff.
    4) Most oil producing countries are tyranical and/or support terrorism. Big reason to get off the stuff.
    5) Coal mining is one of the most damaging activities for the environment. Big reason to get off the stuff.

    So we have global warming which is real (although, probably, irreversible at this point), plus all these other reasons. Why do we still have our collective heads in the sand and refuse to take any concrete steps to reduce our oil consumption?????


    My travels through the National Park System:

  • A Hike To LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Is Just Part of the Adventure   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Years ago I and my friends hiked the Alum Cave trail up to the lodge and back as a day trip. On the trail we met a sprightly old woman who - as I remember - was moving quite nicely using a trekking pole and stopping to talk to every fellow hiker to hand them her personal card. She said she hiked the trails regularly - was it almost every day? - as she lived in a nearby town. Though I long ago lost that card I now believe she was Gracie McNichol who has no doubt passed on by now. Or it could be Margaret Stevenson, who I believe is still hiking to this day? I don't know as her face has been lost to fading memory - it could have been either. I'm proud to have that experience in my national park memories along with many, many others.

  • Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Being a CPA, I constantly advise people under budget constraints that is not how much you make it is how much you spend. What I see in businesses and government is that we have way too many chiefs and not enough indians to use a popular metaphor with no intent to deride my native indian friends. Part of being a superintendent is setting priorities. Overhead in any organization should be addressed first to see if any "non-productive" expenses can be cut first-not the person producing the "widgets". One of my biggest gripes with our government is that we waste billions on non-essential activities and giving billions to countries that hate or do not support us where we could be using those same billions to improve our National Park System-our gift to ourselves. Unfortunately, the superintendents have to make those hard choices, just as we do in our personal and business lives. I have a novel idea--let's start with the "core ops" in the Washington DC office of the Interior Department before we move to the Parks themselves. I will bet you I could find additional funds for our parks!

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 25 weeks ago

    >>If we effect it at all, it is only the heat islands large cities produce and the flooding from paving everything.<<

    And what about impacts from deforestation, and the industrialization that goes along with those urban areas? No one is disputing that climate naturally cycles. But the evidence exists that anthropogenic factors are hastening the current climatic trends.

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 25 weeks ago

    And even more scientists agree with me. It is very arrogant for men to think we can control the entire planet. Climate naturally cycles throughout the ages, and our actions have very little lasting impact on it. If we effect it at all, it is only the heat islands large cities produce and the flooding from paving everything. Still global means that - the whole earth is affected which just isn't true. How would these so-called "scientists" that support man-made climate change explain the coming of and exiting from the last ice age when man was not here or at least not in large numbers and definitely without cars, power, plastic, etc.?

    It is a ponzi scheme designed to globally redistribute wealth from countries like America to 3rd world countries - at least on paper. Actually, like all political schemes, it really just makes a few elites in power richer while the rest of us pay with loss of freedoms and property.

  • Shelton Johnson Honored As National Park Service's Top Interpreter   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Apparently he's on the road promoting his book. He'll be in Marin County this Saturday:

    Shelton Johnson: Tale of buffalo soldier

    I also enjoy his response about the low pay of NPS rangers:

    No one is saying, 'God, I feel so deeply for you that you struggle through for month after month - and that salary that you have. And you have El Capitan and Half Dome right there to console you.' I've had a lot of things in my life, but actually sympathy along those lines is not one of them. I feel that I'm very privileged to work as a national park ranger and to live where I live, which I believe is the most beautiful place on the face of the Earth. Now, I'm not saying that I wouldn't mind a raise by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to say I was called to this work, and it had nothing to do with financial recompense of any kind. For me, people bandy about the expression within the parks that we are paid in sunsets. I think with inflation, I need sunrise and I need moonrise as well. But for me, in my purposes, it's been adequate for 22 years. More than adequate.

  • Reader Participation Day: Which is Your Favorite National Park Lodge?   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Bryce Canyon Lodge is on top of my list! It's a classic throw-back to the lodges of old. Front desk staffs are both knowledgeable and courteous. Dinners were extremely good. Two-thumbs up for me!

    Loved the lodge. We asked if they might have our cabin available early although that didn't happen.

    However - we had an interesting experience at the Bryce Canyon Lodge dining room the day before (when we were staying at Ruby's Inn). We got in for a late lunch and there was only one member of the wait staff and about 12 tables occupied. We were polite to her (sort of understood her predicament). However - other patrons were complaining loudly and ranting about the slow service. So she starts rushing out with food stomping on the ground, other patrons are still complaining, and she stomps back into the kitchen and pretty much loses it. We could hear her screaming in the kitchen that she couldn't handle this alone and I think she might have been relieved for the day with the manager taking over. We asked a busboy what the deal was, and apparently they don't usually have much of a late lunch crowd and the manager didn't provide backup. The food finally arrived and was quite good.

  • Shelton Johnson Honored As National Park Service's Top Interpreter   5 years 25 weeks ago

    I cannot think of a better person at this time who is most deserving of such a prestigious award. Ranger and naturalist Sheldon Johnson is right up there with Carl Sharsmith as a top flight National Park interpreter. Congratulations Ranger Johnson for a excellent job well done. Many kudos to you!

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 25 weeks ago

    There are at least 10,000+ scientists around the world who would disagree with you, Brad. The email story was certainly sensational, but didn't change anything in the core science of climate change.

  • National Park Mystery Photo 16 Revealed: Yosemite Granite, Polished To a Sheen By Glaciers   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Very interesting! It is unbelievable what our world can do to make us go - hmmmm.

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Man-made climate change is a hoax. Scan the news about the scientist's emails.

  • A Hike To LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Is Just Part of the Adventure   5 years 25 weeks ago

    That looks beautiful and very fun. What a way to spend a holiday by hiking and looking at these beautiful works of nature. Thanks for sharing.

  • Shelton Johnson Honored As National Park Service's Top Interpreter   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Sheldon Johnson created a website around his "Letter to dead soldiers" about the almost forgotten black soldiers who served as the first guardians of the Sierra Nevada Parks.

    It can be found at

    And he collected information on the Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite and elsewhere at:

    Congratulation for your work and the award.

  • Shelton Johnson Honored As National Park Service's Top Interpreter   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Congratulations Mr Johnson!
    We thoroughly enjoyed the Ken Burns special on the National Parks and your contributions added greatly to it. I grew up in the inner city as well (St Louis) and had never even heard of a National Park until I was a teenager! That experience wasn't a part of my everyday life growing up. My husband however DID grow up with the National Parks experience, mainly Yellowstone. As a young married couple with children we began taking our own kids to the National Parks and this summer our children and grandchildren joined us in Yellowstone on vacation. Another generation to appreciate the grandeur of theses special places! It just goes to show you that having not grown up with that exposure as you and I did, or with that exposure as my children have, once they get into your blood, they never leave!
    Connie Hopkins
    Denton, Texas

  • Reader Participation Day: Which is Your Favorite National Park Lodge?   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Bryce Canyon Lodge is on top of my list! It's a classic throw-back to the lodges of old. Front desk staffs are both knowledgeable and courteous. Dinners were extremely good. Two-thumbs up for me!

  • Close Encounters In Glacier National Park   5 years 25 weeks ago

    "Waking up to the sounds of a light breeze whispering through the trees and a bubbling creek nearby. Looking out to see the sun's light shining on the top of a nearby mountain peak - turning around and still…" Ahhh, Glacier Park is the best!!!

    And oh by the way, I love your photo :)

  • Reader Participation Day: Which is Your Favorite National Park Lodge?   5 years 25 weeks ago

    I quite liked Jackson Lake Lodge. However - I'm heavily biased about that big room with the window pointing at Jackson Lake. If there's one thing Underwood was good at, it was pointing his windows.

    I did stay at one of the Bryce Canyon cabins. Now those are some remarkable buildings. I heard that Underwood designed each one differently.

    I've also stayed at Maswik at Grand Canyon. The cabins were unremarkable, but very affordable. Their lodge building wasn't all that great compared to the other lodges with views of the Grand Canyon.

  • Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change   5 years 25 weeks ago

    Thanks, Kurt.

    It's all sad, very sad, that most people, and most of our leadership it appears, simply aren't interested in climate change. With all the ostrich-headed deniers; unethical, quisling scientists-for-hire; cranial-rectal inverted politicians; barking-mad conservative media windbags; and arrogant humvee drivers disinterested in personal responsibility and funding mass transport, nothing will happen. These species are doomed.


    My travels through the National Park System: