Recent comments

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Here's a photo of the dam at Lake Aloha:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sotosoroto/2699718453/

    Anyone with a map of Desolation Wilderness can figure out that the entirety of the lake is in the wilderness area. It's not much of a dam, but the photo clearly shows some sort of mechanical device (I'm thinking some sort of pump) at the top of the dam.

    http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu/documents/maps/ltbmu-map.shtml

    The El Dorado Irrigation District has direct control over Lake Aloha, as well as Echo Lakes (which aren't in the wilderness boundary but within Forest Service area). There's a picture of Lake Aloha in EID's 2006 water quality report, with a description that it provides some of the district's water.

    http://www.eid.org/doc_lib/02_dist_info/WQR2006.pdf

    I've gone over parts of the 1964 Wilderness Act before. It's clear that they do have room for some exceptions if there are preexisting uses. I'm thinking this dam (as well as at Gilmore Lake) was specifically grandfathered in without triggering the "non conforming use" clause.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    D-2: Actually, several cultural or historical NPS units have non-visitor commercial activities such as grazing; the ranching in Point Reyes is not unique, and it is part of the law establishing the park, albeit with NPS ability to regulate grazing on the NPS-owned lands. DBOC is different: the 40 year RUO for the oyster operations in the estero and the on shore plant was part of the negotiated deed of sale of the original oyster farm to NPS. The price was less than what NPS would have paid without the RUO but more than if the use was permanent. The 40 year RUO was certainly part of the sale of the oyster farm to DBOC, and given California real estate & business law, the 1976 Wilderness designation was also fully disclosed.

    I don't know enough to be in favor of keeping DBOC in Drake's Estero after 2012 (with some royalties to NPS equivalent to grazing fees and lease of the land under the facilities) or in favor of removing it when the current law requires. The most important measurements to understand the impacts of DBOC (positive and negative) haven't been taken. Almost all of the reports arguing all sides that I've read have problems that would cause me to reject them as a reviewer: the NPS reports, the USGS reports, the stuff from UC Davis, and the NAS report. [Yes I'm a hard-assed reviewer, but I sign my reviews, and most of my reviews result in a stronger revised paper.]

    My own bottom line is whether DBOC can make enough profit to pay $100-200K per year for the necessary (independent) research & monitoring. If it can, then I have no problem with starting the monitoring now, extending the RUO a few years past 2012, and basing decisions about continued operations on the data. If it can't, then I have a real problem with NPS spending $100-200K per year as a hidden subsidy to DBOC operations within Point Reyes NS, or extending the RUO in the absence of any solid data on the impacts.

    My block quote from the NAS report summary (page 3) is:

    Ultimately, the NPS “Acknowledgment of Corrections” (July 2007) and “Clarification of Law, Policy, and Science” (September 2007) retracted several misrepresentations of the Anima (1991) and (Elliot-Fisk, 2005) studies and presented descriptions of ecological impacts of the shellfish culture operations that closely approach the conclusions reached by this committee, with two major exceptions. First, NPS does not acknowledge the changing ecological baseline of Drakes Estero, in which native Olympia oysters probably played an important role in structuring the estuary’s ecosystem for millennia until human exploitation eliminated them in the period from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Second, NPS selectively presents harbor seal survey data in Drakes Estero and over-interprets the disturbance data which are incomplete and non-representative of the full spectrum of disturbance activities in the estero.

    I wouldn't go so far as d-2 in my criticism of the NAS panel (I'm also not quite sure if d-2 is criticizing the NAS authors or Nabhan). However, as a scientist I'm appalled at the NAS interpretation of small projects not finding statistically significant effects as evidence for no ecologically significant effects. That fails intro stats: the basic logic of null hypothesis significance testing. Rigorous analyses in the subsequent peer reviewed paper (Becker et al. 2009) show a significant effect of year to year oyster production (as a proxy for mariculture activities) on seal counts at all 3 sites near the oyster farm (and strongest at the 2 closest) even after accounting for El Nino. Oddly, the NAS report addressed the Becker et al. paper by arguing that correlation is not causation (so nothing less than a fully randomized and replicated manipulative experiment would be sufficient?), and that the significant result might be confounded by some unspecified changes in culture methods or management practices. Whether the effect is direct or via latent (unknown and unmeasured) management practices, the result remains that greater oyster production is associated with lower counts on areas nearest the oyster farm.

    [I'm also appalled at the NAS evidence-free assertion in the quote above that the native oysters probably played an important role in the ecosystem. Sure, it's almost certainly true that native oysters were important, but its also almost certainly true that oyster feces greatly increase sedimentation rates, yet NAS severely criticized that statement for not having data from Drake's Estero to back it up.]

    Back to Kurt's original post, I'm relatively hopeful that Jarvis and Machlis _will_ get solid science in order to make management decisions such as this. My take is that getting solid science is more likely with Jarvis as director than with any of the alternatives.

    y.p.w.: The full report is pretty interesting, especially the background information, and I'm sure you'll learn quite a bit about the ecology and history of the estuary, as I did.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Marshall,

    Both Zion and Rocky Mountain also received some permanent wilderness this year.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    It's been stated here that many of our backcountry areas in the NPS are managed as wilderness areas, so Dottie, I hope that helps alleviate some of your concerns. The folks here seem pretty rational for the most part; I don't think there is a demand for the wiping of our Parks infastructure in favor for the woods. That's not what we're going for. Since most of these "eligible" areas are already managed as wilderness areas, the only differences is to capitalize the letter at the beginning of the word, and, the only real differences, is the permanence. These areas become permanently protected. Forever.

    As a full out conservative with all the respect and desire in the world for the Great Outdoors, I fully hope this Director and Administration create many more official Wilderness areas, so that they will truly be protected as the "backcountry" areas we currently consider them. Nothing changes...just the capital letter at the front. (In many cases.)

    One bill has already been pushed through. I'm sure Kurt covered it when it was. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was given a Wilderness area, and I believe at least one other park was included in this bill. The Beaver Bay backcountry area became the Beaver Bay Wilderness Area...nothing changed managerially. We had the superintendant come to our class to attest to that.

    Also, the comment about loopholes and such...I'm not sure I believe your claims. Wilderness areas are pretty set-in-stone. What I believe you might be seeing in person and on maps is remnants from before the Wilderness area became as such. I have backpacked into the McCormick Wilderness Tract, a USDA FS area, and there are building and logging remnants, as well as a dam from the logging days. There is, in fact, a lot of debate over what to do there...because the dam is wearing out and in danger of failing. Do they fix it, and mess with the Wilderness? Or do they let nature do its thing, and let the lake burst the dam, destroying the lake people use for fishing, and destroying lots of wildworld below the dam in the insuing flood. There's a renegade who is actually patching the dam himself in the meantime. YPW, i guess I can't say anything about what you've seen, but from what I've seen and learned, those are my guesses.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Just on a few of your points, ypw, and then to let this thread go, because I don't have your interest or insights into the specific operation, was only talking to the merits of the integrity of the National Park System.

    -- The airport in Jackson Hole is not owned by the NPS. NPS does not issue permits there, or control the operation. NPS has tried to phase out the airport, but unlike Point Reyes where the issue of the preexisting lease was addressed, it appears Congress did not want to phase out the airport when Congress finally passed legislation in effect recognizing the National Monument.

    -- For Point Reyes, I can't argue about specifics or challenge the Solicitor unless I read the entire legislative history, saw the maps as they evolved, and understood the law. I'd heard the issue was when the wilderness status would kick in, and that there was discussion that congress would not so designate the wilderness until the lease ended, with an understanding that it would not be renewed. But I don't know myself.

    I have read other parks' legislative histories, for example once when a Member of Congress was insisting that a mining operation be permitted to be continued. He said the miner ran a clean and well managed operation, and clearly had not so despoiled the land that people did not want it as a National Park. You could read in the discussion how painful it was for other Members to challenge this colleague. At first they put the discussion over to later consideration.

    Finally the Committee Chairman carefully explained that if Congress wants to permit that mine to continue, Congress can authorize it, but then the area should not be designated as a national park because that is not what parks are for, to be free of such commercial operations. Over and over, people try to install a special interest in a national park, often with brilliant rationalizations, and the insistence that it will not affect the park system as a whole, or the area under consideration. But in the end people need to confront that same simple question: do you want a national park here, or not?

    Because if you chip away at the authority of the national park service just a little bit here, and then a little something else over there, pretty soon you won't have the national parks of integrity we need.

    -- Presidio has special legislation. Revenue generation was built into the plan. Even with that, many complain that the board is permitting much more than was intended. But again, with its special exceptions in its special legislation, Presidio is not a good example.

    -- NPS does sometimes continue certain uses that are not considered inconsistent with the park. For example, in places farmers have been permitted to continue operations when it had been determined that the historic setting that was a purpose of the park requires the continuation. For example, where the farm helps preserve the historic setting. I have no idea how the cattle permits at Point Reyes are provided, if they are part of the original legislation and are grandfathered in, if they are being phased out, or if they are considered consistent with park purposes. So I cannot tell from what you describe. But I accept the statements from the NPS that congress did consider the way NPS should deal with the oyster operation, and that was to phase it out.

    -- I don't know what the commercial operation situation is at Golden Gate. But concessions do require a justification, and presumably they have one properly done for each concession. I was involved once in trying to justify a concession proposal where not far away, private businesses operated. The scrutiny was fairly intense, and it took a lot to justify the new concession. Presumably, Golden Gate would have the same level of scrutiny, consistent with the purposes and law of Golden Gate.

    -- For historic structures, the law does provide for special historic leases, with the idea that continued use and maintenance is the best way to protect an historic structure. In many ways, this authority seems to some people as inconsistent with the basic idea that parks are for all the public, because some lessees of historic structures use them for non-park purposes and can close them to the public. But it is a law. This is the controversy you've read about in these pages about Fort Hancock in New Jersey, in Gateway NRA, the companion to Golden Gates. The authority clearly exists in the law. Whether the historic leasing regulations as written are too flexible or not flexible enough is a different question.

    But this authority is only for historic structures, and this inconsistency would not apply to other leases. And, it begins with the premise that the structures involved are key resources for the park, and require maintenance. I don't think this exception would apply in any way to the Point Reyes situation.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Correction - He was cleared of any "criminal" misconduct.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    I suppose the radio program you mentioned was the KQED Forum program from several months ago with Kevin Lunny, Gordon Bennett, and the editor of the Point Reyes Light. Of course Bennett (representing the Sierra Club) didn't present himself well when he referred to her paper as the "Point Reyes Blight".

    I will say I am a fan of the DBOC and would like it to continue operations. I don't know the Lunnys personally, but I'm sure that he's done his research. I've taken a huge interest in this. Apparently Senator Feinstein has too. I've heard that she's personally arranged for and sat in on meetings with Lunny, Jarvis, and Neubacher. Her home near Stinson Beach is just a short trip to Point Reyes and I'd think on a good day she can see the mouth of Drakes Estero from her home.

    There's a whole lot of precedents for preexisting commercial operations to continue under NPS jurisdiction - or for new ones to be started depending on the status of the unit. I can assure you that Golden Gate NRA doesn't need a new lodge in the Marin Headlands in order to properly serve visitors. There are plenty of hotels/motels in Mill Valley and Sausilito that could serve that goal, as well as the rest of Marin and San Francisco. The commercial interests in the Presidio are hardly visitor concessions. They're commercial enterprises, such as Sports Basement (which has three other locations not on NPS lands) or the Presidio Bowling Center. Then I suppose there are some commercial operators that raise eyebrows such as the Presidio Golf Course as well as the Wawona Golf Course in Yosemite NP. I suppose the most controversial addition to land under NPS jurisdiction was the Jackson Hole Airport, which in fact is completely within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.

    I'd also note that a simple look of the map of Tomales Bay would indicate that pretty most of the water area is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service - either Point Reyes on the west or Golden Gate NRA on the east. I don't have a map of where the oyster racks are, but from what I've seen the commercial oyster farming operations do seem to be within the NPS jurisdiction. It would certainly be difficult for the NPS to ban such operations, as it has zero control over the land area along Highway 1 and the State of California has the mariculture and mineral rights. It's far more complex than saying that commercial enterprises other than concessions can't remain on NPS areas long term.

    I've even seen some strident talk about getting rid of the road, parking area, and pit toilet at the oyster farm. That would take away a prime kayak launching site. Kayaking is still legal 8 months out of the year and the NPS is tasked with balancing recreational uses with natural resource protection. I don't know how convenient kayak access at the Bull Point Trailhead parking lot is, but the current oyster farm location seems to be what the NPS recommends. I also can't understand some aspects of the DOI's Solicitor General report - especially where it mentions that the "oyster farm tract" is slated for conversion to wilderness status. I've seen the map that accompanied the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act and the official park map that lays out exactly what's in the wilderness plan whether or not it was potential or full wilderness. The northernmost 3/4 mile of Schooner Bay doesn't appear to be in the wilderness plan and zero land area surrounding Drakes Estero is in the wilderness plan.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    My understanding is the only commercial businesses that can remain on park lands long term are, like concession services, specifically sanctioned because park purposes cannot be achieved without the service. All others should be phased out.

    I agree that science should not serve a predetermined conclusion, and hope my comments could not be construed otherwise. It would be troubling. I hope the NPS studies were as conscientious as possible.

    But, I think we need to consider how neutral 'science' may actually be these days. Look at how Fox Channel is using 'scientific reports' funded by the insurance companies to attack the President, or the way drug studies reflect preexisting bias. You must know how clubby scientists can sometimes be with colleagues' work. As social scientists since Gunnar Myrdal have recognized, 'objectivity' may be impossible to achieve, and it may be better to acknowledge the context and ideally to identify existing bias.

    And, I think we underestimate ( " heads should roll" ) the difficulty of operating as a government agent in this world of high-paid litigators, lobbyists, and people who's access to elected officials like Senator Feinstein allow them to rewrite an agency's management system, etc. Add to that politically-motivated underfunding of needed studies and you place your public servants in impossible situations. How should a Regional Director like Jarvis evaluate the struggles of park staff working in this environment? Fire them all?

    On the question of funding science, I well remember efforts some years ago to document mammal populations in the new parks in Alaska and to develop housing for park employees in local villages so they could be close to their work. (Not in far away Fairbanks like the other agencies.) Even though the local communities agreed with the proposal for NPS presence, Senator Stevens consistently blocked these efforts to get the data and to work closely with the resource.

    I had some acquaintances in the Senator's office who told me that there was a concern that if the NPS could document population losses from poaching it would have the evidence it needed to crack down on the poachers. Ultimately, NPS made progress in these areas, but it took years and years, and most of those parks have fewer staff than in the 1980's.

    I am not saying Senator Feinstein was deliberately underfunding Point Reyes to promote oyster culture; I do not know. But she must be aware that the NPS, like many agencies, has been fighting with an arm tied behind its back. The central office staffs needed to back up and mentor park staff have been decimated, and many experienced people have been pushed out. A focused attack on primary precedents of park law, on behalf on an individual commercial user for a private purpose, with no benefit of the doubt to the agency struggling in this environment seems to me to be a pretty cheap shot for a supposedly progressive legislator.

    Like you I hope the NPS tried to do its work with the highest standards, not with any predetermined outcome in mind. Despite the scrutiny, it is commendable that mistakes were acknowledged, but even more so that fundamental management principles are not tossed out because of the political heat. After all, throughout the process, Director Jarvis must have known he was a potential candidate for the job as Director. If it were in anyone's interest -- if they were 'motivated' as NAS would have it -- to pander in this case, it would be to pander to a senior Democratic senator at the beginning of a Democratic Administration.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    First of all I'd like to say I made a few edits to correct some spelling mistakes and a few grammatical errors (I wrote "pore" instead of "pour" and just decided to rephrase about going over the NAS report), and when that's done the responses can be out of order.

    d-2:
    This whole effort appears to be an attempt to make the NPS argue from a position it could not possibly win, with inadequate resources, because even if an aquaculture operation could be shown to have no negative environmental affects, it deliberately obscures the key point that a commercial operation is not appropriate inside a national park.

    There are already commercial enterprises in Point Reyes NS: the cattle ranches and dairy farms. There's also the Drakes Beach Cafe.

    There are commercial operations inside of NPS boundaries. Nearly every single park concession is a profit-making enterprise, whether it's Delaware North Companies in Yosemite and Sequoia or Xanterra (rather extensive) in Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, etc. DNC even runs a permanent commercial operation in the High Sierra Camps from within the wilderness area boundaries of Yosemite. The orphan uranium mine in Grand Canyon operated for years and theoretically could be reopened. For years several mining operations ran out of Death Valley NM and I understand that there are still several mining claims that could go into full operation. If you want large-scale development, there's the Presidio of San Francisco. Lucasfilm has a big operation right in the NPS boundaries. The Disney Family just built a museum on the life of Walt Disney. I go there and shop at a profit-making sporting goods store (The Sports Basement). Within parts of Golden Gate National Recreation Area there are approved plans to build a couple of hotels that would effectively serve the same purposes as lodging available a few miles away in Marin County.

    I suppose you could be right that the sides on this are fitting their reports to achieve a predetermined conclusion. I think it's disingenuous to state that the NPS reports on Drakes Estero weren't simply science in the interest of serving a predetermined conclusion that the oyster farm was causing harm to plants and wildlife. However - I do find it troubling that a federal agency would do that. If indeed they felt that the 1976 Act mandated the removal of the farm, they wouldn't have to tweak a report to help their cause.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    To ypw --

    I have a sense, in the accusations you quote by the NAS lead author of this report -- that quote about doubting the NPS' credibility and motivation -- that the NAS's lead author is wading into politics and political motivation of his own as well.

    It is silly to say, as it says in the quote, immediately following the charge of 'motivation,' pointing to agency "lack of coordination" as if it were a charge against the NPS. How could it be thought that someone who could run such a sophisticated political lobby campaign as DBOC could EVER think that a California Fish and Game finding in ANY way is a finding or interpretation of the laws of the National Park Service must be malign, or at least driven by his own 'motivation' as well.

    This sense of the lack of balance from the NAS lead author seemed apparent to me when listening to a panel discussion on the radio a couple of months ago. To me, at no time did his demeanor in that discussion seem to be that of a conscientious scientist trying to make sure that science is done right. He seemed to have joined attacks on the agency and the people involved, and seemed to be advocating for DBOC.

    More importantly to me, it seems the "science" in this episode was from the first motivated by politics. Clearly, Sen. Feinstein and the NAS from the first were trying to make the 'scientific' assessment of the DBOC operation to be the decision-maker on whether or not this commercial fishing operation should be allowed to continue inside a national park. Other than commercial operations for park purposes, like a ferry of a park lodge, no commercial operations -- and certainly no park leases for commercial operations -- are consistent with park policy, whether in 'wilderness' or not.

    Trying to assess the 'beneficial' effects of oyster culture operation is a slick device to try to say a commercial operation is part of the natural ecosystem. I have seen it argued that a dam across a park river should be considered consistent with park policy because it replicates the beaver dams that once were on the river involved. Well, if you are trying to bring back extirpated populations, such as bringing back the wolves in Yellowstone, parks do not do it by instead opening Yellowstone to hunting. They actually try to reestablish the original populations, as they did in Yellowstone with the wolves.

    Once the NAS got into trying to find "beneficial" affects of this commercial operation, rather than confining themselves to an assessment of the impacts of the operation, the NAS author seemes to have revealed himself to be 'motivated' politically. When he introduced the red herring that someone could plausibly interpret a CA Fish and Game permit as a finding on NPS wilderness designation he again seems to demonstrate 'motivation.' And when he challenges the 'credibility and motivation' of the agency, rather than just sticking to the science, he again seems to demonstrate his own 'motivation.'

    This whole effort appears to be an attempt to make the NPS argue from a position it could not possibly win, with inadequate resources, because even if an aquaculture operation could be shown to have no negative environmental affects, it deliberately obscures the key point that a commercial operation is not appropriate inside a national park.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    I love the first sentence involving ethics "......found no wrong doing, but..." I guess some guys like to read the news or National Park Traveler when they surf the net and some like to look at porn. I prefer the former.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Yes - I actually have a copy of the NAS report that I downloaded a couple of weeks ago, but haven't really had the chance to read it in depth past the summary findings. My reading of it was that the report makes claims about the original NPS reports that describe it as more than just than just corrections of minor errors or inadequate research, but conclusions reached to achieve a specific purpose of painting the oyster farm in a bad light. I can read the initial summaries and already get the sense that previous research reports were cited claiming things that put the oyster farm in a bad light when said reports made no such claims and sometimes went uncorrected in the final NPS report.

    I picked that article because it has the strongest allegations. It's not the only opinion piece I can find that was critical of Director Jarvis's handling of that particular report. Perhaps Director Jarvis was just sticking up for the people who worked for him, but there are some people who were wondering why some heads didn't roll over this.

    Here's the summary paragraph (in full) where several lines have been quoted over the months by various media sources:

    While NPS in all versions of Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary
    accurately depicted the ecological significance and conservation value
    of Drakes Estero, in several instances the agency selectively presented,
    over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information
    on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation. Consequently,
    Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary did not present a rigorous
    and balanced synthesis of the mariculture impacts. Overall, the report
    gave an interpretation of the science that exaggerated the negative and
    overlooked potentially beneficial effects of the oyster culture operation.
    NPS has issued two documents correcting and clarifying Drakes Estero: A
    Sheltered Wilderness Estuary—
    “Acknowledgment of Corrections to Previous
    Versions of the Park News Document Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness
    Estuary
    ,” posted on July 25, 2007 (NPS, 2007e), and the September
    18, 2007 document, “National Park Service Clarification of Law, Policy,
    and Science on Drakes Estero” (NPS, 2007d). The Clarification document
    represents the most accurate NPS release of science relating to mariculture
    impacts, although it does not fully reflect the conclusions of this
    committee. It appears that hasty responses to local stakeholder concerns
    by NPS led to the publication of inaccuracies and a subsequent series of
    retractions and clarifications during this process from 2007–2008, which
    cast doubt on the agency’s credibility and motivation. A lack of coordination
    among the multiple agencies regulating the mariculture operation
    also gave mixed messages to stakeholders, fueling the controversy. For
    example, the extension in 2004 of the DBOC shellfish leases until 2029 by
    the California Fish and Game Commission sent a message that could be
    construed as conflicting with the Department of the Interior Office of the
    Solicitor’s interpretation of the congressional mandate for designating
    Wilderness in the Point Reyes National Seashore, which would prohibit
    the extension of the lease beyond 2012. The California Fish and Game
    Commission did, however, stipulate termination of the leases if the RUO
    was not extended. The committee describes below the major scientific
    conclusions presented by NPS and how these conclusions change among
    the various NPS public releases.

    The original report apparently had a claim that the oyster farm could be a potential source of non-native species transplanted from imported seed. I suppose that might happen in Tomales Bay where all the oyster farms typically import seed oysters from Washington, it's been well reported that DBOC produces its own oyster seed on site.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Among the comments, there is also some confusion of the various issues.

    [The various Gettysburg projects have been under attack, and Superintendent John Latschar with them, for many years, and apparently with everything that came to the opponent's hand. Almost no one survives such forceful attacks at so many levels for very long, even if the higher-ups completely support the person under attack. Most people do not experience this kind of attack for so many years, 3 times longer than the length of the Civil War, and Superintendent Latschar has handled the pressure better sometimes than some other times. Generally, you move good employees around before they get broken. It might be true that most other, incoming, employees would not even have tried to fix the interpretation at Gettysburg, and if Latschar had left after the normal 5 or so years, the projects would have died. One time, when Senator Santorum of PA was defending the Superintendent to the NPS leadership that wanted to remove him, the Senator said: "You say you want initiative and innovation, but what signal do you send when you pull out the rug from everyone who really tries to solve the problems? The signal you are sending is to sit back, take your salary, and do nothing."]

    The issue about the Ethics review relates to the Superintendent retiring to take over the Foundation that runs and constructed the Visitor Center.

    That group came into existence as a result of an RFP process run by the NPS. The RFP process was not run by Superintendent Latschar, but nearly everything else was, before and all agreements afterward. Because it is basic to any knowledge of the Ethics rules that you cannot take over an operation run by an organization that has operating agreements with the government agency when you were the key official implementing those agreements, it astonished most everybody that the Regional Director and the Ethics review group would have sanction it.

    Yes, in some cases it is OK when you can occasionally simply exempt yourself as the decider for specific conflicts of interests, but when on a day in day out basis you are working within the agreement that previously as a government official you signed off on, that is not possible.

    Interestingly, had the Superintendent wanted to support and work for the foundation after retirement, he could have done so if he were willing to accept a role where he is not the signing authority and where he is not the beneficiary of a contract he previously managed.

    For example, some NPS people raise funds for Foundations, are not in charge of the foundation, and do not manage one of their prior agreements with the foundation. They just want to work in an area they believe in, but not run it.

    -- By the way, on the 'donated leave' issue, everyone is notified when someone is sick and needs donated leave to be paid while under treatment or convalescence. But if you actually donate the leave, that is confidential information and the Superintendent would not actually know who did and who did not donate. So that one seems like a pretty empty charge.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Sarah--

    The Gary Paul Nabhan editorial y.p.w. linked to is a pretty one-sided advocacy piece by someone strongly in favor of keeping DBOC in Point Reyes, as made clear by his August 12 response to Gordon Bennett of the Sierra Club (an advocate for Drake's Bay reverting to wilderness) and the rest of the comments on that editorial.

    Have you read the full NAS report, or just press releases? I actually read the entire NAS report because I am a curious scientist (I doubt Nabhan did). The full report is available at:
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12667
    [Ignore the buy a copy part and look for the download free pdf link.]

    The criticism of the NPS reports was that they "never achieved a rigorous and balanced synthesis of the mariculture impacts". The problem was that the NPS reports were analyses of the available data from other research and baseline monitoring, not results of a study targeted at the positive and negative effects of DBOC. A rigorous and balanced synthesis would require data on aspects where no data exist.

    The major complaint was that NPS didn't include information on the water quality effects of pre-extirpation native oyster beds and the potential for commercial oyster farms to replace that ecosystem function, and thus did not include potential positive effects of DBOC operations. The biogeochemists on the NAS panel were right to point out the nutrient cycling issue, but those data don't exist because no one has collected the current measurements, and certainly no one collected measurements 150-200 years ago (pre-extirpation of the native oyster beds) for the "shifting baselines". Point Reyes NS doesn't have funding to perform such research; under the current lease DBOC doesn't have to fund such research or monitoring of the effects of their operations, either.

    The analysis of seal haulout and calving behavior were about as good as possible with data collected for other reasons, not specifically targeted at measuring the positive and negative effects of DBOC. NAS criticized the data as being incomplete and non-representative, and for being collected by volunteers under NPS supervision as well as by NPS technicians, but they are the only existing data. The fact that visitor use may have a larger effect on seals does not change whether DBOC operations do or do not affect seals (and kayakers are now kept out of the Estero during the breeding season). The NAS report notes that mariculture activities are now the major human activity in the Estero in the breeding season, and that in Europe such activities are kept 500-1500 meters from haul out locations. The NAS wanted more data, which is a reasonable perspective for applying science to a management question.

    DBOC is a political minefield. My opinion is that Jarvis did about as well as anyone could in negotiating the minefield. Attacking him (as in the Nabham editorial) for not negotiating an extension of the reservation of use and occupancy, something the solicitor general said is non-negotiable law, is absurd.
    Jarvis properly defended defensible science against lawyerly non-scientific attack by advocates without data nor better analyses, and properly oversaw modification and revision of the analyses and interpretations that were validly challenged. It would be wonderful if Jarvis could magically find money to fund the research NAS recommends, but even the NAS report notes that NPS doesn't have funding to perform such research. Unfortunately, Feinstein's rider to extend the RUO did not provide funding for the research or monitoring, nor require DBOC to fund it as a condition of the use (NAS-level research & monitoring might eat up more than DBOC's entire profits), so I don't know where the needed additional scientific data will come from.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Bat, as the joke in the news business goes, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    Indeed, outwardly this story doesn't look good for Mr. Latschar. Obviously, there are a number of gray areas that need closer investigation by the Park Service, and not just the misuse of a government computer. But let me play devil's advocate for the most damning revelation -- What if someone other than the superintendent used his computer to surf the Internet, but for whatever reason there was just cause in Mr. Latschar's mind that he should take the blame? To firmly jump to the final conclusion, I think we need full disclosure from Mr. Latschar and the Park Service, and both have made it clear they're not going there.

  • Is It "Elitist" To Try to Visit All 58 National Parks?   5 years 28 weeks ago

    The idea that people don't get into nature enough or travel enough is close to my heart, so I I was disturbed by the article referenced here enough to write to Mr. Goetzman, and now we've exchanged thoughtful and enlightening emails.

    If I interpret him correctly, what he wanted to express was a distaste for "collecting" the parks just to reach a number and do some chest-thumping upon attaining it. He's not denying that the educational, emotional, or perhaps spiritual value for some people may make the carbon expense worthwhile. He says everyone has to look at their activities and decide for themselves if it's worth it. I think he'd be less critical if someone was celebrating the education of the journey (ala imtnbke above) rather than the magical number of 58.

    I told him I thought is was his obligation, as a skilled writer, to visit these places and tell their story. He said he always tries to tell nature's story and will continue to do so.

    He also argued that despite my contention that you can visit National Parks on the cheap, American Samoa is reserved for those with a bit of extra cash. I checked plane fare, and will have to concede that point to Mr. Goetzman!

    Just thought I'd share that, as we are all brutalizing him here, and he seems like a good guy whose point would have been better expressed with an extra 2,000 words in the original article.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    There are indeed procedures in place that you would think would prohibit such developments, but none as ironclad as official wilderness designation.

    For example, take the Grant Village development in Yellowstone. It was built because park officials decided to reduce the size of the Fishing Bridge developed area because it was located in prime grizzly bear habitat. Well, turns out that the land on which Grant Village was built also was rated as prime grizzly bear habitat. Had parts of Yellowstone, most of which is managed as wilderness when there is actually no officially designated wilderness at all in the park, been approved for wilderness designation before Grant Village was built in the 1970s, the developed area might not exist today.

    Of course, Grant Village serves a vital way-station in the park. Twice I've used it as a launching point for paddling trips on Yellowstone Lake, and tens of thousands of other park visitors spend a night or two there every summer. Could the park function without Grant Village? Without a doubt. Would the landscape be richer if the development never occurred and the land was protected as wilderness? Also without a doubt. That's what makes these issues so delicate and, quite often, so controversial.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Kurt, to paraphrase Rick's more tasteful comment, you're the one in charge of the light bulbs in this forum's transparency viewer. We may not be privy to all the details, but the facts as you've presented them paint a dark and creepy picture. I appreciate your effort not to cast an overly rosy light on these issues. I for one like how you try to keep it real, and appreciate the opportunity to participate.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    I still believe the National Parks are there for the enjoyment of all people, including those who like to venture into pristine wilderness with the knowledge that it is protected for as long as the rule of law lasts. For that reason, I believe most of the bigger parks ought to have significant tracts of designated wilderness. For the same reason, I also find Ed Abbey's desire to abandon all vehicular traffic past the entrance gate to be absurd. Most of these parks being mentioned are huge and already have easy access to the iconic sites and representative scenery of the area. They also have undeveloped areas that are enjoyed by millions of tax-paying Americans every year. Call them elitists. Call them the chosen few. But don't deny them the right to see something protected when that protection will do nothing but ensure that the way things are is the way they will continue to be.

    I point to Olympic again as an example. You can drive right up and into an alpine meadow and buy a hot dog while you're there. You can drive right into the middle of the rainforest and make a call from a payphone there. You can drive to, and park close enough to the beach to get salt spray on your windshield. And yet, Olympic is more than 90% designated wilderness.

    The parks are not playgrounds, nor are they simply curios. They can be, and should be, both!

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Sorry, Kurt, I see what you mean now. Although I thought there was more stringent rules in effect that would not allow such activity. A business cannot just go build a big hotel on the Grand Canyon Rim today, nor can they build a ski resort in Glacier, so there are laws in place that forbid these invasive actions. That is my way of thinking.

  • Dr. Gary Machlis Has Ambitious Plans As Science Advisor to National Park Service Director Jarvis   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Thanks for providing that link. I hope people will read the artiole. It's more than just "some people severely questioning the scientific integrity of several NPS reports." The National Academy of Sciences found that the reports in question were wrong and misleading, and the Inspector General of the United States found them to be the result of scientific misconduct. Not just mistakes--wrongdoing. In that context, "backing up employees" is a pretty radical thing to do. It certainly does not suggest a strong interest in scientific integrity.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Dottie,

    I wasn't reading anything into your initial comment. I was trying to point out that without official wilderness designation, those areas currently managed as wilderness and eligible for wilderness can be developed up until the point that designation is bestowed.

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Suffice to say this is an extremely delicate issue. As a result, some comments were edited for taste, some for clarity.

    It must be remembered throughout that the Inspector General's Office cleared Mr. Latschar of all charges of misconduct. As to the instances of surfing the Internet inappropriately, neither Mr. Latschar nor the National Park Service is commented, so we are not privy to all the details.

  • Wilderness Designations And National Parks Don't Cross Paths Often Enough   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Wouldn't it be more elitest to pave paradise and install a bunch of those machines to suck the refuge out of 24' Winnebagos?

  • Investigation Of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Finds Cybertracks to Pornographic Images   5 years 28 weeks ago

    Well, it's certainly visible now.

    Perhaps the new regime could put in some brighter light bulbs in the transparancy viewer.