Recent comments

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    The yellowcake that the Orphan Mine produced was indeed intended for America's Cold War nuclear weapons program, not nuclear power production. I revised the article and removed the reference to nuclear power production. If you'd like to dig deeper into this subject, see Michael A. Amundson, "Mining the Grand Canyon to Save It:The Orphan Lode Uranium Mine and National Security," The Western Historical Quarterly Vol. 32, No. 3 (Autumn 2001). Here is the abstract:

    The Orphan Lode Uranium Mine, on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, offers a case study of the changing definition of national security in the Cold War American West. At the nexus of changing environmental, economic, energy, and national defense values, the mine's history complicates current views on nuclearism, interregional colonialism, and resource exploitation in national parks.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    The article seems to be placing the blame of mining in the Grand Canyon on nuclear power. How do we know that the U3O8 extracted from this mine was used for just nuclear power and not nuclear warheads?

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Thanks, Sebattis, for such a good answer. I, too, worry what will happen when the public realizes it is not paying for what it thinks it is.

    And thanks, also, for identifying the multiple threads we need to look at to properly understand, and respond to, these complex issues.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    In response to d-2, the fact that "user fees" are being diverted from user services to other purposes, like maintenance, is exactly part of the problem. It both undermines the perception among the public that they are "getting what they are paying for", and also decreases the incentive for Park Superintendents to use user fees to expand visitor services that can't currently be supported under current budgetary conditions. At the risk of getting "too inside-the-beltway" here, one option would be for the Park Service to get the authority (if they don't have it already) to treat certain user fees as what the government calls "offsetting collections." In the world of federal budgets this would literally mean that the user fees for, say, lifeguards would directly offset the cost of the lifeguards - and so in certain representations of the NPS's budget, the lifguarding program wouldn't apear at all, because the costs and revenues would be "offset."

    At the end of the day, there's two possible debates to be having hear. I still think that the original post here attempted to frame the debate as "should the Park Service try and make the Parks absolutely safe" - which I think is obviously pretty absurd. There is a debate to be had on "should the Park Service make the Parks more safe than they are today?" and perhaps "does the Park Service have enough budgetary resources to reach a desirable level of safety in the Parks" - but I didn't see those debates as being presented by the original post.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    You're right, Frank. Triuranium octoxide (U308) is a naturally occurring -- and unusually stable -- form of yellowcake. PM is partly correct. Some kinds of yellowcake are products of milling. Not this one, though.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    There is either a big assumption here or some evidence not presented that I do not know about (please enlighten me).

    The assumption is that this uranium was made into yellowcake for nuclear power. How do we not know that it wasn't enriched to produce uranium suitable for weapons?

    On a good note, this uranium "is generally considered to be the more attractive form for disposal purposes because, under normal environmental conditions, U3O8 is one of the most kinetically and thermodynamically stable forms of uranium and also because it is the form of uranium found in nature."

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    I would second what MLG said. Also, the article said "During the period 1956-1969 this underground mine produced, among other things, 2,130 tons of U3O8, a naturally occurring uranium compound called yellowcake." Yellowcake is not naturally occurring. It occurs during the processing of the uranium ore.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    The dangers that park visitors often find themselves in are described in a fascinating way in the book, Off the Wall, coauthored by long-time ranger Butch Farabee. The book chronicles all the deaths that have occured in Yosemite since it became a park. Many of the vignettes in the book explain where people went wrong, whether crossing a steam above a waterfalll, clipping into a rappel anchor not properly set, or underestimating the effects of cold, wet weather on one's ability to make good decisions. Mike Finley, the former superintendent of Yellowstone, in the foreward accurately observes that this is not a book about death, but about life because in every story there are lessons to be learned. I was captured by the book and read it in just a couple days. I highly recommend it to NPT readers.

    Rick Smith

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Your comment about the challenges posed to such surveys by the thick vegetation reminded me of a comment by a ranger who worked for me at Lake Mead. He was a geologist by training, and had spent his entire life in the West. He was sent "back East" for some training, and sent us a post card with the following observation:

    "I think there's some interesting geology out here, but I can't tell - it's all covered up with trees!"

    Jim B

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Rick Smith had an excellent take on this question in his post above. This issue has been around as long as there have been parks. Finding a balance between protecting visitors while allowing them to experience a park will always be a challenge, and budget limits are a big factor.

    For better or worse, some of those decisions are lawsuit driven; when something goes wrong, it's probably typical of most large organizations to try to prevent a repeat occurrence. Managers and the agency solicitors (lawyers) don't want to be seen as irresponsible or uncaring when someone is hurt or dies, and the solicitors in particular don't want to lose a lawsuit if the same problem occurs again.

    Here's one example: Not long before I worked at Lake Mead back in the 1970's, a tragic accident occurred when a youngster on an ATV was riding cross-country in the desert, was driving too fast to react to the terrain ahead, and drove off into an open, vertical mine pit. If memory serves correctly, the family had been warned by a ranger not to ride in the area, but did so anyway. In the wake of that accident, the park invested a huge amount of time and money in an attempt to locate and fence "all" of the abandoned mines in a very large park - given the rugged terrain, an almost impossible task, but the effort was made. That area is riddled with abandoned mines - some vertical shafts, some horizontal tunnels. Many of them are very difficult to reach on the ground, and many are not shown on any maps.

    Rangers spent many hours on the ground and in the park's small plane looking for those mine entrances - the pilot flew around and around in concentric circles while the lucky spotter tried to pick out suspected mine openings and mark them on a map for follow-up verification. That's a ride on a hot, summer day that's guaranteed to find out if you're susceptible to motion sickness!

    When I transferred to another park, that project was still underway, but a lot of progress had been made.

    A similar project had been completed in parts of the Buffalo National River in Arkansas before I arrived there in 1986. A number of mostly horizontal tunnels were left over from a Zinc mining boom decades ago, before the park was established. They were dangerous due to rock falls, sudden drop-offs, etc. and all of the entrances were fenced and signed, warning of the danger and advising that the area was closed for safety reasons. It was an on-going battle to keep the fences intact and replace stolen signs.

    In such cases, the park can only do as much as possible, and hope to avoid an incident. Some people are determined to get themselves in a jam, no matter what the park does.
    I described them in the introduction to my first book with a quote from the novelist Will Henry: "The Lord pours in the brains of some with teaspoons, and still gets his arm joggled even so."

    Jim Burnett

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    A few comments on this article seem to be in order. During at least the early operating period for this mine, much of the uranium that was produced in this country and in Canada was for use by the US Government in producing nuclear weapons for the Cold War. This is also true for much of the milling capacity that was in existence at the same time. Most of these historic mills are now reclaimed. In many cases, the older Title I mills were reclaimed using funds from the Department of Energy under the UMTRA program since they produced during the 50's and early 60's strictly to supply the AEC with feed material for the weapons complex. The point is that at least some if not all of the costs to reclaim this mine are due to the Cold War and not nuclear power.

    An additional point is that there is an Abandoned Mine Land program run by the Office of Surface Mines in the Department of the Interior that is funded by a fee collected on every ton of coal mined in this country. The latest annual report (at http://www.osmre.gov/annualreports/annualreport06.htm) indicates that $3 billion dollars has been spent to address abandoned mines since 1977. This money is used for coal and non coal mines. In 2006, the Navajo Nation received over $2 million dollars from OSM for abandoned mine work. Unfortunately, the NPS bought the property and may not be eligible for these funds.

    The comments about uranium in well water neglects the fact that uranium is ubiquitous in nature and is found in naturally-occuring concentrations well in excess of drinking water standards in areas where there is no history of uranium mining. The USGS ran a program in the late 1970's to identify potential uranium resources, in part by sampling groundwater. This data (called the National Uranium Resource Evaluation) helps to show the prevalence of uranium in groundwater all over this country, but particularly in the Colorado Plateau/Four Corners region, so it should be no surprise that some wells on the Navajo Nation have high uranium concentrations. This is not to say that the wells cited by the commenter were not affected by abandoned mines in the vicinity; it is meant to point out that there may be other causes of high uranium. If they are affected by abandoned mines, this is the purpose of the AML program mentioned above and the Navajo Nation should be addressing those mines. See the NURE data at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1997/ofr-97-0492/

    Finally, the make-a-mess-and-walk-away attitude of the past applied to all industries in our country...not just mining. Anyone around at the time can recall the Cuyahoga River catching on fire and Love Canal. Thanks to these disasters, we now have stringent environmental laws under NEPA but are unfortunately still dealing with the legacy of the approach by past generations. Among the worst of these sites are those associated with weapons development for the Cold War. Take a look at the billions spent by DOE (and yet to be spent) to clean up the old weapons complex sites. As far as the nuclear power industry, it was alway blessed with stringent safety and environmental standards under regulations by the NRC.

    The bottom line is that the premise of this story is incorrect. The costs of cleaning up this mine near a national treasure are not a hidden cost of nuclear power but part of a huge public cost of cleaning up sites that are a legacy of ignoring the environmental impact of most anything that we did up until the last 3 decades.

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Chance is right,

    Because the people who would pay for the study at my park are NPS (In fact they don't own any land). The Boston Harbor Islands ais really a park that should be owned and operated by BLM, for a lot of reasons, but the owners of the park's land being the City of Boston (mostly Boston's Fault) and State of MASS didn't like (not hate) the idea.

    The Park well run because it is not "run" by NPS, but NPS still could fund a study if they had the money. Right now NPS is trying to get Harvard to do the Study.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   5 years 44 weeks ago

    It's hard for this national park to establish a clear identity, being as fragmented and urban-entwined as it is. And I agree that lakeshore is not a conceptually tidy term, Anon. Can you suggest another, more appropriate descriptor? I can't........

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   5 years 44 weeks ago

    I accede to your point on the National Captcal Parks. I have followed discussions on this site and am familiar with Indiana Dunes. I think the fact that local papers do not recognize a national park here is a critical point. The name lakeshore is too confusing. The park is in the city limits of more than a dozen cities and towns, but has no single identity. Hence. making sure that people do not think that the City of Portage runs this site is very important for the park in order to maintain a sense of its public identity as NOT a city or state park.

    “Those dunes are to the midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity: once lost, the loss would be irrevocable.” Carl Sandburg 1958

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    While I appreciate information provided to help me make an informed decision, I don't want the government to protect me from myself, whether the "danger" is what I read/watch, what I smoke, or where I swim.
    This includes the NPS.

    Mark

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Mr. Mutch,

    I certainly understand what you are saying. Indeed, I have witnessed firsthand several surveys that are only taking place because of NEPA regs or some other project. However, having lived and worked this summer with many of the individuals cited in this piece, I can assure you that surveying BISO's rockshelters and other archaeological resources, is an ongoing effort that is not the results of other projects, and that - at least at Big South Fork - it is taken very seriously and is not being done in a hodge-podge fashion.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Thanks. I made the correction. [***Weaselspeak alert!!***] Newspapers -- including the Post-Tribune right there in NW Indiana -- referred to the new facility as a "park". This, plus the fact that the facility is within the city limits of Portage, contributed to the confusion. As for your park-within-a-park comment, well, that's a loose caveat at best. There are lots of units within national parks that are formally called parks. National Capital Parks-East, for example, has at least five sub-units that are officially named "park."

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    That is an interesting point about the contaminated well water that I hadn't considered. Is there any hope of cleaning up the wells or has the damage already been done beyond repair? Most people do not understand the true imapct that mining has, and really I think we are still learning the far reaching effects of it. The dollars and cents of it is just one little aspect of it.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Just a correction - Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is not a "park." Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a section of the lakeshore - not a park in itself any more than Mammoth Hot Springs is a "park" within Yellowstone.

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   5 years 44 weeks ago

    One of the main obstacles to inventorying and monitoring archy (federal term for archaeology/archaeological) sites/land on federal lands is that funding is based on mitigating for other projects. So, archaeology is funded by other management branches and has VERY little money of it's own. Some of these other projects include prescribed burning/thinning, logging (Forest Service/BLM), road/building construction, and etc. For example, when the fire crews want to burn or maintenance wants to expand or build a road or structure they have to (theoretically) get archaeology to sign off and use their project funds to pay for the archy survey.

    Thus, there is no over all plan to survey public lands within whatever management area you are in. It is done in a hodge podge manner.

    Rob Mutch

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Well, I assume Sebattis and most other readers know many NPS beaches do have fees, where collecting fees is practical. The larger issue Mr. Smith and Kurt cites is the real issue, and the blithe way the fee issue is discussed in the Sebattis contribution seems to be the real red herring here.

    But to address the hanging-fee point: accompanied by the forceful urging of the Department of the Interior and by the House Appropriations Republican staff, that fee money is focused on maintenance, not lifeguards or park rangers. Projects, not salaries. At a beach not far from where I live, it has always seemed to me the fee-paying public must assume the fees are actually going to lifeguards and park rangers, but they do not. Inasmuch as President Bush made paying off the NPS maintenance backlog his major NPS plank when he ran for President, but has not requested the appropriations to keep that promise, it was considered a cute way to keep a campaign promise without paying for it.

    The larger point of fees, appropriations, partnerships, and ALL the combined forms of available money is: there is not enough of it. It is conservative ideology not to pay for government employees, probably specifically because that employee generally is working for the good of all Americans rather than special interests. As now, with the Wall Street meltdown, or with the Events of September 11, when we realized the consequences of privitizing airport security, someone must be assigned by the people of America to focus on the main objective of a given agency's Mission.

    The main Mission of the NPS is to protect the parks unimpaired for public benefit and enjoyment. Increasing privitization of a government function ALWAYS eventually has the unintended consequence of pushing the government manager to work on behalf of the funding source, the special interest. In the case of parks, the threat of an imbalance of private funding is compromising the primary NPS Mission. Just like with food safety, drug safety, financial security and even national security. There are revenue-generating opportunities that may not undermine the Mission if applied properly, but revenue generation is not (despite the Sebattis presentation) a panacea. These are facts, and we need to avoid ideological myth-making when addressing the realities.

    The larger issue here is exactly as Mr. Smith and Professor Sax, in his "Handrails" book describes. Hypersafety practices can ruin what makes parks special. The smaller issue, that there are places where surpervised beaches and use of safety features may be permitted depending on the character of that specific place.

    NPS should not control every visitor experience, provided it can be accomplished without undermining the park purpose. NPS should have the resources it nees to provide safe experiences and facilities were that is appropriate. Right now NPS does not have the money it needs to accomplish the modest kind of management required by the Mission.

    No red herring. An important topic that should not be cynically obscured.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   5 years 44 weeks ago

    The costs are one side, but outside of the National Park is the land of the Navajo Nation. People and livestock there use water that is contaminated by abandoned uranium mines that are all over the tribal land. In a study of the Ojato Chapter of the Navajo's land done by EPA every well on the Arizona side was contaminated and all but one on the adjacent Utah part.

    This map shows abandoned mines, wells and contaminated areas:
    Attention: The file is huge.

    http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/63d4ce17a198b2e3882573c5007fae76/8110d15aaac2144888257007007dce13/$FILE/Oljato.pdf

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   5 years 44 weeks ago

    I've always considered the role of park rangers to protect the environment from the visitors, not the reverse. Despite all the warnings and instructional material about the dangers in the parks, we still have visitors recklessly approaching wildlife, climbing over barriers to the edge of cliffs and bluffs, and ignoring other danger signs. We have the adage, "Buyer Beware"; we should add "Park Visitor Beware".

  • National Park Quiz 21: Railroads   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Nice catch, Sabattis. I revised the quiz item.

  • Climber Dies In Accident In Grand Teton National Park   5 years 44 weeks ago

    Well said, Bob, Beamis, and fhasti.
    Everything can change in the blink of an eye. When my mom called from the Tetons on that Wednesday to tell me my dad was missing, I feared him dead because he does not get lost. He is also the strongest, fittest person I know, besides his soon-to-be son-in-law Ironman competitor. With decades of experience in climbing, hiking, and adventuring, including the Matterhorn and the Grand Teton (three times), none of us would have expected anything to ever happen to him. News of his rescue was a relief, but we found out soon after he would have to keep fighting for his life for some while. Of course, my dad is my hero, adopting me at 16 years old and now being a great "Papa" and role model for my young kids. Were it not for the heroic efforts of all those involved in Richard's search and rescue, however, we wouldn't have my dad now. The courageous men and women who do this great service in this and other parks are true professionals. We are grateful.