Conservation 1, ARC 0

Trees at Mount Rainier National Park : NPS PhotoIn Washington DC this week, they destroyed a bridge named for President Woodrow Wilson, but across town they preserved the intent of a document that he had signed 90 years ago. The founding of the National Park Service began with a stroke of Wilson's pen on what has since become known as the Organic Act. As pointed out in a recent New York Times editorial, the language within the first paragraph of the Act has held the core of the NPS magic for 90 years: the word "enjoyment" sandwiched between the words "conserve" and "unimpaired".

The instructions in the Organic Act have only been a start for the Park Service. Since 1916, the rules governing all parks in the system have been rewritten many times, but always with a nod towards the conservative use of land management. The good news is that on Thursday August 31st, the Department of Interior and the Park Service signed off on a new set of Management Policies that continue in that great park tradition of conservation. The bad news is that it has taken two years, a ton of insider politics, pressure from big money lobbies, the pleading from 45,000 public comments, and two full document drafts to get here. Too much energy to "fix" something that hasn't ever been broken!

My favorite national park reporter, Julie Cart of the LA Times, wrote a nice piece covering the adoption of the new 2006 Management Policies (Parks Won't Yield to Motors). The NY Times also covered the story (Park Service to Emphasize Conservation in New Rules). I read these stories days ago, but there was a detail in both stories that has been bugging me all weekend.

Who do you think the NY Times approached for conciliatory comments about the new policies? Paul Hoffman, the DOI employee who drafted the original, controversial plan? No. Fran Mainella, the outgoing NPS Director who had been defending the original plan in newspaper editorials across the nation? No. Stephen Martin, the Deputy Director of the NPS who had defended the original plan in front of a Senate Subcommittee? No. Anyone in the US Government? No. Instead, the NY Times turned to Derrick Crandall, the president of the American Recreation Coalition. Says Mr. Crandall:
'In this world in politics you rarely get 100 percent victories. We are convinced our concerns were looked at, some changes have been made and we're prepared to work with the agency to move to other kinds of important issues.'
Whether you love, hate, or are neutral about the motorized recreation lobby ARC, you have to ask yourself, what are they doing in the middle of issues involving the National Park Service, an agency with a 90 year history of conservation and preservation? The two groups are coming from such different places ideologically, I'd imagine they would need some type of translator to even communicate. Have a look at the ARC membership list. The list of sustaining members include 9 motorized recreation groups, the Disney Company, and Price Waterhouse Coopers. The rest of the list includes members like Suzuki Motors, American Power Boat Association, and the National Hot Rod Association. Why is the ARC working so hard on behalf of its members to gain access to our national parks?

It is a question worth pursuing. Whatever their true purpose may be, the ARC have proved they are capable of steering the national debate about parks, and holding the park planning process hostage for two years. But for now, I breath a sigh of relief that the 2006 management policy has been adopted. Someone on the NY Times editorial board feels the same way. Sept 2 editorial:
This document should also help put an end to the specious argument that by working hard to conserve the parks we are somehow depriving the present generation of its right to enjoy them. That bankrupt thesis ' advanced by political appointees within the Interior Department, industry lobbyists and deep thinkers like Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico ' is what has been driving this revision process all along.