What Are Those Rats Doing Now?

American Blue Rat : Barbara B. PhotoIf you are reading this, you probably find something very appealing about our National Parks. I know I do. For me, the experience of the parks happens on a very personal level. I feel enriched after a visit. And so, last year upon learning of the threat that the "Hoffman" management plan represented to the parks, I thought I should speak up, with this site as my platform. I knew that there were others out there just as upset about this anti-park plan as I was.

Last year, I thought Paul Hoffman was a rogue agent, someone working alone to shape the Park Service toward his own twisted vision. Hoffman had a history in Wyoming of run-ins with Yellowstone officials, and I had thought his plan was "pay back" on a national level. I think I may have been naive. Since the Hoffman version was trashed a couple months ago, I have come to believe (as have others) that it was instead special interest groups who were the ones pulling the strings on the initial rewrite.

"The iron filings did not form their new patterns on their own. There were magnets under the table." 1

These special interest groups would rather remain out of the national spotlight. Like rats, they do their business in the dark, behind the scenes, out of sight where it is difficult to track them. But they are there, and every once in awhile, if you turn the lights on real fast, you can see the tracks they leave. Does anyone else think the timing of these two announcements seem unusually suspicious?

Sept 5, ARC press release
Eighty Organizations Call for Forum to Address NPS Issues
"The letter notes that the national park system was created to provide enjoyment in the form of recreation and education. The U.S. system ... now consists of nearly 400 units covering more than 85 million acres. Yet, as the letter points out, despite this growth in size and a 25% increase in the U.S. population over two decades, and despite increased awareness of the value of parks in providing Americans with safe and enjoyable opportunities for physical activity, park visits have declined. Says American Recreation Coalition president Crandall 'We need to explore ways to welcome activities ranging from mountain biking to geocaching to rock climbing to better interpretation and education using new wireless technologies.'" (By the way, this release also contains a misleading number about park visits. It claims correctly that only 63 million people visited national parks last year which is 1 visit for every 5 Americans. But national parks only account for 58 of the 'nearly 400 units' that the ARC references earlier in the release. When all NPS units are included in the tally, there were 273 million visits last year, or 1 visit for every 1.08 Americans -- 295.7 million US Population)

Just one day later, Sept 6
Subcommittee on National Parks Oversight Hearing, 9/13/06
The Committee on Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks will hold an oversight hearing on "Visitation Trends in the National Park System - Part II". The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2006 at 2:00 p.m. in 1334 Longworth House Office Building. Witnesses will be by invitation only. Subcommittee Chairman, Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico

The timing of these releases is probably only coincidental. But, if you believe that it was groups like the ARC which had undue influence over the park planning process, then it isn't a stretch of the imagination to believe that they could be up to some new form of back-room trickery involving our parks. I am no politician. I live in Washington the state, and can only imagine how business in Washington the city is conducted. If the national policy is dictated by the special interest group with the most money, then something needs to change. Here is the process as described in former NPS director Roger Kennedy's new book "Wildfire and Americans":
Changing things will not be easy. The inertia of vested and deeply invested programs and bureaucracies is often sustained long after their initial justifications have faded from memory. That has been the way of agriculture subsidies for crops in surplus, and of tariff protection for ancient arthritic corporations sustained as if they were infant industries. In Washington, the reform-minded learn soon enough that there is a subterranean landscape excavated and bored to accommodate lobbyists' back channels from K Street to Capitol Hill. Along its catacombs of ancient alliances, affinities, conveniences, and habits await doorkeepers, gatekeepers, and guides, holding torches aloft with one hand while keeping the other palm-up for tips. However anachronistic or pernicious an old way of doing business as usual may become, however distant memories of how it all started may be, it will be reinforced from the chambers of that subterranean city until finally something happens to send the rats scurrying back to their lair.
What will that "something" be? I don't know. For now, I can only hope to shine my little flashlight in the direction of these rats with the hope that other like minded folks will do the same. With enough light, we may be able to scare the rats back into their hole for awhile.

1Kennedy, R. (2006). Wildfire and Americans, ch 3, pp 28.
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Comments

Hoffman's management plan got such a negative response because of little flashlights like yours. The idea of putting any and all types of recreation ahead of preservation was enough to get me more than a little pissed off! Maybe its time we all got bigger flashlights.
It is completely counter to everything that the parks are supposed to be about. I can see trying to stimulate visitation if it is down however, mountian biking? Rock climbing? The next step as I see it in this vein would be remove all the "stay on path" signs and bring back the days when everyone could drive their cars on the lawn at Mt. Rainier. Ski wherever you like. I smell a rat as well! great article. btw I DO NOT endorse the above mentioned ideal, it is sarcastic in nature and I pray that moves like those mentioned do not make it through! Are parks should remain untouched by human feet and hands unless ABSOLUTELY necessary
Hi Sierra Mark and Ken,

I'm glad to see your responses on this. The more I learn about the insider politics happening with the parks, the more my jaw drops. But when you consider that 3.6% of all land in the US is managed by the National Park Service with 273 million visits a year and a budget of more than $2.25 billion, the NPS is bound to draw a lot attention from private interests wanting a small piece of that power. I used to think that the National Parks were the place I could go to escape this type of political landscape, but I am learning instead that the parks are caught right in the middle of it all. I'll post more examples of this in the days to come. Thanks again for your comments.