Boy, you know things are getting juicy within the dysfunctional walls of the National Park Service when Vanity Fair trots out a multi-thousand-word chronicle of life in the Park Service under the Bush administration.
We're not talking birds and bison and trees, either. We're talking about a practically blow-by-blow dissertation of how the Interior Department's Paul Hoffman seemingly took it upon his own shoulders to deconstruct the agency's mission and apply a theme-park glow to the national park system.
This piece, written by Michael Shnayerson, takes you through Hoffman's efforts to rewrite the Park Service's Management Policies to allow for more, ahem, "recreation" in the parks, through his determination to make the Mojave National Preserve more of a hunting preserve than a national preserve, and all the way to his desire to open Yellowstone National Park to snowmobiles.
Not only does Shnayerson imply that Hoffman was a puppet for the "multi-billion-dollar mechanized-recreation industry," but he describes Park Service Director Fran Mainella as a political toady who ignores the input of career agency professionals while kowtowing to her political superiors in the Interior Department.
In this story of villains, there's one heroic figure. That would be Death Valley National Park Superintendent J.T. Reynolds, who has the audaciousness to actually stand up for the Park Service's Organic Act amid the Bush administration's desire to rewrite it and throw the park system's doors open to all comers, especially if they're willing to pay for the privilege.
This is a must-read piece, folks. You can find it here. Just be prepared for a long read. It's not something you can negotiate over a cup of coffee. A pot of coffee would be more like it. Here are some gems to whet your appetite:
On Hoffman's rewrite of the Management Policies:
"The draft was reportedly Hoffman's own work, but it reflects the wishes of the multi-billion-dollar mechanized-recreation industry, which, perhaps not surprisingly, has contributed generously to the Bush administration. Three of its leading advocates have met with Hoffman and supported him in his labors. One is a lobbyist whose pet ideas, nursed from the early 1980s, resonate throughout Hoffman's draft." (That lobbyist, by the way, is none other than Bill Horn, who worked in Interior during the Reagan administration.)
On how the Bush administration's Interior Department views the Park Service:
"In the five years since a new political regime moved into the block-size limestone Interior headquarters, at 18th and C Streets, Interior's top politicals, starting with (former) Secretary (Gale) Norton, have made it clear: however else they regard the national parks, they also consider them to be irksome money pits. They've suggested privatizing thousands of Park Service jobs -- what they term "outsourcing" -- a way not only to save money but, in the eyes of many critics, to destroy the culture of an agency they view as not obedient enough to them."
On J.T. Reynolds' thoughts about Hoffman's efforts to redirect not just the Park Service's Management Policies but its very mission away from preservation of resources and more toward recreation:
"What concerns me," says Reynolds, "is the idea of changing the Organic Act....It is the law that establishes the Park Service. It is the law that binds all the Park Service areas as units. Congressional intent tells us that 'preserve and protect for future generations' is paramount, and that if we're going to err on any side of protection versus use, we're going to err on the side of resource protection. That's part of one's indoctrination. There are training sessions where the Organic Act is taken apart element by element.
"This is the issue," he says, " that many of us are willing to fall on our swords for."
On Hoffman's resume:
"Paul David Hoffman's resume features a headshot with cowboy hat and a 'personal mission statement' that begins: 'I believe that my gifts come from God and that I am called to use those gifts to serve people by helping them improve their physical, emotional, and economic well-being by listening to hear their needs..."
On former Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley's impression of Hoffman, who, as executive director of the Cody, Wyoming, Chamber of Commerce, worked hard to open Yellowstone to snowmobiling:
"My experience with Hoffman was that when he talked about 'use,' it always had a commercial connotation. Not a family staying in the park and having a good time. Always a commercial connection, in this case snowmobile renters."
On Bill Horn's influence in the Interior Department:
"More than anyone who actually works at Interior, Horn seems to be the department's guru on the balance between conservation and recreation in the parks."
I could go on. There are countless nuggets that help explain why the Bush administration wants to throw open the doors of the national park system to commercial interests and the motorized recreation industry that is guided by the American Recreation Coalition and its president, Derrick Crandall.
Here's what Shnayerson has to say about the ARC's influence over the Interior Department and Park Service: "Top Interior politicals, including Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett, regularly attend ARC's annual meetings to receive awards and give talks about opening up the parks."
As I said above, this is an incredible story, one that clearly connects all the dots when you start to wonder what the heck the Interior Department is up to these days.