August 30, 2005

A Hidden Agenda For the NPS

... to prevent Hoffman from overruling NPS biologists who said artificial watering systems should not be installed in the Mojave National Preserve in California ...

The Ledger - Lakeland, FL

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is a watchdog group of 410 former Park Service workers. The average member worked for the NPS for 30 years. Suffice it to say they have an abiding interest in seeing these national treasures protected.

Indeed, when the nation's park system was created in 1916, Congress declared the "fundamental purpose" was to "conserve the scenery and the national and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

As longtime employees, coalition members were committed to that goal. As retirees, they are still devoted to it.

They are extremely disturbed about a proposed rewrite of NPS rules that has managed to grow to nearly 200 pages with no public input and little attention. The group uncovered it recently, and has sounded the alarm.

It is, said Bill Wade, former superintendent of the Shenandoah National Park and the coalition's executive council chairman, an "astonishing attempt to hijack the management of the 388 areas of our nation's park system and convert them into vastly diminished areas where almost anything goes."

Jerry Rogers, former associate director for cultural resources of the NPS, said the rewrite "stands nearly 100 years of national-park stewardship on its head."

Judging from the language in the draft document (available at, their assessment of impending commercialization and exploitation are not without foundation.

Instead of having preservation as its "fundamental function," the NPS mission would become avoiding "impairment," which the document defines as permanent and irreversible damage. That basic shift opens the parks to all manner of development.

This sentence in the current rules now governs new activities for parks: "In cases of doubt as to the impacts of activities on park natural resources, the Service will decide in favor of protecting the natural resources." It is completely eliminated in the proposed rules. While current rules referred to parks as "classrooms of our heritage," the coalition notes the new ones see them as recreation opportunities.

The proposed rules also would require the NPS to obtain approval from state agencies in areas where the NPS now has the sole responsibility of acting on behalf of all U.S. citizens. The revised rules instruct the NPS to "cooperate" with towns and cities rather than to merely seek "collaboration."

Officials of the coalition for the park retirees said the proposed regulations are mainly the product of Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department who oversees the Park Service. He was Wyoming state director for Vice President Dick Cheney from 1985 to 1989 when Cheney was in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hoffman then served as director of the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce until early 2002, when he was appointed to the deputy assistant's post.

This spring, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit to prevent Hoffman from overruling NPS biologists who said artificial watering systems should not be installed in the Mojave National Preserve in California.

The Park Service is apparently trying to distance itself from Hoffman's proposals now that they've become public. David Barna, NPS spokesman, told the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune that Hoffman was "playing devil's advocate" with the proposed rules and "had some initial suggestions and prompted us." Those suggestions are now being revised, he said.

Craig Obey, vice president for governmental affairs with the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonpartisan parks-protection organization, said it's difficult to believe Hoffman's ideas formed in a vacuum: "I would find it surprising that someone would put something like this together as a think piece. Documents like this are put together with a purpose."

Obey's association, along with the Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society released a joint statement criticizing the proposal.

It ended: "As watchdog organizations, we share the concerns expressed by park professionals that these policy revisions depart radically from the fundamental stewardship ethic that has preserved our national parks from their beginning. We urge the Department of Interior to immediately abandon this rewrite, heeding the advice of National Park Service professionals who have effectively managed our heritage for decades."

Immediately, if not sooner.