Editorial: Don’t let parks become political battleground – September 15, 2005

Editorial: Don’t let parks become political battleground

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon
September 15, 2005

BY PAT BUSHEY

Oregon has only one national park and it’s natural that Oregonians feel proud and protective of it. The state had enough feeling about Crater Lake National Park to put it on the Oregon quarter and on special license plates. Oregonians also have shown their support in other ways.

Thus it’s important to pay attention to revisions proposed in national park policy, which govern all parks, not just Crater Lake. The 83.6-million-acre national park system should remain true to its original goals.

A document of draft changes for governing the parks has been developed by the Department of Interior and circulated among high-level Park Service employees. The Park Service is a branch of the Department of Interior. The document was met by a protest from an organization of retired Park Service employees, and strong criticism from the Park Service’s seven regional directors.

The proposals would allow a general loosening of development restrictions, though a Department of Interior spokesman said the document “is no longer in play,” according to an Aug. 26 story in the Los Angeles Times. That statement was greeted with skepticism by conservation groups.

According to the National Park Service Act, approved in 1916, the Park Service has “the fundamental purpose to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment for the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Times article said that the Department of Interior document proposes basic changes and instead of holding to a policy of no impairment, would change to one of mitigation or elimination of conflicts.

At present, this is mostly a behind-the-scenes fight between high-level Department of Interior officials appointed by the Bush administration vs. conservationists aided by past and present National Park Service personnel.

What makes it real is Crater Lake, and the many other parks, monuments and segments of the national park system.

They can’t be kept free of human-caused influences.

But if the fuss seems to be between those who want to keep the parks pristine and natural, and those who want to allow more human impact, it’s not that simple and there has to be some degree of accommodation.

It doesn’t strike us as evil, for example, that about eight miles of road on the north side of Crater Lake is open for use to snowmobiles or that there’s an annual Crater Lake Marathon and Rim Runs event. Those things certainly cause human impacts, as do the roads and buildings that allow people to get to the park to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

But we don’t want to see cell towers on the caldera (or anywhere else in the park) or a great expansion of human impact. Crater Lake is what it is largely because it gets a high degree of protection. We want to see the actions continue there to make human impact less obvious – such as moving the main parking area back away from the rim.

We don’t know what will come of the Department of Interior proposals.

We hope, though, that when it comes to the parks, the Bush administration will recognize that it’s better to err on the side of caution, and not turn national park policy into another political battleground. The park system doesn’t deserve that and won’t benefit.

Editorial board

Pat Bushey wrote today’s editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board. Its members include:

Publisher Heidi Wright.

Editor Tim Fought.

City Editor Todd Kepple.

Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.

In addition, members of the public usually sit in on editorial board meetings as community advisers.

Gordon Ross is the editorial cartoonist.

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