Proposal: Parks need an update
September 6, 2005
By PARIS ACHEN
Officials warn against national park development at the expense of natural-resource protection
A set of proposed revisions to national park policy could open Crater Lake and other national parks to cell-phone towers, snowmobiles and private water craft.
National Park Service employees warn the changes, proposed by the Department of the Interior, would alter the main mission of the agency by rolling back protections for wildlife and natural resources and ushering in development.
The changes “would allow uses that could impair parks permanently and change the entire purpose for why national parks were established,” said George Buckingham, former chief ranger at Crater Lake National Park.
Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., say the proposal is only one of several sets of revisions they are considering to help bring national parks up to date. Specifically, it was intended to provoke dialogue about management policies, said David Barna, a Park Service spokesman.
The changes are the creation of Paul Hoffman, who oversees the park service as deputy assistant secretary of the interior.
Hoffman was appointed to the position in January 2002 after serving as executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce in Cody, Wyo., and state director for then-U.S. Rep. Dick Cheney from 1985 to 1989.
Crater Lake National Park officials declined to surmise how the proposed revisions would affect Oregon’s only national park, located on 183,224 acres in Klamath County.
“Until you actually take the regulation and put it in practice, you don’t really know how it will affect Crater Lake,” said spokes-man Michael Justin.
But former Park Service employees say the changes would conflict with much of the work happening at Crater Lake, including a project to relocate parking away from the rim to improve the view of the lake.
If Hoffman’s proposal is adopted, “you could put ski boats on the lake,” Buckingham said. “There are already people who object to concession boats on the lake.
“Snowmobiles could potentially go on every paved road in the park.”
Park Service management policies are based on congressional intent, case law and the 1916 Organic Act and have given parks the most natural resource protection of any federally managed land.
Since 1916, the Park Service has been charged with maintaining parks “unimpaired” for future generations. Park officials have the authority to ban an activity they determine may lead to impairment.
Under Hoffman’s proposal, the definition of impairment would change from “an impact to any park resource or value (that) may constitute an impairment” to one that can be proved to “irreversibly harm” resources.
The Tucson, Ariz.-based Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, headed by Bill Wade, former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, is opposing the potential changes, which were leaked last week. The coalition has about 400 members.
The move to revise the policies was prompted by a congressional request in 2002 and increasing public demand for modern comforts and activities in parks, such as cell phone reception, base jumping and geocaching, Barna said.
A group of 16 Park Service employees are working to come up with recommendations for policy changes. Hoffman’s proposal is not the basis for the recommendations, Barna said.
Park Service Director Fran Mainella will have final say on what draft is published in the Federal Register for public comment. Barna said the draft could be out as soon as the end of September.
Mainella, the Department of the Interior and Congress could ultimately all play a part in which version is adopted.
“Regardless of what happens in redrafting, the Department of (the) Interior is going to do what it can to get (the Hoffman proposal) in there,” Wade said. “It can only be public outcry and influence from Congress that can be brought to bear on this and make the effort to turn it back.”
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4496 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.