WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 /U.S. Newswire/ -- An ongoing and secret Interior Department attempt to rewrite and override 90 years of laws, rules and court rulings governing the 388 sites in the U.S. National Park System would "hijack" the American's national parks, leaving them wide open for what are now barred uses and making it extremely unlikely that the sites would survive as unspoiled treasures for future generations of Americans, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR), which is a watchdog group of 410 NPS veterans accounting for 12,000 years of collective park management experience.
Just days prior to the White House conference on the environment to be held Aug. 28 to Aug. 31, in St. Louis, Mo., CNPSR today released a redlined version of the Interior Department's radical rewrite of the "rulebook" for the National Park Service. Spearheaded by a political appointee who was the former head of the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce, the hundreds of proposed changes to NPS procedures have been drawn up with no input by Congress, the public or the superintendents of national parks. The draft document is being made available on the Web by CNPSR at http://www.npsretirees.org.
Under the proposed rules, the use of snowmobiles would be radically expanded from currently limited levels at such sites as Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. In dozens of national parks and seashore areas, the use of jet skis, ORVs, dirt bikes and other mechanized vehicles would be permitted on a virtually unrestricted basis. At Gettysburg National Military Park the rules would permit the rebuilding of an obtrusive observation tower that recently was removed with broad public support. At Great Smoky Mountain National Park and dozens of other parks, the rules would permit huge increases in the number of noisy overflights that destroy the natural peace and quiet. Britney Spears could hold a major concert at Shiloh National Military Park or nearly any national park since the new rules significantly increase the emphasis on permitting public uses over the traditional mission of preserving historic and natural places. At Shenandoah National Park, polluters would get a seat at the table to decide how much they should be allowed to impair the air quality and views at the park. Rather than working with park visitors to minimize the problems posed by improper food storage and other temptations, rangers would be forced to kill bears at Yellowstone if they damaged private property.
Although experts in CNPSR and other concerned groups are still weighing the likely impacts of the hundreds of proposed changes in the Interior Department draft, it already is clear that all or most of the 388 sites in America's National Park System would suffer major and possibly irreversible damage under the rule changes.
CNPSR Executive Council Chairman Bill Wade, former superintendent of the Shenandoah National Park, said: "The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees opposes this 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. Until recently, both political parties have viewed the management of our parks as 'off limits area' where partisan politics are set aside and decisions are made based on what is truly in the public's interest. These draft policies shatter that precedent in favor of smash-and-grab politics that would weaken the preservation and protection of the areas that previous generations have added to the system. We should not trash the proud national park legacy that has been handed down to us by our parents and grandparents."
CNPSR Executive Council Member Jerry Rogers, former associate director for cultural resources of the National Park Service, said: "This radical rewrite stands nearly 100 years of national park stewardship on its head. Under these changes, the sights, sounds, and smells of motorized vehicles would dominate previously quiet parks. No longer would such impacts damage only Yellowstone and a handful of other parks. These rule changes would unleash on our national parks an army of off-road vehicles, dirt bikes, jet skis, powerboats, dune buggies and the like. No seashore, reservoir, forest area or desert patch would be immune from this attack and the result would be devastating: the end of national parks as the last great places where America cherishes the outdoors."
Key points of the proposed NPS management practice changes are as follows:
-- Abandoning the primary mission of the NPS. For almost 90 years, preservation of the Parks has been clearly established as the NPS' primary mission. Nonetheless, the proposed changes to NPS management recognize a far more limited mission, one which would recognize preservation as an objective only to the extent of avoiding any "impairment" of the Park System's resources and values. "Impairment" would be defined as referring only to permanent and irreversible damage. Under this new approach, parks could be presumed to be open for exploitation for purposes such as logging, mining and oil & gas exploration.
-- Exposing national parks to extensive new damage. Currently, the managers of national parks are charged with stepping in immediately to protect the parks from any and all real or potential threats -- both internal and external. Under the proposed rules, park managers could only take protective steps when "impairment" can be documented and, even then, most likely only if from internal sources.
-- Eliminating virtually all limits on motorized access to national parks, both on and off roads and trails. The Interior Department rewrite of the NPS management rules consistently eliminates such phrases in relation to national parks as "classrooms of our heritage," "legacy we leave to future generations," and "warrant the highest standard of protection." Instead, the parks are newly described in a variety of ways consistent with the phrase "repositories of outstanding recreation opportunities". Skiers on the rugged and remote Tioga Trail in Yosemite National Park would be shoved aside by snowmobilers who would be able to rip up the trail for the first time ever.
-- Subordinating national parks to the agendas of individual cities and states. The obligation of the National Park Service to serve all Americans would be undercut by the substitution of words that subordinate the broad national interest to narrow local interests. Every reference to NPS "collaboration" with cities and towns near parks has been changed to "cooperation." In this case, "cooperation" would mean joint operation of parks with park neighbors, thereby negating the superintendents' abilities to represent the broad interests of the people of the United States as a whole when those interests do not match narrow local interests, such as gateway communities that may be intent on a Disneyland-like commercialization of "their" national park.
-- Eliminating the scientific underpinning of NPS management. The entire draft has a decidedly anti-intellectual, anti-science tone. The drafters' hostility toward sound science is demonstrated by the elimination of all references to "evolution" or "evolutionary processes." The word "qualified" is eliminated when the drafters refer to park professionals who oversee the management of natural and cultural resources. The rewrite also eliminates the current requirement that there should be the use of "technologies" (science) used to protect the parks, such as the current research going on at the Grand Canyon to determine the extent of needed cutbacks on noise pollution from helicopters and other low-altitude overflights.
POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF SECRET
INTERIOR DEPARTMENT REWRITE OF NPS RULES
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS AND GLACIER NATIONAL PARKS. Look for a huge increase in the number of noisy overflights in these and other national parks. Reason: Since aircraft noise is considered “ephemeral” and could be stopped sometime in the future, it would not create an " impairment" under the rewritten NPS rules. As a result, park managers would no longer have any basis to object to it anywhere in the National Park System ..
GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK . The obtrusive observation tower could be rebuilt at Gettysburg. It was recently dismantled with broad public support. Reason: Since a tower could be dismantled and removed, its impact on the park, though adverse, would not meet the definition of "impairment" in the rewritten NPS rules.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK . Instead of addressing human-bear conflicts by first requiring things like proper food storage, use of bear-proof containers, and hard-sided tents, park managers at Yellowstone would be forced to first kill bears. Reason: The new rules primary focus is on avoiding damage to private property at all costs.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK . The rewritten rules would undermine efforts to clean up air pollution at parks like Shenandoah by shifting the focus away from preventing pollution toward adapting to that pollution, and by creating new rights for polluters to be included in decisions over how much pollution damage is “acceptable.”
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK . Park managers at Joshua Tree National Park would find it much more difficult to oppose construction of Eagle Mountain, the world’s largest landfill now proposed on their doorstep. Reason: The rewritten rules emphasize mitigating existing impairments over protecting resources from potential threats and mean that superintendents may have to wait until a development is established before challenging its impact. Further, since the policy clearly places visitor enjoyment values ahead of the preservation of natural ecosystems, the public may not see the impacts of the world's largest landfill upon wildlife for several years.
DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT . Grazing, which is eroding the natural landscape and polluting park waters at Dinosaur National Monument, would be permitted without question as a “historic practice” that can trump science or other considerations.
JEFFERSON NATIONAL EXPANSION MEMORIAL (ST. LOUIS ARCH). Once bathed in pink light, the St. Louis Arch could now be painted yellow in honor of a corporate partner. Reason: The rewrite mandates that park resources are impaired only if the harm is irreversible. Since paint could be removed, painting the arch would be neither permanent nor irreversible, enabling the famous arch to be decorated for corporate sponsors, holidays, and other occasions.
SHILOH NATIONAL MILITARY PARK . Britney Spears could hold a concert on the battlefield. Reason: Although she isn’t allowed on the National Mall anymore by order of Congress, Ms. Spears would be welcome to perform on Shiloh’s hallowed grounds under the rewritten rules, which authorize commercial special events that might be widely enjoyed by the public and park visitors. Additionally, though it would significantly disrupt the experiences of some visitors, the concert’s physical impact would be neither permanent nor irreversible. Since it would not meet the definition of impairment, park managers would not have a basis for excluding it.