Citizens, Congress Tell Administration to Abandon Controversial National Parks Policy Rewrite; Park Service Extends Comment Period

Date:   February 23, 2006
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, NPCA, 202-454-3332

Citizens, Congress Tell Administration to Abandon Controversial National Parks Policy Rewrite; Park Service Extends Comment Period

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Park Service posted on their website today that the comment period for the controversial rewrite of the agency's 2001 Management Policies has been extended to Saturday, February 25, 2006, to accommodate the significant public input.

Members of Congress, outdoor industry organizations, national park friends groups, community associations, and at least 75,000 people nationwide have submitted comments in response to the Department of the Interior's hasty and potentially harmful rewrite of the policies that govern America’s national parks.

“America wanted this rewrite process abandoned. We will be keeping a close eye to ensure that the Park Service and the Department of the Interior allow full public involvement in the next phase of this process. Since the Park Service provided multiple opportunities for public comment on snowmobiles in Yellowstone, it would be surprising that the agency would provide only one comment period for an issue so important to the future of the entire park system,” said NPCA Senior Vice President Ron Tipton.

Despite public demand for this process to be abandoned however, the leadership of the National Park Service last week testified before Congress that the next phase of this process would include a review of public comments and an edited draft for circulation among park staff and leadership.

In late August, the Department of the Interior’s draft rewrite of the National Park Service Management Policies was leaked to the press and met with resounding public opposition. The agency then released a revised draft version in October 2005 for public comment until February 18, 2006, which was extended to February 25 because the Park Service’s website had difficulty handling the volume of comments.

In its formal comments released to the public today, NPCA charges that the overall impact of the language changes in the current draft weakens protections for national parks, especially, park air quality and wilderness, and could potentially lead to increased use of Jet Skis, snowmobiles, and off-road vehicles in the parks at the cost of preservation.

Congress has held three hearings about the proposed rewrite thus far. On April 4, the Senate National Parks Subcommittee has its second oversight hearing scheduled on the management policies.

Recently, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Rep. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI) of the House Resources Committee, and Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) sent letters to the Department of the Interior and National Park Service Director Fran Mainella about the proposed rewrite.

Last week, House National Parks Caucus Co-Chair Brian Baird (D-WA) authored a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton signed by 35 other members of Congress. It said, “National parks are irreplaceable treasures. It is our responsibility to pass them on to future generations with pride and great care as our predecessors did for us. The existing management policies will ensure that this remains the primary mission of the National Park Service. We ask that you withdraw the proposed revisions.”

In October 2005, six Republican senators, Sen. Alexander, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), sent a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton about the proposed rewrite. “We are concerned that some changes with the potential for weakening the Park Service’s role in protecting air quality and increasing the potential for inappropriate motorized use in the national parks appear to be retained [from an earlier draft],” they wrote. “The Department’s first principle in rewriting Park Service policies should be to do no harm.”

The outpouring of concern about the rewrite included comments submitted by several national park friends groups, including those at Gettysburg (PA), Big Thicket (TX), and Acadia (ME), the Outdoor Industry Association, Garden Club of America, American Lung Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Society of Landscape Architects, American Hiking Society, Association of National Park Rangers, National Coalition for History, Monte Nido Valley Homeowners Association (CA), the Howard County Bird Club (MD), and the National Council of Churches.

NPCA’s members also submitted thousands of individual comments. Additionally, NPCA held a number of well-attended public briefings about the proposed rewrite in several states including Florida, Tennessee, California, Wyoming, and Maine.

“Americans want to ensure that the protection of our national parks is not compromised,” said Tipton, “This outpouring of national concern must be listened to.”

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