Thomas C. Kiernan, President
National Parks Conservation Association
Re: Proposed Revision to the National Park Service Management Policies
June 20, 2006
Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank-you for inviting the National Parks Conservation Association to testify today regarding proposed changes to the Management Policies of the National Park System. We are extremely grateful to this subcommittee for the strong interest you have demonstrated in this important issue since the controversy over the initial draft rewrite began last August.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System for present and future generations. I am pleased to be here today on behalf of our 327,000 members nationwide, who visit and care deeply about our national parks.
The Park Service issued its first set of management policies in 1918—two years after enactment of the National Park Service Organic Act and one year before Stephen Mather, the first director of the Park Service, worked with his close friend Jonathan Sterling Yard to found NPCA. In creed that Secretary of Interior Franklin Lane articulated in 1918--the core management policy for the NPS--endures today: "First, that the national parks must be maintained in absolutely unimpaired form for the use of future generations as well as those of our time; second, that tey are set apart for the use, observation, health, and pleasure of the people; and third, that the national interest must dictate all decisions affecting public or private enterprise in the parks."
When Deny Galvin testified before this subcommittee on behalf of NPCA last fall, this creed—the nearly 90-year vision for the Park Service’s mandate to keep the national parks unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations, was threatened. We testified that, if the sweeping changes proposed in October were ratified, the central purpose of the 1916 Organic Act, with its emphasis on protecting America’s great treasures for future generations, could be lost. We were joined in those concerns by a broad cross section of the public and the Congress, including such groups as the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, the Outdoor Industry Association, the National Council of Churches, and more than 50,000 citizens around our nation, as well as by many members of this subcommittee. We were pleased that this subcommittee and so many of your bipartisan colleagues in the House and Senate heard our concerns, and joined in questioning the need for and reasons behind the proposed changes. In particular, I gratefully acknowledge the efforts and leadership of Senators Thomas, Alexander, Salazar, Akaka, Bingaman, and Martinez in raising the importance of this issue.
It is with an enormous sense of relief that I am here to testify today, to explain how fully your efforts appear to have paid off. Based on our initial analysis of the new draft the Park Service has just released, it appears that the Park Service has acted on those concerns and has discarded the broad changes that caused so much national concern. They heard the public, listened to Congress, and ultimately were empowered to take a fresh approach to this issue.
What began as a dreadful process—one we hope never to see repeated—appears poised to produce a product that makes sense for the parks and for our grandchildren.
Balancing Use with Preservation in Day-to-Day Management of National Parks
Over the 90-year history of the NPS, there has been much debate over whether the NPS is achieving the proper balance between uses of the parks for today, and conserving them unimpaired for future generations. These conflicts usually erupt over day-to-day management of particular parks, and the decisions that the NPS makes as it goes through periodic management planning. It is crucial to this discussion, however, to note that there is no credible debate over whether parks should be used by the American people, the debate centers on how the use occurs, or sometimes when or where.
For the NPS professionals, conserving the parks unimpaired for future generations is synonymous with offering park visitors today a high quality experience. Scenic vistas should be clear, natural sounds should dominate over man-made noises, native wildlife should be abundant and visible for visitors, historic sites such as battlefields should look like they did when the historic events occurred, and park visitor facilities should not be located so as to disturb the natural scene or the cultural landscape.
Viable alternatives to expanded use and commercial development in parks should be provided outside the parks, on other public lands, or in gateway communities. Natural and cultural resources of the units of the National Park System must be maintained and in some cases improved. Preservation is the key to continued success of the NPS in fulfilling its statutory mandate, and also to sustaining the core destinations that fuel the tourism industry.
The management policies are central to the Park Service’s ability to fulfill its mandate. They fill in the details not addressed by Congress in the many laws governing the parks. Management policies define what constitutes impairment of park resources and provide guidance on how to manage specific park resources, such as archeological relics, or how to manage certain land designations, such as wilderness. They are as fundamental to the protection of the national parks as the Organic Act, itself.
Now that the revision process is poised to conclude while doing no harm, what is needed is for the broad constituency of interests that are engaged with the National Park Service—recreation, tourism, gateway communities, conservation, preservation, and regular "good citizens" – to step up their support for their national parks as they are, and as they are intended to be, preserved unimpaired for future generations to enjoy. The national interest must prevail if our national parks are to flourish in the future.
Proposed Revisions and the Process for Achieving Them
Although we are pleased with the substantive direction the revisions to the management policies appear to be taking, it is worth noting that the manner in which this rewrite was launched should never be repeated. The two central lessons of the last eight months are that the Park Service’s management policies should not be re-opened lightly, and that the American people truly do care deeply about the long-term protection for these American treasures.
In the future, the management policies should only be revised when there is substantive reason to do so, based on the longstanding criteria for such revisions. It would be unfortunate if, after nearly a century, every time political changes occur the management policies are revised. This would be enormously disruptive to the Park Service, would politicize management of the national parks, and would be a disservice to the special place national parks occupy in our society.
We are heartened that political levels of the Department appear to have realized that Mr. Hoffman’s initial draft, and even the subsequent draft formally released in October, were mistakes. We were extremely pleased to that as the review progressed, the Park Service was given complete control of the rewrite process, with very positive results. We expect this to continue, and we support the Department’s full faith in the capable and dedicated professionals and leaders at the Park Service. With the support of the Department, the Park Service will be able to finalize a document at least as protective of the parks as the one before us today.
The draft we are discussing today has, at least preliminarily, our support. We look forward to learning the comments of Park Service professionals over the course of the coming weeks and we intend to urge anyone who commented on the earlier draft to send their reactions to the Park Service while the new document is being made available on the Park Service website. We continue to believe public comment is important on this draft.
Status of Significant Concerns Raised Regarding Proposed Revisions
When we testified before this committee on February 15 of this year, we highlighted a number of significant concerns with the October draft. Subsequently, NPCA submitted an extensive package of written comments to the Park Service that included a legal analysis of the impairment standard under the Organic Act and our interpretation of the impact many of the proposed changes would have on the parks. We urged that the rewrite be scrapped and that the Park Service start over. In fact, this appears to be exactly what occurred, although perhaps not in the manner we contemplated. The fact that the Park Service was allowed to scrap both the Hoffman rewrite and the subsequent proposal that continued to reflect many of the policy pronouncements in that unfortunate draft appears to have made possible a complete redraft that, in some cases, actually improves over the 2001 product. Below is a summary of the primary issues of focus, which describes the earlier proposal and how the newly released draft handles these issues.
Organic Act—Predominance of Resource Protection: The Hoffman and NPS October drafts of Chapter One reinterpreted the Organic Act by deleting critical language that made clear that, while the national parks certainly are intended to be enjoyed, it is their long term protection that takes precedence. This language related to the predominance of resource protection--in contrast to the long history of conservation being the primary mission. The 2001 MPs explicitly stated that the Service’s fundamental mandates were conservation and prevention of impairment to resources. The June draft restores that 2001 language.
Similarly, the Hoffman and October drafts Section 1.10 on "An Enduring Message" added language that again implied that the park has two equal missions, namely preventing impairment and providing enjoyment. The June draft removes that language, stating the mission to be resource protection.
The Hoffman and October drafts of Chapter One removed a paragraph that further clarified the Organic Act’s interpretation by referring to court cases that describe conservation as the primary mission of the National Park Service. The June draft does not restore this language, except to state that predominance of conservation over enjoyment is "how the courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act." There is an argument that the management policies do not need to include references to the actual cases, as long as the policies’ interpretation is consistent. We reluctantly agree, although it would have been nice, and certainly cause no harm, to include the more detailed clarification.
There is one place in the June draft that still may provide some confusion as to the status of enjoyment as compared to conservation. Sec. 8.1.1 includes a misleading statement that the "fundamental purpose" of parks "also includes providing for the enjoyment of park resources and values" thus if read on its own it implies that the two purposes are equal. We acknowledge that this was simply quoting from Sec. 1.4.3 of the 2001 Policies. But the 2001 Policies, and now we believe that the June draft, both read in combination with the rest of the Sections or in their entireties explains that this sentence does not mean that providing for enjoyment" is a co-equal purpose with conservation. It is part of the purpose, but when there are conflicts, park resource protection prevails. However, unless this language is changed before the document becomes final, future Directors will have to remain vigilant, so that this clause cannot be singled out to be used to undermine the protections provided by the other, more specific sections of the policy.
Appropriate Use and Unacceptable Impacts: The Hoffman and October draft introduced more detailed concepts of "appropriate use" and "unacceptable impacts" that sought to "balance" resource preservation and visitor use, rather than keep preservation as the primary mission. It also promoted the use of "mitigation" of harm over removal of harm. We raised strong concerns that the draft was not, in fact, appropriately balanced, because it de-emphasized the primacy of resource protection when it comes to the long term protection of the parks. Both of these harmful changes have been removed from the new draft.
Third Party Enforceability: We objected to the new provision that says that the policies do not create any enforceable benefit by a party in a suit against the United States. This provision remains in the June draft—one change we believe to be unfortunate. However, the policies can still be used as evidence in challenges to laws and regulations.
Mandated vs Authorized Activities: The Hoffman and October drafts indicated that if a use is "mandated" rather than authorized, that use must be allowed as long as impacts are "minimized." This would allow unacceptable impacts just as long as there was an effort made to reduce their effect. The new draft makes it clear that even if "mandated," uses must be managed to ensure that impacts are acceptable. The Hoffman and October drafts included a bureaucratically difficult procedure that would have to be followed before a use could be considered to cause impairment, essentially reversing the burden of proof. The June draft removed this unnecessary new language.
The Hoffman and October drafts of Section 1.4.7 on decision making allowed the decision makers to take action to mitigate impacts to avoid impairment, which opened the door to allowing impairment as long as it can be argued that some other benefit made up for it. The June draft restores the language that requires the Service to eliminate the impairment.
Inappropriate Delegation of Authority: Throughout the Hoffman and October drafts, the Park Service was instructed to employ "cooperation" in the management of the parks. For example, in Sec. 5.2.1, which addresses consultation related to cultural resource management, the Hoffman and October drafts inserted language on "cooperation" in places that created the impression that superintendents must give outside parties equal standing to NPS in resolving issues, so that NPS is limited in its ability to make responsible management decisions unless consensus is achieved. The June draft removes the new wording and restores the 2001 language.
In yet another example of where a change had been proposed in the Park Service’s management authority, the Hoffman and October drafts had added language in the discussion on partnerships (Sec. 1.9) that called for "consensus-based management." It raised the concern that the Park Service would cede to local interests its decision-making authorities and responsibilities required by law. The June draft removes the "consensus-based management" language in its discussion of partnerships (now Sec. 1.10).
Also in its discussion of cooperation in Section 1.6 (Cooperative Conservation Beyond Park Boundaries) the June draft specifies that the Service "will not relinquish any of its authority" when participating in a park network. In addition, the ability of the Park Service to use its authorities and resources to take action if cooperative efforts do not prevent unacceptable impacts to park resources is clarified.
Inconsistency through Flexibility: Throughout the Hoffman and October drafts, the phrase, "whenever practicable" was inserted dozens of times. For example, in Sec. 4.1.5. (Restoration of Natural Systems), the phrase was added three times, making those requirements to restore ecosystems discretionary rather than required. A restoration requirement in section 4.2.1 was also made discretionary using the "whenever practicable" modifier. The final draft removes the added "whenever practicable" throughout the document. Furthermore, with respect to the Restoration of Natural Systems section, the June draft makes a significant improvement over the 2001 policies by inserting "restoration of natural visibility" to its list of potential restoration efforts to consider.
Another terminology change in the Hoffman and October drafts that had the unfortunately consequence of reducing the expectation for action was the substitution of the verbs "strive" or "should" for "will" in a number of places. For example, the Hoffman and October drafts of Sec. 4.4.1 on the management of biological resources reduced the Park Service’s requirement of "will" maintain biological resources (native plants and animals) to
"strive to" maintain. The June draft restores the verb "will" throughout the document and in the management of biological resources section improves that language stating that the Service "will successfully" maintain those resources. (Emphasis added)
The Hoffman and October drafts added a criterion for deciding when to restore native plants and animals that required consideration of restoration on "enjoyment of park resources." The June draft includes new criteria, but it only mentions effects on "park management and use." We feel this is still worrisome – we do not want to see species restoration prevented because a park "user" is afraid of interaction with predators, for example.
Specific Resource Protections Restored
Water: The Hoffman and October drafts weakened the "water rights" provisions (Sec. 4.6.2) by adding language that required more cooperation and consultation in water rights negotiations. The June draft includes language that makes it clear that the Park Service must keep its own resource protection interests in conflict resolution.
Air Quality: The Air Quality section (Sec. 4.7.1) was changed in the Hoffman and October drafts to improperly weaken the park protection duties in the Clean Air Act, create a complex, costly, and unworkable new obligation for NPS to assist states in the permitting of hundreds of new major sources of air pollution, and improperly interfere with effective communication between NPS and authorities responsible for permitting major polluting sources. The Clean Air section in the June draft retains all of the protections in the 2001 policies, removing the offending new provisions.
Natural Sounds: The Hoffman and October drafts removed the protection of "the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes" from the criteria for unacceptable impacts. In fact, soundscape protection was diminished throughout the entire document. The June draft restores that criteria and level of protection.
Wilderness: The Hoffman and October drafts changed Chapter 6 (Wilderness Preservation and Management) to significantly reduce protection of wilderness areas. Among other objectionable changes, the new language removed the Park Service’s mandate to inventory its lands for wilderness designation and forward the recommendation to Congress, as the Wilderness Act requires. Also removed was the mandate to conduct these reviews in a timely manner, many of which are decades overdue. The June draft rejects this change, and instead makes only a slight amendment that allows lands deemed "eligible" (a term reasonably changed from "suitable") could be managed in a slightly less protective way than other wilderness categories, but that land must still be managed to maintain its eligible status. This is acceptable language.
Use of the Parks
The Hoffman and October drafts of Chapter 8 on Park Uses set up a process to assess park uses in a way that made it much easier for higher impact uses to be found acceptable. The process switched the burden of proof from ensuring that resources are protected to assuming that the use is acceptable until it can be shown that it will cause a very high level of harm. As mentioned, it also removed the consideration of the use’s effects on soundscapes. The June draft restores the soundscape criteria, and restores the correct burden of proof.
The Hoffman and October drafts of the sections about recreational uses removed the requirement to analyze environmental effects before approval of a use, made visitor use plans, river use plans discretionary, and weakened backcountry management provisions. They also stripped away the ability to consider the impacts of motorized equipment on intangible park qualities and natural quiet, and removed the requirement that the "least impacting" equipment, vehicles and transportation systems be used. The June draft restores all these protections and mandates.
ORVs: In the section 188.8.131.52 on motorized off-road vehicles (ORVs), the Hoffman and October drafts removed the references to the types of off-road vehicle impacts, including soil, vegetation, wildlife, cultural and visitor impacts, that are to be prevented, as well as reference to the ORV Executive Order. In the June draft, all of the objectionable deletions were restored to the 2001 policy language. Moreover, the section was even improved from the 2001 policies, by actually quoting regulatory provisions that implement the executive order that limit ORV routes and areas to National Recreation Areas, Seashores, Lakeshores, and Preserves.
Airports: In addition to trying to mitigate or avoid harmful effects, the Hoffman and October drafts contained a mystifying new provision in Sec. 8.4.8 (Airports and Landing Sites) that instructed parks to cooperate with the Federal Aviation Administration on nearby private airports to achieve better opportunities for visitors to see and visit the parks. This language essentially would have required the Park Service to support construction of airports near park boundaries. Fortunately, this language has been removed in the June draft.
Grazing: The Hoffman and October drafts changed the agricultural grazing provisions by inexplicably removing the need to show that grazing will not cause unacceptable impacts before permitting it, and removing the requirement to devise plans and many specific resource protection protocols. The June draft includes the requirement to eliminate unacceptable impacts, restores many specific resource protection requirements, and requires parks to show how resources would be conserved in a planning document, although not necessarily a separate plan. This is acceptable.
Cell Towers: The June draft improves upon the 2001 policies by requiring park managers to consider the impact of towers on the setting and scenery of a park before approving a siting permit. It also requires that towers that are allowed be located where they will have the least impact on park resources and that their visual impact will be minimized.
Park Facilities: In Chapter 9, the Hoffman and October drafts required all facilities to be managed to provide for visitor enjoyment, despite the fact that all of them are not meant for visitation. Also, Sec. 184.108.40.206 (sustainable Energy Design) changed a mandate to improve energy efficiency in new buildings to a discretionary duty. The June draft changes it back to a requirement. Sections on waste management energy management were slightly weakened by the Hoffman and October drafts, but the 2001 language was restored.
Over the course of the coming three weeks, we intend to confer with as many current and retired national park professionals as possible, in order to ensure that they do not perceive problems with this draft that we have not recognized at this point. We are well aware that this draft is not yet final. In addition to being based on our rapid analysis of the draft the Park Service has just released, our testimony today is given in good faith based our conversations with Park Service professionals involved in the process. Although we continue to believe that this process need not have been launched in the first place, we are enormously encouraged that this new product looks very different from the one presented in October. We congratulate the Park Service for making such enormous progress and credit the Interior Department for supporting the Park Service in this rewrite. The question now will be whether the document that is finalized remains at least as protective as the one the Park Service has released this week.