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A landmark for conservation.

President Bush doesn't know it, but his administration gave us a going-away present--a report issued by the Department of the Interior's Inspector General that itemizes the ongoing degradation of our national parks. The clear and present danger to the parks cannot be dismissed. The former president's own inspector general validates what the NPCA has said in reports such as "A Race Against Time' and "Parks in Peril"--that the parks are in serious trouble.

Last year the National Park Service celebrated its 75th anniversary, which occasioned a lot of introspection about the condition of the nation's parks as well as the Park Service. The "State of the Parks" report, initiated by the House subcommittee on national parks many years ago and the first of its kind, also encouraged policymakers to acknowledge that our crown jewels have been tarnished. Reports such as these, by previous administrations, Congress, or environmental advocates including NPCA, should compel us to focus and to act on the problems before our crown jewels are destroyed forever. These reports provide us with a mandate for change in a new year, a new administration, and a new Congress.

The past 12 years have been difficult ones for environmental policymakings, but it is time to put the struggles behind us and learn from the disappointments. We now have an extraordinary opportunity, with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, to renew the commitment to conserve America's natural and cultural heritage and to initiate the de-politicization of NPS.

Three changes are needed, and needed immediately. The first is a change of attitude. We can no longer accept the premise of the previous administrations that park deterioration is an inevitable consequence of use and enjoyment, or worse, that short-term economic advantages for a few are preferable to long-term conservation.

Second, we should clearly articulate why national parks and landmarks are relevant. We need to build a common approach, one that includes the diversity of people who affect and are affected by national parks and landmarks.

Finally, we need the legal, financial, and personnel resources to support our world-class National Park System. Furthermore, we must renew the National Park Service as a respected organization. Last year the Vail Conference provided a critical self-examination of the National Park Service. The courageous diagnosis that emerged was a reflection of what we all knew and what the inspector general confirmed yet again--the Park Service is suffering from fatigue, inadequate leadership, and lack of a shared mission.

With the leadership of a new administration committed to the environment, the Park Service must courageously solve the problems identified in many of the reports and studies over the past two decades by implementing the many excellent recommendations given. Allowing the reports to fade into obscurity will simply undermine the Park Service's resolve, bringing cynicism rather than hope. It is time for NPS and its advocates to enact and enforce the necessary public policies and laws to safeguard the environment and the national parks.

With the backing of conservation groups such as NPCA, I have labored for eight years to provide a sound vision of the park system, to be supportive of park professionals, to fight long and hard to protect resources from inappropriate encroachments, and to enforce existing laws. The land-use challenges we face remain clear: preserve what is undisturbed, conserve what we use, and restore what has been damaged. Just as important, I have worked for years to make sure that Park Service funds were used appropriately. For example, I was successful in writing a new law, the 1992 Historic Sites Reform Act, which clarifies congressional com-mittee responsibilities for creating new park units and makes the funding of undeserving projects more difficult to obtain. We achieved an important accomplishment in spite of an indifferent administration.

Many steps remain. One of the first should be enforcing existing laws. Too many laws have been ignored or perverted in their interpretation. By administering laws as they ought to be implemented, we will make great strides and avoid redundant efforts. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act need to be fully maintained and enforced. The bottom fine is that the unalterable damage to the National Park System must stop. Congress and the administration must ensure that our parks are preserved, because when they are lost, they are lost forever.

In the past Congress, I diligently pursued a measure to protect our national parks and landmarks only to be met with opposition and resistance--in spite of George Bush's claim that he was the "environmental president." But with the help of the Clinton/Gore Administration, I will renew my efforts to enact legislation that protects national parks and landmarks from a variety of threats and shields the National Park Service from political manipulation.

One objective of my proposed National Parks and Landmarks Conservation Act of 1993 is to provide the Park Service with greater autonomy within the Department of the Interior. We must allow the NPS director to effectively manage the agency and to defend the parks. In the past, the National Park Service, led by capable, energetic directors who came up through the ranks, has operated with considerable autonomy within the Department of the Interior (DOI). But less than 20 years ago, the first director from outside the agency was appointed. The last two directors, appointed in 1985 and in 1989, have come from outside the National Park Service. In addition, as NPCA has shown, political appointees elsewhere within the Interior Department have frequently prevented the Park Service from carrying out its mission to preserve parklands unimpaired for future generations.

During the past administrations, the primary mission of the Interior Department has appeared to be the use (and too often abuse) of land resources-with little regard for the mission of the National Park Service or the other land-management agencies within DOI. The legislation I will introduce in the 103rd Congress specifies that the director shall be a professional and must be confirmed by the Senate. The legislation also would re-establish a direct connection between the secretary and the director to eliminate some of the interference generated from the layers that now separate them.

The NPS director must be insulated from the shadow of politics and have the autonomy to advocate for these special places and resources. The legislation reaffirms that the National Park Service must know the condition of the resources under its care on a dynamic basis. Too often the Park Service lacks objective, in-depth, scientific knowledge necessary to make clear and professional judgments about what threatens its resources. Reliance on anecdotal impressions of resource conditions and trends is simply insufficient. Requiring better research and reporting builds a stronger basis for making the right decisions. The inspector general, the "State of the Parks," the General Accounting Office, and the Vail Conference reports all call for a strengthened research program and a closer relationship between park resource management plans and general management plans.

Another objective of my legislation is to develop cooperative programs between the Park Service and other entities that affect parks, including government agencies and private landowners. My legislation authorizes NPS to develop park conservation plans to deal with threats that originate outside park boundaries and to provide grant assistance to government and private landowners to participate in plan development and implementation. A similar program is being designed for national landmarks.

We need to go beyond laws and regulations and develop focus and work groups that will establish the means to collaborate and cooperate with those who affect and are affected by parks. We need to make such collaboration and cooperation a template for the final protection policies that embrace our national parks and landmarks. At the same time, we must have consistency. We must not allow federal money to be used simultaneously to preserve and to damage nationally significant resources.

I've come to appreciate NPCA and its strong support for new approaches to problems and challenges affecting the national parks. NPCA and an increasingly educated, proconservation American population will be crucial partners in the coalition necessary for securing the passage of such legislation.

With the farewell gift from the Bush Administration, the recent reports by NPCA, along with numerous reports on the state of the parks by others, we have a renewed basis for constructive change. I look forward to restoring the effectiveness of NPS and to conserving our cultural and ecological treasures in the National Park System--called by one British observer "the best idea America ever had."
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Title Annotation:legislation for National Park Service needs to be enforced
Author:Vento, Bruce F.
Publication:National Parks
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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