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Do Parks Need Declaration of Principles?


    In the wake of Paul Hoffman's efforts to rewrite the National Park Service's Management Policies, some environmentalists in the U.S. and Canada think there's a need to issue a "Declaration on The Principles of Parks."
    The Valhalla Wilderness Society based in British Columbia and the Wild Wilderness group out of Bend, Oregon, have issued a statement that repudiates "the privatization and commercialization of parks now occurring in both countries."
    I don't think privatization should occur, nor should parks be overrun by commercial enterprises. But do we really need to issue a set of principles to make that clear? I'm not so sure. Read on and I'll explain.

    Scott Silver of Wild Wilderness says that "special interests favoring industrial tourism and motorized recreation have been working with the Bush administration behind the scenes in an effort to commercialize, privatize and motorize recreational opportunities within America's National Parks."
    Following disclosure of Hoffman's handiwork, which would greatly reduce existing protections in the national parks, Scott claims that "never before has it been so vital to restate, reaffirm and rally in support of the principles that have guided the management of our parks as it is today."
    Up in Canada, according to the Valhalla group, the British Columbia government has rewritten its Park Act to allow for resort development. Plus, the "BC Park Lodge Policy" has been passed to let the government use tax dollars to market leases of provincial park land to groups in Japan, the U.S. Europe and Canada.
    "Parks were a public trust to be protected from economic exploitation," says Anne Sherrod, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society. "But in the last few years, anti-environment governments are literally destroying our park systems by dismantling the laws that imposed barriers against private control, economic exploitation, and damaging activities."
    The list of principles cited by the two groups includes one that states "the purpose of parks is the preservation of nature. This means no logging, mining, drilling, hydro development or human settlement. Commercial tourism should stay outside park boundaries."
    For clarification, the groups are not advocating the removal of all existing concession operations in the parks. They support operations designed for the "essential needs of public recreation and resource protection."
    While the drafted principles make sense -- they emphasize preservation over recreation, transparent management, adequate funding from Congress, and no logging, mining, or drilling -- I think all those things could be accomplished if there was stricter adherence to the National Park Service Organic Act. Its authors back in 1916 did a pretty good job of laying down how best we could protect and preserve our park system.
    We must strive to avoid actions such as those proposed by Hoffman to weaken the Park Service's guiding policies, and shun efforts such as those ongoing in Canada to allow private interests to petition the government to redraw park boundaries so as to further business interests.
    But we can only do it if we let our elected leaders know where we stand.

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