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Must We Clearly Set Out "Principles of Parks"?


For more than a century the United States has been in the national park business, and for nearly a century the National Park Service has been guided in managing those parks by the National Park Service Organic Act. Some groups, though, question whether another road map of sorts, a declaration of principles, should also be referred to when managing the parks.

When this declaration was first approved -- I think it was nearly two years ago -- I questioned its need, believing that the Organic Act, if adhered to, was all the NPS needed to successfully manage our parks. But now I'm beginning to wonder if I was too hasty in dismissing these principles.

Crafted by a coalition of groups from Canada and the United States, and posted at the Valhalla Wilderness Society web site, the principles best fit with America's 58 "national parks" and not all 391 units of the Park Service, as they aim to preserve the natural resources that many of us cling so tenaciously to.

Originally created for their scenic grandeur and wilderness, these parks are now the last refuges for many native species. Today, scientists warn that major damage to ecosystems endangers life on this planet, including human life. Science recognizes that fully protected areas play a critical role in the survival of species. Ecologists urge that parks be kept as natural as possible, with natural ecological processes, because they are living textbooks on the science of ecosystem health.

Today, the dissonance and alienation of a troubled world, dominated by the pursuit of economic gain, encroach upon the peace and sanity of individuals and societies. Parks have become sanctuaries where the human spirit can refresh itself amidst the space, beauty, and solitude of a fully natural world. There, uninjured by industrial inroads, or the intrusions of entrepreneurial- or entertainment-based uses, nature — left undivided — teaches wholeness by the experience, itself.

These facts are the basis for the profound determination of the public — born of a sense of urgency, and asserted many times over the years — to create ample protected areas and to hold them sacred for the survival of species, and for the appreciation of future generations of humanity.

There have always been those who claim that the purpose of parks is economic gain. But these views misrepresent the higher human imperatives that have fought for parks, paid for them, and defended them for nearly 100 years. Society has spent many years, at great cost, weighing the economic values versus the preservation values of every park proposal. Each park represents a decision that preservation best serves the public interest. The value of living things, of their ecological life support system, of the human experience of nature and wilderness, must never again be weighed against the dollar in these sanctuaries.

There are ten points to this set of principles, ranging from the most obvious -- the need to preserve these special places -- to how they should be managed -- transparently. These principles speak out against leasing of park facilities and against privatization of park lands, and voice the belief that they should be fully funded through taxes.

When we look around the national park system today, it's obvious we could use some, if not all, of the guidance these principles provide. There are thorny issues with leasing in places such as Gateway National Recreation Area, of questionable special uses at places such as Alcatraz Island and the Charlestown Navy Yard, and, of course, of the inability of annual federal appropriations to sufficiently fund the parks.

Today the Park Service relies on a number of section-heavy documents -- Management Policies, Director's Orders, and Reference Manuals -- to sort out how best to manage the park system. And to further muddy the waters, more than a dash of politics is tossed in.

Perhaps, rather than complicating things so, a 10-step approach to managing the parks isn't such a bad idea. Perhaps, less could actually be more.


Kurt, hopefully will get some good critical and constructive dialogue on your article, Principles Of Parks. I think Henry David Thoreau said it best: "In wildness is the preservation of the world"...let this be a start for constructive in put.

Thoreau also wrote in Civil Disobedience:

That government is best which governs least. ...The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure. ... I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.

A better government would be cleared of excessive regulation and would allow competition. To use an ecological analogy, the government has become like modern forests: dense and overgrown to the point where nothing can grow; it is a tangled mess making navigation through it nearly impossible. It needs a fire to clear out the overgrowth (Director's order this and Director's order that) and to return nutrients (money) to the soil so that the trees of the forest (national parks in this case) may grow stronger and so that new plants (innovations and competition) may take root in the ashes of the forest to replace older, dying plants (outdated ideas, programs, laws--such as the Organic Act).

To speak in Darwinian terms, species have evolved through a kind of trial and error process. Mutations occur, but not all are useful. The key is to find the useful mutation while understanding that most mutations will fail. There is no longer true trial and error, adaptability, in federal government. Programs are allowed to continue (interest groups demand their continuance) long after their usefulness has ended.

I'm glad the author is reconsidering reforming park management. I'm not sure if these "principles" are the best-suited to operate parks, but doubt we'll ever find out due to the government's reluctance to engage in the trial and error process. It seems that the ten principles were drafted and signed by interest groups, which are part and parcel of the problem of a parasitic, transfer-seeking economy. The principles advocate administration of parks "in an unbiased manner, free of conflict of interest" but in the same breath mandate government bureaucracy ("institutional legacy of experienced public servants") and funding through taxes. As long as park management is funded and regulated by government bureaucrasy, parks will never, ever be free of politics and interest group pressure.

I'm really surprised that there hasn't been more comments on Kurt's article here. It such a critical issue that needs to be address now. If the general public doesn't give a living damn about the future management policies of the National goes the parks. Interesting in put Frank!

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