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From Job Creation to Everglades Czar, Green Groups Have Lengthy National Parks Wishlist

Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Can the Obama administration improve the fortunes of the National Park System? Kurt Repanshek photo.

A coalition of nearly 30 "green groups" has a lengthy to-do list for the incoming Obama administration when it comes to the National Park System. For starters, they say, let's include the parks in the economic stimuli being proposed, expect more from National Park Service leadership, and protect the natural resources.

Oh, and don't forget to toss out those ill-considered executive orders President Bush dashed off in his closing weeks in office.

Nearly 400 pages from cover to cover, Transition to Green, Leading the way to a healthy environment, a green economy, and a sustainable future very accurately could be described as the green groups' wish-list for Team Obama. It's a hefty list that not only is crafted with the latest economic strife in mind, but with the knowledge that President-elect Barack Obama wants a cleaner environment, a cleaner energy sector, and a way to grapple with climate change.

The section pertaining to the National Park System runs 15 pages and calls on the next administration to not only be bold, but be quick in summoning the energies and leadership necessary to not just bolster the fortunes of the national parks, but to do so in a way that will help the economy.

In short, the groups want the Obama administration, during its first 100 days in office, to:

* Offer a National Park Service Corps proposal

* Include a substantial national park component in any Economic Recovery (stimulus) plan, focusing on “ready to go” projects in national parks to restore historic sites, roads and trails, as well as fund energy conservation projects and purchases that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption.

* Appoint an Everglades Restoration Czar in CEQ and the inclusion of the Everglades in an economic stimulus package

* Issue an Executive Order on National park job and education opportunities, with appropriate
funds then proposed in the Administration’s first presented budget

* Announce support for the Centennial challenge program in the Administration’s budget and for moving the Grijalva and Salazar bills.

* Announce an expanded Climate Friendly Parks Initiative

* Issue an order requiring other Interior agencies to cooperate with NPS in management decisions that could impact wildlife and other park resources

* Announce a citizen partnership to inventory species in national parks through the All Taxa Biological Inventory effort

* Continue the National Park System commitment to ecosystem protection by forwarding wilderness recommendations to Congress

* The new administration should issue on January 20th a memorandum modeled after the one issued by Andrew Card on January 20, 2001 establishing a freeze or moratorium on finalizing the outgoing Administration’s regulations that have not yet been finalized and made effective.

* The new Administration should immediately begin a review of ongoing litigation and seek to settle cases in those instances where it believes that its interpretation of the law is similar to that of a given set of plaintiffs.

* The Interior secretary should withdraw more than 1 million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon from mining or mineral entry in order to stem the threat of uranium mining.

The long story is, well, longer. While you can find the entire document at this site and the NPS breakout attached below, here are some of the NPS-related highlights:

* National Park Job and Education Opportunities

Via executive order the groups believe the incoming president should "reaffirm the core conservation/non-derogation principles of the National Park Service Organic Act and its subsequent amendment under the so-called Redwoods Act. The Executive Order should: (1) Direct NPS to report to the Secretary within 90 days with (a) an inventory of critical needs, such as the preservation of historic and cultural resources and the removal of invasive species, (b) an assessment of the appropriate roles that local economies can play in helping to meet these needs without outsourcing NPS jobs) (c) an estimate of the jobs that could be created in addressing the identified needs and (d) the resources needed to create those job opportunities; (2) Direct NPS and the Department of Education to develop a program that provides education-related employment while identifying ways to use the Park System to educate kids."

* Cooperative Agreement with Americorps

In a 21st century twist on the Civil Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the groups believe the new administration should "should establish cooperative agreements with the Corporation for National and Community Service and with Americorps to help the National Park Service recruit and train paid and unpaid volunteers for: backlog and restoration projects in parks, to help educate kids using experiential learning techniques, to help develop new updated interpretive materials, and to provide translation services for non-English speaking park visitors."

* Analysis Confirming NPS Transportation Funding Needs

The Obama administration should reassess the National Park System's roads needs and "include this analysis in all transportation reauthorization recommendations it makes to Congress. The administration’s recommendations should include an effort to begin to address this shortfall, which will take many years to eliminate."

* Everglades Restoration Czar at CEQ

Efforts to revitalize the Everglades have been sluggish, at best, due to the Bush administration's lack of support, according to the groups. So important is this project to the South Florida economy, public water supplies, jobs, and the national park, that the incoming administration should institute new leadership at the federal level, the groups believe. "The project lead should be taken away from the Army Corps and pulled into the White House at Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ). CEQ should appoint a person with the major responsibility of pulling the agencies together to overcome obstacles or agency disagreements (like Tamiami Trail).

"The second thing that needs to happen is that the new Administration needs to dramatically increase federal funding for Everglades restoration work. Senator Obama endorsed this idea during the campaign and now President Obama should make the delivery on this promise a priority. Wetlands restoration sequesters far more carbon from the air than reforestation and Congress and the President-elect are now actively discussing an economic stimulus package designed to jump start the sagging economy. It would be a classic win-win solution if some of that stimulus money were channeled into Everglades restoration work: jobs would be created, the effects of climate change would be ameliorated and long
stalled restoration benefits would finally be felt on the ground."

* Partnership to Restore our National Parks

"The new administration should develop and announce a new large-scale partnership initiative that includes organized labor, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, AARP, National Park Friends Groups, preservation and national volunteer organizations, and that launches a cross-cutting national effort to create jobs by restoring the national parks through maintenance and construction funding, volunteerism and philanthropy."

* Establish National Park Service Corps

"A new National Park Service Corps should be created to complement the anticipated expansion of Americorps and provide employment and volunteer opportunities directed at restoring our national parks. In the 1930’s, thousands of young Americans worked to renew our national inheritance by planting trees to prevent soil erosion and by building roads and other facilities to help families access the national parks.

"President-elect Obama has proposed a substantial expansion of 'national service' opportunities. We propose that 10,000 of the new positions under the Obama proposal or the Serve America Act be dedicated to the Corps. The NPS would administer the Corps and deploy new volunteer coordinators in national parks, and the new positions would be funded with living stipends and education awards through the Corporation for National and Community Service. Half the slots will be devoted to each of two successful models based on the current AmeriCorps program. The AmeriCorps State and National program 'provides financial support through grants to public and nonprofit organizations that sponsor service programs around the country….These groups recruit, train and place AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.'

"The other model, the National Civilian Community Corps is a federally administered, full-time 10-month residential program for young men and women who receive intensive training and are deployed as teams for projects that range from disaster response to environmental protection. Projects using the NCCC model could include trail reengineering and repairs, erosion control, hiking bridges, “green” initiatives like reforestation and wetlands restoration, eradication of invasive species, rehabilitation of structures, etc. Projects using the State and National grant model could include enhanced services in parks, the design of service-learning projects to engage disadvantaged youth in learning history, biology, and other subjects, etc."

Now, on other fronts the groups want to see the Obama administration:

* Support and sign Centennial Challenge legislation that would funnel $1 billion to the parks over the next decade to help the National Park Service prepare for its centennial in 2016.

* See that any economic stimulus package include projects for the national parks. "In July, the NPS produced a list of potential 'ready-to-go' economic stimulus projects exceeding $800 million," the groups say. "These include roughly $430 million in road and bridge projects, additional facility, trail, energy conservation, high-risk abandoned mine sites, and other projects that both would address genuine needs in the national parks and put people to work."

* Get NPS leadership back on keel. The Bush administration, the groups claim, has undermined the National Park Service mission by "suppressing science, dismissing public input, refusing to follow laws and policies, and even attempting to reinterpret the mission of the system."

* Bolster science in the parks. "Park lands, particularly backcountry areas, serve as biodiversity incubators and preserves. The scientific resources available to the Park Service must be greatly enhanced to provide the necessary expertise to fully protect the plants and wildlife in these park-based natural systems. In addition, federal policy should promote the movement of wildlife in a manner that fosters long-term population viability while stemming the assault on park ecosystems caused by pollution, climate change, and the degradation and fragmentation of natural systems."

* Expand officially designated wilderness in the National Park System.

Editor's note: Here's the list of groups that collaborated on this document:


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I think your idea of a National Park Service Corps will run afoul of the same issues that has stopped the growth of AmeriCorps and similar "WPA-like" programs since the 1970s. Demographically in America today, it isn't the "young" who are having trouble finding work, it is the mature job force which are now both unemployed (as companies down size) and unmarketable (as "hard" manufacturing skill sets transition to technology driven ones). Over the last twenty or so years, the myth of "unemployable young" has been shattered by two realities - the young are more adaptable to changing work environments and younger labor costs less. As such, the face of the unemployment lines has become more mature.

Now here's the twist I would offer. And one that I think would make much more sense in the times we live in. Make the proposed NPS Corps a DoD to DoI transition vessel. Make it primarily a program for service members leaving the military to transition to civilian service oriented professions. This would be a win-win scenario. Currently veterans as a demographic group suffer over twice (some say 2.5 times) the unemployment rate than the rest of America. Sadly those who served the country the most are often the last considered for jobs. Now I would respectfully decline to open a discussion of why that is, which would alter the scope of this discussion. But look at that element of the unemployed workforce from a logical standpoint. These are typically late 20 to early 30 year olds. They are familiar with work structures and standard processes. They typically thrive on object oriented tasks and projects.

Majority have completed high school educations, and a substantial amount some college. The number one "goal" for those separating from the service is "more education" so something which augments their GI Bill benefits would be appreciated. And while mentioning the later, one of the hardest parts for a newly separated service member to tackle is attaining and holding down a paying, part time job, while pursuing higher education with the GI Bill benefits. A NPS Corps Veterans program would be a natural fit there. Might even reduce the overall cost of the program (provided the GI Bill gets the revamping it deserves).

And one more plug, veterans tend to be a long term, loyal workforce, generally speaking. By introducing these veterans to the NPS early in their transition, it is likely these talented and service oriented individuals would stay within either the NPS or at least some of the other DoI agencies.

In short if the NPS Corps is given a line on this DoD to DoI transition for individuals, the program would have ready "trained" workforce, with less cost and overhead, targeting a segment of our workforce which has been disproportionately affected by the economic down turn (and unfairly discriminated against in many cases).

Good point, Craig.
And veterans would certainly be more productive, mature and wear sharper uniforms than most of the young, unmotivated, undisciplined college kids I have seen working in our parks!! I am really tired of seeing the unkept, sloppy appearance (some uniforms look like they were pulled out of the hamper) of many rangers in visitor centers and on interpretive walks.

Unfortunately, it looks like Obama's budget will provide less than Bush's for the NPS. There may even be some layoffs for permanent positions throughout the DOI.

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