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If Science in Lake Clark National Park Is Good, Is It Also Good in Yellowstone National Park?


So far so good with science in the Obama administration, but how much will Interior Secretary Salazar rely on it when it comes to decisions in the National Park System?

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is praising the scientists who are keeping tabs on Redoubt Volcano in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, using them as an example of "the importance of investing in science..." Which begs the question of whether science is just as important elsewhere in the National Park System?

Redoubt Volcano, of course, has been fuming and sputtering recently, and scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory are predicting that it will erupt in the not-too-distant future. Their work caught the eye of Secretary Salazar, who right off the bat in his new job had proclaimed that science would carry the day.

Perhaps to demonstrate that he stands by his words, or perhaps to simply show that the Obama administration is more invested in science than its predecessor, Secretary Salazar issued a press release Tuesday touting the work of the staff at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a prime example of how science can help save lives and protect property,” said Secretary Salazar. “It also represents a model federal-state-university partnership through which our scientists and monitoring systems help the public prepare for natural disasters. This is an important reminder of the importance of investing in science and of the value of the scientific work the Department of Interior does, day in and day out. ”

This is a refreshing approach, largely because the Bush administration drew much criticism for its alleged disdain for science. Things got so bad with the Bush administration that in 2005 more than 7,000 scientists went on record with complaints that President Bush’s politics more than occasionally cast aside science.

Among the evidence to support that contention was how the Environmental Protection Agency had overlooked scientific evidence to set limits on mercury pollution that would dovetail with the president’s position on power-plant emissions; a survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility announced that more than 200 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists – out of about 1,400 employed by the agency—said they were told to alter research to support a reduction in protection for wildlife and vegetation; and how a White House official, who previously had worked as an oil industry lobbyist opposed to limits on greenhouse gases, edited federal climate-change reports to minimize the connections between the emissions and global warming.

Those and other stories that tracked the administration’s twists, distortions, and even rejections of science led the American Civil Liberties Union in June 2005 to issue a 35-page report titled, Science Under Siege: the Bush Administration’s Assault on Academic Freedom and Scientific Inquiry.

Understandably, President Bush’s science advisor rejected those claims.

That said, what remains to be seen is whether Secretary Salazar supports science throughout not just the National Park System but all Interior agencies.

In the parks, science has been flayed in Yellowstone National Park over whether recreational snowmobiles impair the park's resources, and similar arguments have been raised over the use of personal watercraft in national seashores, national lakeshores, and national recreation areas. Those are just two of the most obvious cases.

How Secretary Salazar handles those matters remains to be seen.


Let's hope the bar (for science) hasn't been set so low (by Bush) that anything Secretary Salizar does (or says) is viewed as good enough. We need concrete actions taken and we need to keep in mind that just because it's more than President Bush did, doesn't necessarily make it enough. Nice write-up Kurt.

rob mutch
Crater Lake Institute

Another interesting question is where science should rank in the National Park Service's mission. The NPS already has two priorities: preservation and visitation, should scientific inquiry also be in the mix? Or should scientific inquiry primarily be handled by a combination of other Federal agencies, such as the US Geological Survey and partnerships with universities?

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