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National Park Service Director Jarvis Announces Retirement


National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis on Friday announced his retirement./NPS

Jonathan Jarvis, the 18th director of the National Park Service whose seven-year stint at the top of the agency witnessed the highs of the National Park Service Centennial and the lows of sordid sexual harassment scandals, on Friday announced that he would retire on January 3, 2017.

In a brief, two-paragraph note sent to the agency's employees, Director Jarvis didn't mention the scandals or ethical lapses committed by himself as well as many below him. Rather, he looked ahead to the agency's second century.

"The National Park Service is not perfect, but it is strong, resilient and beloved by the American people. The NPS fearlessly addresses some of the most complex issues of our society from climate change to civil rights and stands as a beacon to those who work to achieve the highest aspirations of the nation," he wrote. "I could not be more proud of the 22,000 employees who keep that beacon bright everyday in our parks and programs across the country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose story we interpret in parks Atlanta and in D.C., said that 'the arc of the universe bends toward justice.' The collective weight of the National Park Service pulls that bend closer to environmental and social justice for all those who call this planet home. Keep pulling, be safe and I will see you in the parks."

Director Jarvis spent four decades working for the Park Service, rising from a GS-4 Park Technician on the National Mall in 1976 to superintendent positions at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington before moving to the Pacific Region office and, finally, the directorship in September 2009.

The low points of his directorship had to be both the sexual harassment scandals that arose from Grand Canyon National Park and then Cape Canaveral National Seashore and his upbraiding for ignoring ethics regulations in writing a book about American values and national parks for a cooperating association. Those two incidents combined led to U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, to call for Director Jarvis's resignation, as well as a petition drive to accomplish the same goal.

The Park Service is continuing to try to right itself after the sexual harassment scandals, as well as charges that Yosemite National Park's superintendent, Don Neubacher, oversaw a hostile, bullying work environment. Those claims led to Mr. Neubacher's decision to retire. A hotline has been set up for Park Service employees to report charges of harassment of any kind, and two "ombuds" have been appointed to meet with employees to discuss problems in the workplace.

On the high side, the National Park Service Centennial brought a record number of visitors to the parks. Though official visitation numbers won't be available before February or March, through November the tally stood at 309,666,793, roughly 2.4 million above the 307,247,252 total for all of 2015.

But even the centennial highlighted negative issues with the parks, as some were overwhelmed by visitors and led to a number of parks seeking to identify a specific carrying capacity of tourists that they could safely manage.

Once Mr. Jarvis retires, his deputy director, Mike Reynolds, will serve as acting director until the incoming Trump administration fills the position.


Mr. Jarvis's tenure as Director of the National Park Service was marked by many more low points than high points. He was a severe disappointment to the employees of the National Park Service and to the American people. We can only hope that with the new year and new administration a more capable and better person is appointed as Director. The National Park Service needs the best leadership available. The American people and the thousands of hard working and loyal NPS employees deserve no less. 


I just wonder if it is even possible to change the NPS culture presently.  Aren't there so many with such an ingrained mafioso mentality?  These are lifers and Nepotism seems to be rampant.  Are other agencies this fruaght with relatives working with and for each other?


Yes, SmokiesBackpacker--universities. They run a job search and 250 people apply. The next thing you know, the spouse of the president, provost, dean,, or department chair has the job. It just so happened that out of 250 people, he or she was the most qualified. The polite term for it is "spousal insert," in which the search is just run for show. Of course, the proper term for it is nepotism, but who uses that term anymore? Suffice it to say that in most universities, so-called power couples now abound.

Is it possible to change the NPS? Yes, but only if we are willing to change it. Nothing but merit hires. No spouses,, close relatives, etc. in the same agency. None, not even in another "department." You can work for another government agency, but not the NPS.

Now, watch the commentators pile on in defense of the status quo. But Al, you know that John and I are married! Why didn't you complain 30 years ago? Complain? That's just the point. No one is allowed to complain. Nepotism, coupled with Parkinson's Law, assures that the complainer is shown the door.

I have seen many doors just whispering that the search and/or promotion was rigged. Merit? What is that? Performance? Who's kidding whom? There are the rules, but then there are the hidden rules, starting with no one dare complain.

Good riddance. This is an opportuntiy to change a damaged culture of the National Park Service. Let's hope 2016 was the low point.

He failed us.  Failed the parks.  Failed the people.  Failed our President.  Embarassed us in the context of our proud history and traditions of excellence.  Led us nowhere, counting on the big party to cover his lack of leadership.  The listing of scandals which Jarvis initiated, presided over, allowed to go unresolved, covered or otherwise deflected are much longer than the most recent examples which have garnered so much attention.  Leadership is the essence of integrity, character and achievement or an organization.  We must do a better job of identifying, training and choosing our leaders from now on.  If they perform as Jarvis has, we need to cut our losses and insist upon competent personnel.  Our Centennial has been both an empty disappointment, as far as accomplishment, and an embarassment to the NPS and our country.  In my mind, these failures rest at the feet of our senior leadership, especially the Captain of the ship.

We hoped for a career NPS Director to work with our career seasonal workforce and try to help them obtain retirement and health care.  Jon traved well but rarely made any changes culturally or organizationally. 

I have a very bad feeling that with the incoming new administration, we may be looking back on the days of Jarvis wishing he was still here.

I'm not sure nepotism is as big as what is being stated here.  I'm not positive on that one, however, like many careers, I will say that consistency and retaining important personele to that park, as they stick around across multiple administrations as they come and go as the political whims of the country change is very important.  The in one year, and then off to another park mentality is not beneficial to the system. I think it's important to maintain a key group of people in the parks, and to maintain them for a long period so that consitency as well as knowledge is gained and fostered about that park.  Retaining biologists, interpretive personele, geologists, etc to a certain park is critical.  Cross training these key people at other parks, whether it's for months, or even weeks would be more beneficial to the system that seeing a rotating chair.  Keeping the universities very tied in within the parks are just as important, because many researchers and professors are a benefit to keeping the major parks as study areas for science, as well as history.  Just my opinion.

I know many are weary about Ryan Zinke, but i'm not so shook up about that choice.  Montana is one of those states that still retains a wilderness character few other states possess and many politicians in that state have a more balanced outlook on wilderness protection than other states.  I think he will bring to the table some fresh ideas that are needed.  And I think he puts someone in place that leads the NPS to better serve and protect its overall mission.  We shall see where this goes, but I highly doubt we see abrupt changes at the National Parks.  

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