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Friday, October 21, 2005

Proposed Changes in National Park Policy

There's something about living in Oregon that makes you passionate about these issues, whichever side you are on:

The National Parks Under Siege, Editorial, New York Times: Year after year, Americans express greater satisfaction with the National Park Service than with almost any other aspect of the federal government. ... there is no incentive to revise the basic management policy that guides park superintendents... Longtime park service employees feel much the same way. Yet in the past two months we have seen two proposed revisions. The first, written by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, was a genuinely scandalous rewriting that would have destroyed the national park system. On Tuesday, the Interior Department released a new draft. ... But the new draft would still undermine the national parks. This entire exercise is unnecessary, driven by politics and ideology. The only reason for revisiting and revising the 2001 management policy was Mr. Hoffman's belief ... that the 2001 policy is "anti-enjoyment." This will surely come as news to the 96 percent of park visitors who year after year express approval of their experiences. ... The ongoing effort to revise the 2001 policy betrays a powerful sense, shared by many top interior officials, that the national parks are resources not to be protected but to be exploited. This new policy document ... would remove from the very heart of the park system's mission statement: "Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant." These unambiguous words contain the legal and legislative history that has protected the parks over the years from exactly the kind of change Mr. Hoffman has in mind... One of the most troubling aspects of this revised policy is how it was produced. Instead of being shaped by park service professionals ..., this is a defensive document that was rushed forward to head off the more sweeping damage that Mr. Hoffman's first draft threatened to do. It is a tribute to the National Park Service veterans who worked on it that they were able to mitigate so much of the harm, even though they ... risked their jobs to protect the parks from political appointees in the Interior Department. ... At least two deeply worrying new directives have been handed down. One allows the National Park Service ... another way to further the privatization of the national parks and edge toward their commercialization. ... More alarming still is a directive released last week that would require park personnel who hope to advance above the middle-manager level to go through what is essentially a political screening. What we are witnessing, in essence, is an effort to politicize the National Park Service - to steer it away from its long-term mission of preserving much-loved national treasures and make it echo the same political mind-set that turned Mr. Hoffman, a former Congressional aide to Dick Cheney and a former head of the Cody, Wyo., chamber of commerce, into an architect of national park policy.

The parks aren't, in general, allocated according to the price mechanism. The fees are often far below the market clearing level. We use things like lotteries and first come first serve to allocate park enjoyment all in the name of, gasp!, equity. Sometimes poor people get in ahead of the wealthy. Imagine that. Before further privatization of the National Park Service occurs, we should ask whether allocating these resources with the price mechanism, which runs the risk of excluding people from the parks according to income, is what we want as a society.

    Posted by on Friday, October 21, 2005 at 12:03 AM in Economics, Environment, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (1)


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