Mary Talks...And It's Not All Good
Remember my post the other day about Mary and transparency?
Well, it turns out that a little gentle prodding from Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming has gotten the "director-designate," as her temporary title goes, to share some of her thoughts on a wide range of national park issues.
In response to a number of written questions, Mary provided some extremely interesting, and some not-so-terribly interesting, views for the senator, who chairs the Senate parks subcommittee.
Perhaps the most disturbing view is that she believes there's no problem with snowmobiles in Yellowstone.
"We have seen over the past two winters that they may be operated without unacceptable impacts to park resources and visitors through the use of best available technology requirements, limits on the number of snowmobiles that may enter the parks each day, guiding requirements, and other reasonable restrictions."
Now, from a merely technical standpoint, since the Yellowstone staff still is in the midst of preparing the latest environmental impact statement on snowmobile use in the park, it might be argued that Mary is overstepping her authority by seemingly preordaining an outcome to that study.
Beyond that small detail, hasn't she seen the studies performed on snowmobile impacts on wildlife and soundscapes, not to mention air quality? And what does her comment say about the incredible public participation -- no park issue anywhere in the United States has generated as much public comment as Yellowstone's snowmobile controversy -- participation in which a strong majority opposed snowmobiles in the park?
Over at The Wilderness Society, Kristen Brengel was stumped by Mary's position.
"My major concern with the comment is not so much that it is pre-decisional," she tells me, "but that it invalidates the park's attempt to appear more inclusive regarding public participation in this EIS process.
"They went so far as to hire a company to help them work with stakeholders, but these kinds of comments do not give us confidence that the concerns raised by the scientific community and other stakeholders are getting equal treatment to those made by the snowmobile industry."
On another issue, Mary says it is her goal to attack the agency's legendary maintenance backlog by continuing "to be creative using available repair, rehabilitation, line-item construction, and fee program funding to improve known problems as we have been doing over the past six years."
She also voiced support to continue "an aggressive preventative maintenance program so that we do not slip into a significant backlog in the future," and "continue the NPS's transformation in the way assets are managed through new business practices, with a greater emphasis on preventative maintenance and life-cycle costs."
Mary also believes a better assessment of the exact condition of the agency's infrastructure (buildings, houses, roads, utilities, etc), and a prioritization of dealing with the existing problems, will help get things under control.
"Having this information will help NPS to prioritize allocation of its resources during the budget process, and will help parks make more informed decisions about the costs of sustaining their assets," she told Sen. Thomas.
Nowhere in her response, though, is a plan to simply ask Congress for more funding to help address the outstanding problems. I mean, a big reason the Park Service has such an incredible maintenance backlog is that it simply isn't funded properly.
Now, I'll agree that you can't simply throw money at the problems. But I also don't think simply assessing your "to-do" list and prioritizing how you'll attack it will wipe out the estimated $5 billion-$9 billion backlog, let alone pare down the annual $800 million shortfall in funding.