The Green Blood of the Coalition of NPS Retirees

By Rick Smith

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees had its beginning in 2003 when three former NPS employees appeared at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The purpose of the press conference was to draw public attention to several programs at the Department of the Interior that we felt were inconsistent with sound park management.
Following the press conference, we decided to send a letter to the President Bush, repeating our concerns about the department’s failure to properly care for the areas of the system. As other former employees heard about the letter, they asked if they could add their names.
After press reports of our letter, we were surprised to be contacted by additional retirees who asked if they could join our efforts to defend the parks of the system and the programs of the NPS. Apparently, many former employees were very worried about what was happening to the parks in which they had worked and to the agency which they had served.
They didn’t like the fact that the whine of snowmobiles shattered the natural quiet of Yellowstone, disturbed park wildlife, polluted the air, and posed a threat to employee and visitor health and safety.
They didn’t see how programs like outsourcing maintenance, resources management or science positions contributed to the effective management of parks.
They felt that park visitors were not being adequately served as parks were forced to reduce visitor center hours, curtail or eliminate interpretive programs, cut back on resource protection patrols, postpone cyclic maintenance programs, and leave key positions vacant to save money.

What troubled many the most was the attitude of the political leadership of the Interior Department and the Park Service who were fond of saying that there was more money per park, per visitor and per employee than ever, especially during the 2004 election campaign. No one in the Service believed that was true except in the most literal sense.
Oh, there was more money per employee. But that was because there were fewer employees. And there was more money per visitor because there were fewer visitors. And there was more money per acre because nothing had been added to the park system in the first four years of the Bush administration.

And the former employees were seriously disturbed by efforts to muzzle, or even to take punitive action against career employees who attempted to “tell it like it was.”
Membership in the Coalition continued to climb, rising by some 20 percent almost every year. We started to notice a new phenomenon: people began to join on the day they retired. There were even a few who joined before they retired. As of today, there are almost 600 people who have lent their name to the Coalition.
The obvious question is, what fuels this growth? We have never actively recruited new members. Remember, this is the first time in the 90-year history of the National Park Service that its retirees have ever felt the need to join together for any reason other than the social and education goals of the Employee and Alumni Association.
There are a couple obvious reasons. One has to do with the sorry record of the Bush administration regarding parks. Until his administration’s recent show of interest in the Centennial and his FY08 budget proposals—which aren’t quite as good as they appear to be -- there has been little to cheer about in the last six years. Another is attention that the national media has paid to the Coalition.
There is barely a week that goes by that one of us on the Executive Council is not contacted by someone from the media asking for our take on a park issue. They want our opinion for two reasons. First of all, the Coalition represents something like 17,000 years of park management experience. The media knows that we are the “voices of experience.” They know we’re different than most folks in the higher profile conservation organizations who have never managed a square meter of public land. We have. We know what we are talking about. The second reason is that we get out information from current employees.
We have a network of employees who keep us informed on critical park and program issues. They talk to us because of the climate of fear and intimidation that existed until recently. The media knows this and appreciates how current our inside information is. Another factor that has led to strong growth is that several major publications have published extensive articles on the Coalition and its work.
Articles in National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and High Country News have either featured the Coalition or contained extensive quotes from its members. Coalition spokespeople are routinely cited in major newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and in numerous local newspapers and we have been interviewed extensively on national and local public radio.
Perhaps, however, the most important motivation for former employees to join the Coalition has to do with their attitude. It is clear to me that most former employees consider their service to the NPS to have been an avocation, not a vocation. They care deeply about the traditions of the NPS and believe strongly in the management policies that have evolved over 90 years.
They think the National Park Service Organic Act is something to be respected, not an Act to be ignored when convenient to do so. They take seriously former Director Albright’s challenge to not let the National Park Service become “just another government bureau.” They don’t like it when the Park Service’s senior managers are ignored or bullied. They honestly believe that NPS decision-making should be transparent and based on the soundest science available.
They believe that the public should always be told the truth, even if it is inconvenient to do so. They truly believe that parks strive to be effective in three areas: preserve and protect resources; provide quality visitor services; and maintain productive relationships with park interest groups. They do not much care for the current emphasis that seems to prize efficiency over effectiveness.
Former Director Bill Mott used to say that the reason he believed in national parks is that they represented stability. He saw it this way: Each generation of Americans gets to add, speaking through their elected representatives, the places that they feel merit protection in perpetuity to the national park system. Our park areas represent an unmatched record of what generations of Americans, since 1872, have valued as places or ideas.
The National Park Service has the obligation to apply the highest standards of care to these places. In the first place, it’s a matter of generational equity; those who created these areas expected that they would be well taken care of. And the Park Service must take care of our park areas for future generations of Americans. The Coalition will continue to push the Park Service in that direction.


Rick Smith is a member of the Coalition's Executive Council. He spent 30 years with the Park Service, with stints in Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Everglades, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains national parks, as well as in the Washington headquarters and the Philadelphia and Santa Fe regional offices.

Comments

I see the Coalition is against the Modificaton of the Firearms Ban in all National Parks. I am a ex Police Officer, and have EXTENSIVE experience working for the D.O.D. I have traveled the entire country and have spent many days in the National parks. What is so "Dangerous" about Law Abiding Permit holders posessing a weapon? The group claims some sort of confusion with the issue? What would be the source of the confusion? I have been in many states, including the one I live that that permits conceled weapons, there is no confusion here nor have I seen any... Wouldn't it be a perfect world if there were no two legged Preditors but unfortunately the ones carrying the ILLEGAL weapons are the ones accosting people in the parks!! I am a TRAINED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AND A TRAINED SOLDIER.. I would rather know that a few people around me have LEGAL Permitted weapons on their person. The ones that are the danger are the Criminals that don't care what law they are breaking. If weapons are not permitted in the Park does that mean the Criimals will not bring weapons into the park? Is there a database that tells you how many people have been accosted by armed Thugs in National parks, harmed or Murdered? What about the murdered women found in the car trunk in Yosomite? I have heard all the arguements before even when my state passed a conceiled weapons possession bill.. They all swore it would be like Dodge City At High Noon.. Check the FBI stats.. Every EVERY STATE THAT HAS PASSED A WEAPONS PERMITTING LAW HAS HAD A DROP IN VIOLENT CRIME!! I could try to appeal to LOGIC but it is all the same ole Liberal Mantra.. Yada Yada..... The thing that scares me worse in a National Park than an honest legal permitted weapons holder, is one of the dozens and dozens 85 pound female Park rangers carrying a weapon five sizes too large for her size. Strap a weapon on a female that size and she instantly thinks she is SARGENT YORK! My opinion is most 85 pound female park rangers cannot be trained well enough not to be disarmed or even be able to take a 200 pound man into custody. As I say, I have been in some pretty bad and rank places.. I have NEVER seen a woman ever be able to protect themseves in a combat situation.. With the current stage of world events, Terrorism, and such.. perhaps we Americans need to go back to the days of John Wayne.... If you can figure a way to eliminate all weapons from a National Park including stones and wooden clubs, I would be happy to leave my handgun home. I welcome some "Licensed gun slinger to come to my rescue when the THUGS TRY TO ATTACK ME. Oh yea, I have been threatened in a National Park when hiking... an armed Ranger at the Main Gate ten miles away does not instill the feeling of safety for me. This is not the old days of Opie and Mayberry. The world has changed and with the influx of foreign cultures you need to learn that the person next to you will slit your throat just for looking at him the wrong way....

I always hear the mantra:
LETS SAVE OUR PARKS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS... Sounds reasonable? Right now the Parks are trying to limit traffic and visitors to "Save" the park for future generations. Well let me explain the facts to you... The proper way is to allow the Public right now to take FULL advantage of the parks now because: In the future as population increases there will be NO Parks.. Go ahead and save Yellowstone and keep people from using it limit the traffic,, go broke because people quit coming and spending money funding the parks.. This goes for all National Parks. It takes only one body of Congress to sell off the parks, to allow condos to be built and allow very rich private individuals to build estates in them. There will be no parks for the future!!! Use the Park to its fullest now, develop it for the tourists now. A hundred years from now it will be a rich mans condo complex. Political winds change and so do the perception of the "right thing to do" Save the parks for future generations?? Develope the parks for the present, allow corporate sponsorship.. When the money is shunted of other projects, parks will be neglected, closed, and eventually with the federal drain and present fisical realities become apparant, the Feds will sell off the parks piecemeal... Open your eyes, look at the present and forget the future... Yellowstone probably will be a Chinese Amusement Park in 100 years!!!

"Once again, political leaders in the Bush administration have ignored the preferences of the American public by succumbing to political pressure, in this case generated by the National Rifle Association," said Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
What source does Mr. Wade use for the preferences comment? The NRA represents 4.5 million + law abiding citizens from across the US. They are not a political organization.
"This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the National Park System at risk".
This comment is so absurd that it must be a joke. Visitors are already at risk from robbers, rapist and gang-bangers by being unarmed and unable to defend themselves.

These silly retorts to the excellent article by Rick Smith have been refuted many times, with facts, on this website before.

No one who has seen the way the NRA works on Capitol Hill believes the NRA is not a political organization. An extreme, but very effective organization. Friends and foes of the NRA alike have marveled that some of the most effective and coersive legislative practices including those practices effectively manipulating its constituency, were invented and refined by the NRA, and those practices have become models of destructive political behavior far and wide. It is not an accident that the pressure to put this ridiculous concealed weapons thing in effect was aimed at and went into effect in an election year. No one who maintains anything different is a straightforward observer.

It is ridiculous to maintain the Second Amendment requires concealed carry, if the same regulations can also exclude places like government buildings. If assembled guns can be excluded in government buildings, they can by the same logic be excluded in parks.

Maintaining, as some of these silly responders to Mr. Smith do, that "law abiding" weapon-packers does not complicate the job of enforcing the law against bad actors or reckless people demonstrates a failure to understand practical issues of law enforcement, and the difficult standard now imposed on the park rangers. Previously, you had probable cause to question or search any individual who was discovered to be carrying a concealed weapon. Now, it is unlikely you would pursue or even monitor a suspected carrier of concealed weapons. That means in fact that more damage to wildlife will occur. Rationalizing this as for the safety of the weapons carrier is the silliest argument of all.

The mainstream of the United States wants the parks protected to a high degree. The mainstream of the United States trusts park rangers like Mr. Smith. The mainstream believes, when rangers say a standard of protection is required for a National Park, that it is required. The constant nonsense by NRA advocates to the contrary does not alter this.

There was a time, in my lifetime, when the NRA was a respectable organization, not a political organization, dedicated to wildlife habitat and safe hunting. In those days, the people in the NRA were allies with environmental groups and big supporters of law enforcement officials. Now, it is an organization who's staff needs to make politicians jump before elections to demonstrate to the dues-paying membership that this staff should keep getting their salaries. Clearly, the Republicans who signed the Senate petition hoped for any smokescreen to shield them from the voters anger at their disgraceful support of George Bush for 8 whole years. Politics is the only thing this weapons-in-parks thing is about.

Thank God America still has patriotic organizations like the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees who believe in the great Traditions of the United States, rather than the crop of vicious political organizations that keep Americans divided and paranoid, only to keep their staff employed.

This should really be titled the "The Blue Blood of the CNPSR" since the organization pretty much toes the neo-Lilberal agenda of the Democratic Party: Bigger government, more spending, more bureaucracy, anti-Second Amendment, ineffective "public" works, etc.

They don’t like it when the Park Service’s senior managers are ignored or bullied.

Do they like it when the Park Service's seasonal employees are ignored or bullied by the aforementioned senior managers? I apologize for my tone, but this article strikes me as interest group propaganda.

No, Frank, we don't like that either. I was a seasonal for 11 years, so maybe my blood isn't much bluer than yours. As to your claim that we toe the "neo-liberal agenda of the Democratic party": all we really care about are the parks and programs managed by the National Park Service.

BTW, leaving out your reference to the anti-Second Amendment, you have pretty much described the new-conservative Republican party of the last 8 years--"bigger government, more spending, more burearcracy, ineffective publc works." I'm glad not to be associated with that crowd.

Rick Smith

BTW, leaving out your reference to the anti-Second Amendment, you have pretty much described the new-conservative Republican party of the last 8 years--"bigger government, more spending, more burearcracy, ineffective publc works." I'm glad not to be associated with that crowd.

For once we're in complete agreement! :)

I have seen seasonals treated badly, and I've seen park managers do all they knew how to support seasonal rangers.

It seems to me, a lot of that, either way, is how individuals behave, and not symptomatic of the National Park Service as an institution.

For me, though, the main thing is the seasonals are the heart and soul of the NPS. For the permanent rangers, the seasonals are the people whose dedication and zeal bring everything to life, and really make everything about working for national parks real.

The real scandal is the government policies that forced the NPS to reduce or in many cases eliminate the seasonals. Some parks are left with aging managers, and no seasonals, no new green blood. I don't think I "toe" anybody's line, but you will think so when I tell you, Frank C, that I think -- I know -- we have had several generations of Presidential Administrations that WANTED to deplete the morale and capacity of the National Park Service. Maybe other agencies, too, but I know for sure they wanted to drain away the blood of the NPS. And there was no better way to do it than drain away the eager idealists, and sow division between people within the NPS, and between the NPS and other preservation organizations. "Starve the Beast" they call it.

Both the managers and the seasonals were the victims, and so were the American People.

I agree that there have been several presidential administrations that have impacted the amount of seasonal work force. The funding for my first interpretive job was cut under the Clinton (whom I voted for twice) administration in 1995. As bad as Bush was for the environment, his budgets for the NPS were nothing new. Funds for middle management never seemed to be cut; seasonal positions were always the first go go. Expendable. Anyway, I didn't mean to turn this conversation to this direction, so I'll bow out of it now.

The real scandal is the government policies that forced the NPS to reduce or in many cases eliminate the seasonals. Some parks are left with aging managers, and no seasonals, no new green blood. I don't think I "toe" anybody's line, but you will think so when I tell you, Frank C, that I think -- I know -- we have had several generations of Presidential Administrations that WANTED to deplete the morale and capacity of the National Park Service. Maybe other agencies, too, but I know for sure they wanted to drain away the blood of the NPS. And there was no better way to do it than drain away the eager idealists, and sow division between people within the NPS, and between the NPS and other preservation organizations. "Starve the Beast" they call it.

Doesn't exactly make the case for continued federal government administration of these areas now does it?

Yes, it's my broken record and I'm sticking with it, especially when others can make the case of what an obvious disaster federal management has been just as forcefully and with the same gusto and disdain.

I don't mind saying it again: It's time for totally new management and a transition away from the politics and shenanigans of Washington, DC by pointing these parks towards independent and self-sustaining models of administration. Now more than ever, since the federal gummit is flat busted broke, we need to seriously consider how to save these areas from the incompetence and self-serving motives that are the hallmarks of federal control.

Nuff said?