Traveler's View: Don't Let The Sportsmen's Heritage And Recreational Enhancement Act Undermine National Parks

Where in the rutted and muddy tire tracks gouged into the banks of Ozark National Scenic Riverways are the ties to sportsmen's heritage or recreational enhancement?

How is the whine of motors on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers that flow more than 100 miles through the Riverways in the Missouri Ozarks improving the recreational experience?

Why should the National Park Service stand quietly back while 65 miles of unauthorized horse trails are allowed to thread through the park's backcountry and down the river banks, across which the riders gallop into the streams?

That's the vision U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Missouri, has for the Riverways, where park staff currently are going through the thorny and insult-hurling process of crafting a new management plan.

The Republican congressman has vocally led the charge against the Park Service's proposed management plan, one that would impose some restrictions on -- not outlaw-- motorboat use, rein in the undesignated horse trails, and better protect the Riverways' resources. On Wednesday he succeeded in tacking an amendment onto the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act that would, if enacted, bar the Park Service from limiting motorboat use. He also promised to take the fight to the other management proposals preferred by the Park Service.

“It’s a shame the Park Service is trying to limit access in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways but I am committed to ensuring the rivers remain accessible. My amendment on The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act will ensure no new restrictions on motorized vessels will be allowed in the park,” Rep. Smith said in a release. “The Draft General Management Plans proposed by the Park Service will have a lot of support from Obama bureaucrats and big city environmentalists, but my constituents do not want the Park Service further restricting their rights on public lands. Moving forward I will continue fighting any attempts to designate new wilderness areas in the ONSR, close walking and horse trails, limit hunting, fishing, trapping, gigging, close access points, ban camping or other recreational activities in the park.”

Really?

How does unfettered use, whether it involves motorboats or horses, hiking or camping, benefit a landscape? How can a national treasure like the Ozark National Scenic Riverways benefit today or in the long run from E.coli problems associated with horses, ATV ruts run amok, or a party atmosphere that arises come summer with trucks parking on gravel bars in the rivers?

Surveys show that even the boaters are concerned about crowding. According to a 2011 survey the Park Service relied on in drafting its management plan, "Among motorized watercraft users, 26% would have preferred to encounter fewer visitors and 20% would have preferred to encounter more." (Another 17 percent were happy with the number of boaters they saw on the day they visited the Riverways, while 37 percent had no preference.)

And Rep. Smith should not overlook that the Riverways belongs to the American public, not only his constituents. If it truly is the congressman's belief, as his spokesman told the Traveler in December, that "(T)he folks who are using the parks are some of the best stewards of the land that you can imagine," regardless of the erosion, pollution, and unauthorized trail useage, then he doesn't appreciate the foresight or wisdom that went into the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916.

The Riverways' enacting legislation, passed in August 1964, specified that the rivers were being included in the National Park System "for the purpose of conserving and interpreting unique scenic and other natural values and objects of historic interest, including preservation of portions of the Current River and Jacks Fork River in Missouri as free-flowing streams, preservation of springs and caves, and management of wildlife, and provisions for use and enjoyment..."

To use the guise of sportsmen's heritage and recreational enhancement to justify no reductions in motorboat usage on the two rivers is folly and perverse. Our National Park System deserves better.

Traveler footnote: Public comments on the draft management plan are being taken through the end of today, February 7. You can read the 534-page draft plan and comment on it at this site.

Comments

By "“The Draft General Management Plans proposed by the Park Service will have a lot of support from Obama bureaucrats and big city environmentalists, but my constituents do not want the Park Service further restricting their rights on public lands." does he mean the Clampets or Billy Bob and his beer guzzling litter tossing buddies who drive pickups with big wheels loud exhaust stacks belching black smoke and lots of chrome trying to enhance their low levels of testosterone?


does he mean the Clampets or Billy Bob and his beer guzzling litter tossing buddies who drive pickups with big wheels loud exhaust stacks belching black smoke and lots of chrome trying to enhance their low levels of testosterone?


Ah, nothing like the tolerance of the left.

Traveler, I agree with your viewpoint. Having been involved in the past on updating plans that impose restrictions on park visitors, well, it is not easy. My own experience is that we do this restraint. The growth in population and resulting demands on NPS resources are a reality. I do not think it is lightly done, but it is necessary.

ecbuck, I doubt the "Clampets or beer guzzling litter tossing etc..." just represent the right wing. It seems to me the tolerance has gone on too long and it ruffles feathers when you try to put restrictions on that should have been enforced from when it became a scenic riverway.

Wanna bet that the beer guzzling litter tossing etc are pretty much apolitical?

I probably mispoke and should have written about the folks who sell the beer and trucks to Billy Bob and his buddies. They're the ones who contribute to campaign funds.


when it became a scenic riverway.


You mean when their property was forceably taken away from them?

And you seemed to miss my point. I wasn't classifying the citizens of Missouri as either left or right, I was pointing out the biggotry of Lee's classifying Smith's constituents as "Clampets" et al.

It really is a shame to see here of all places the kind of hateful intolerance of those from a different culture represented by the first comment on this article.

"But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

--Barack H. Obama

Here's the bottom line. When the vehicle used to enter the place becomes more important than the place itself, then the vehicle needs to be restricted. That applies to every vehicle, not just to motorboats, and to every visitor, not just the "Clampetts." In Yellowstone, motor vehicles kill 100 large mammals every year. There, the problem is straighter, wider, and faster roads that the Park Service never should have built in the first place. As my Park Service tentmate in Yosemite once put it, "A jerk at sea level is still a jerk at 4,000 feet." I have "hillbilly" friends who know that their souped-up truck has no place in a national park, just as I have millionaire friends who believe that the Park Service owes them access for their souped-up motorhome--and SUV dragging along behind. Forget the name-calling and stick to the behavior. All of us on occasion misbehave on entering our national parks. I still like my gin and tonic, but hardly "need" that, either. We should make every road ask the question: Are you here to enjoy the park or just to recreate? Is the right to run around more important than the right to get around? If the former, please go somewhere else.


We should make every road ask the question: Are you here to enjoy the park or just to recreate? Is the right to run around more important than the right to get around? If the former, please go somewhere else.


That's your opinion, but not everyones. At least you expressed it without being offensive.

Sorry. I guess I let my conservative side sneak out for a moment.

ecbuck, You mention land taken away...this happens all the time by Gov't. I know here in Nebraska there are many land owners opposed to the Keystone pipeline. Are you going to feel the same when the Keystone right of way is implemented and land taken? To me the issue involved with the scenic river is that it has certain protections to the land that should have been implemented when it got its designation. Now the people who have been misusing the area are now upset because they are going to enforce rules that should have happened since the start. My feeling is it was not managed correctly for so long, that some factions will be upset by a change in management directive. I also am just expressing my opinion and hope I am not offensive.


this happens all the time by Gov't.


Doesn't make it right.


I also am just expressing my opinion and hope I am not offensive.


Opinions aren't offensive, biggotry is.

I agree with that. Biggotry is offensive. But some of the constituants Smith is protecting are exhibiting offensive behavior. This needs to be addressed not protected.


But some of the constituants Smith is protecting are exhibiting offensive behavior.


Actually, I don't see him protecting "offensive behavior" I see him protecting the use of the land that it has enjoyed for generations before it was forceably removed from its owners. Despite Kurt's words that "that even the boaters are concerned about crowding" his survey numbers belie that claim. 74% of those surveyed did not object to the number of boaters. Perhaps "some boaters" are concerned but the vast majority aren't.

Are there people abusing the area. Yes. Should they be stopped, yes. But to take the land and then outlaw what previously were perfectly acceptable uses is wrong.

Wait a minute -- in one sentence you say abuses should be stopped and in the next say those abuses were perfectly acceptable?


Are there people abusing the area. Yes. Should they be stopped, yes. But to take the land and then outlaw what previously were perfectly acceptable uses is wrong.


Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways. Either the activities that are abusing the land (and river) are going to be allowed ... or stopped. Not all activities that were deemed "perfectly acceptable" by private property owners decades ago are automatically acceptable today on public lands, simply because "we used to do that."

Based on information in previous stories in the Traveler on this issue, it also sounds like there are some activities taking place now on public lands that the previous private landowners likely would not have tolerated. (Examples include allowing anyone to take their ATV's or horses onto the property and make a new "trail" anyplace they choose.)

It's understandable that some local residents are still angry that they were forced to sell their land to create the park, but the reality is they were paid for the property, they no longer own it, and they no longer have unrestricted rights to use it as they please. Trying to define some guidelines for acceptable uses of public land is what this plan is all about.


Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways.


Sure you can. You can restrict truely offensive behavior (that was offensive before or after the confiscation) like littering, ATV's through the river et al, and maintain the ability to boat on the river, camp, and ride horses which were prior unoffensive uses.

Jim, this is a good point. Abuse of any land has consequences, the dust bowl of the 1930s, toxic waste spills including chemicals or fossil fuels, overgrazing, deforestation, destruction of wetlands, well, most of you can list many more than I. Even on our own properties, improper septic tank construction, pollution of well water, etc, is a big issue here in the rural areas of California. I understand where many feel these restrictions are not needed, but I disagree. When you cannot drink the water due to pesticides, improper human waste disposal, toxic sewage treatment plant waste, mega dairy's, etc., it brings it home. Alferd Runte makes an excellent point about improving roads in our most protected areas, the National Parks. I think he is right and this was huge issue in much of the litigation involved in the Merced River Plan in Yosemite. A compromise was finally reached, the Federal Highways Administration engineers reduced their standards to some extent, but it took a judge to mediate it. It is interesting to note that the contract let to rebuild that section of highway between El Portal and Yosemite Valley was accomplished without an approved Wild and Scenic River Plan for the Merced River.

EC, not sure I'd agree with your math. When someone says they don't have a preference, to me that means they don't have an opinion, not that they're endorsing the status quo. If you didn't care whether the Broncos or the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, at game's end does that mean you wanted the Seahawks?

And the 17 percent who said they were happy with the number of boaters they saw on one day...well, did they see 20, and would they be happy with 50?

The bottom line of the survey appears that of those who had an opinion, most wanted to encounter a reduced number of boaters.

As you know, a lot of survey results depend on how the questions are framed, and unfortunately I don't have the survey questions.

Also, as to horse use, that is one of the offensive uses, according to the folks well-familiar with the issue. E.coli levels in the river from horses and humans are a problem.

Two purely pragmatic questions: (1) What, realistically, chance has this act to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President? (2) If none, then shouldn't it just as well be ignored? What is the goal of the editorial policy of this site? As a forum to cultivate partisanship?

Comments: (1) same chance as the 47 house votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (2) This site has, some time ago, become such a silly political battleground that it has passed the point of becoming tiresome to most of us who are simply interested in our National Parks. Kurt has set the course here to make it even more so, by again choosing to write an editorial rather than a news article dismissing this act of political theatrics. Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

I vote for Alfred Runte as editor. Until then, like I suspect a growing number of non-readers, I have better things to do with my time. G'day, kids.


to me that means they don't have an opinion, not that they're endorsing the status quo.


But it does mean they don't object to the status quo.

Rodf, an interesting post. I understand your point, but am not sure you can discuss the issues facing the parks and other public lands without discussing the politics involved. When I was an employee of the NPS, we used to complain about the "politics" that the managers had to deal with, "if only there were no politics" was a common complaint. Perhaps Mr. Runte can weigh in on this issue, but I think we live in a political system, positions have to taken. I do enjoy the informational aspects of the Traveler, but I also am interested in the many and varied viewpoints expressed. The discussions over the environmental policies, management plans, local control issues, employment aspects, budgets, concessions policies, etc, are quite interesting. The political aspect of protecting these lands while still providing for citizen enjoyment of said, are very real and often contentious. I think it is important for the Traveler to express an opinion on these issues, weather I always agree with them or not.

rmackie,

I appreciate your post (as I do with all your posts). I read Rodf as making a slightly different point, though. I'm not sure he's arguing that the issue shouldn't t be discussed, but just how it should be discussed. Does this Congressman's comments really warrant a response in an editorial, or might it be better simply to report the comments and let them stand on their own, in a news article? (Incidentally, I don't know what the answer is here.)

Mr. Runte, I agree with your post. Thank you.

Two Missouri newspapers in opposite ends of the state have run an editorial about proposed plans for Ozark National Scenic Riverways--and supporting the NPS' preferred alternative. The Joplin Globe ran a reprint of an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The editorial includes an interesting comment about Rep. Jason Smith, a key figure in the above story:

"On Feb. 7, the public comment period ended on the Park Service’s proposed management plan for the 134 miles of some of the most scenic and (at times) pristine stream-fed waterways in the country. There are those who make a living at treating the federal government as a bogeyman — people like Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, both Republicans — who suggest the Park Service should butt out. Never mind that the riverways wouldn’t be protected at all if not for the national park status bestowed upon the area by Congress in 1964. Mr. Kinder and Mr. Smith are just trolling for votes. They can and should be ignored."

The papers' summary of the plan:

"It is a carefully thought-out plan that has undergone tremendous public scrutiny over the past couple of years. It makes allowances for local businesses even as it does what the Park Service must do: protect a national treasure."

"Adopting Alternative B as a long-term management plan will protect the Current and Jacks Fork rivers while preserving economic opportunities for the people who make a living in that area. The Park Service should move forward with its favored management plan."