Recent comments

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    For those interested in reading biased studies, including some completed by the bike biased NPS (j/k):

    http://www.imba.com/resources/science/marion_wimpey_2007.html

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Kurt, Ray,

    All good points. My take on it: we don't live in BC Greece and have a direct democracy where we get to vote on every decision our government makes. Furthermore, we are not talking about some kind of fundamental change in how parks are run. At any rate, there will be public input solicitation, which will end up being a forum for all the bike haters and supporters to yell and complain about each other (speaking from experience in my local parks). The current system is deliberately set up so that no change can happen, and this is exactly what's going on. We all understand this, cyclists and non cyclists alike. This is the exact reason why people opposed to cycling in our public parks are fundamentally opposed to the rule change. Again to be clear, the decision won't be up to the local park management to decide without getting public input, although to be quite fair (and again speaking from experience in my local park), if the local park management is opposed to bicycling, you can bet that trails will never be opened to bikes (see below).

    As an aside, I don't road bike as 1) it hurts my back too much and 2) I don't get the same kick out of it. :)

    Here is the IMBA take on it:
    A rule change will not diminish protections that ensure appropriate trail use. All regular NPS regulations, General Management Planning (GMP) processes, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) still applies. Absolutely no environmental processes will be shortchanged. The public will still have ample opportunity to comment both locally and nationally. The parks that have existing mountain biking have gone through the GMP and NEPA processes and the trails are signed, actively managed and documented in the superintendent's compendium.
    The proposed rule requires NEPA compliance through, at a minimum, an Environmental Assessment (EA), if not an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS).
    The current system is not working. Most NPS units are unwilling to undertake the time-consuming special regulations process, and thus bicycling opportunities are in this state of limbo and can't be fully embraced. Mountain biking needs to be managed better and the process to incorporate cycling needs to be clear.
    Mountain biking can and does succeed in national parks. Many parks have successfully managed mountain biking for more than a decade on roads and trails. Families and community members have successfully enjoyed these parks on their bikes for years and are not controversial.
    Changing 36 CFR 4.30(b) won't change Wilderness or Wilderness Study Area regulations in any way. Mountain bikes will continue to be banned from these areas.
    NPS units that are not interested in expanding opportunities for bicycling will not be affected. Changing the rule will not force mountain biking on any park unit, and superintendents that do not see opportunities for mountain biking in their parks will not be asked to adopt it.
    The use of special regulations is time-consuming, costly, and duplicative. Special regulations are largely directed at motorized users, such as personal watercraft; motorboats; snowmobiles; ORVs; seaplanes; amphibious aircraft; and commercial fishing, trucking, mining, and aircraft. Once everything is done at the park level it can take-years to emerge from the Washington-based regulatory process.
    In addition to the public hearings and comment involved in an EA or EIS, the rule requires another 30 comment period after it is published in the Federal Register. Before the trail is opened, one final posting is required in the Federal Register, with 30 days for public comment.
    The NPS policy stands in stark contrast with that of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which allow all non-Wilderness trails to be managed as "open unless designated closed." Even with a rule change, NPS policy would remain "closed unless designated open" and would still be a deliberate, public, lengthy multi-year process to open a trail to bicycles.
    Independent scientific studies, including those conducted by the National Park Service, have shown the environmental impacts of mountain biking are similar to those of hiking and far less than other uses.
    Treating mountain bicyclists similarly to equestrians will streamline one rule, not amend all NPS rules.
    Special regulations would still apply if building new trails or opening existing trails is: 1) a significant alteration in the public use pattern of the park area, 2) adversely affects the park's natural, aesthetic, scenic or cultural values, 3) requires a long-term or significant modification in the resource management objectives of the unit, 4) or is of a highly controversial nature (36 CFR, Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1.5).

  • Aztec Ruins and the River of Lost Souls   5 years 26 weeks ago

    I visited Aztec just this past year on my trek through New Mexico, and two things stood out:

    1) This is a big ruin. Not the biggest of the old native ruins in the U.S., but it is certainly large. Most N.M. ruins are big, I was a bit unprepared for the scale of them. It definitely tells us a lot about the inhabitants and the times in which they lived, even amateurs can appreciate that.

    2) The town seems to appreciate the place. They seem to consider it a blessing to have in their community. Not all park-bordering communities are like that, so it's extremely comforting when park neighbors appreciate the presence of a significant site in their midst, instead of seeing it as an obstacle to development or quick profit.

    =================================================

    My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Well done, Jim. This article was an excellent read. Non-profits and NPS units have interesting relationships.

    rob
    ---
    Executive Director,
    Crater Lake Institute
    www.craterlakeinstitute.com
    Robert Mutch Photography,
    www.robmutch.com

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Science is like statistics. If you want data to support a decision you can get it. Keep in mind that data on the other side is also readily available. I would hope that the new administration will be ethical and their decisions will be based on values that are at least somewhat in line with my own. Probably won't happen that way. So far I get the impression that decisions will be politically driven and that Obama is going to stand in front of the nation and tell them whatever they want to hear. His political career thus far has been one giant campaign, I hope he can find some time to govern as I worry the campaign for 2012 has already begun.

    Did anyone hear Salazars welcome speech to the Department? He made some interesting comments about guns. I also got the impression that the NPS will recieve the curse of mega project money from the new stimulus package. The NPS does not need more "new stuff". It needs the resources to take care of what is already there. We will soon have many hastily prepared "green projects" that the current system can't manage and no capability of maintaining these new green things. Facility Management is a "science"

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    @ Frank:

    Maybe we are leaving the focus of this blog now, but the question of right and wrong, of values and rules is of course an old and fundamental one. Much of the history of philosophy is about this question and related ones.

    Are you familiar with John Ralws? He proposed a "Gedankenexperiment" to determine values and rules as universally acceptable. In his opinion values and rules should looked at as if they were negotiated between individuals before those individuals can know about their place in the society that will live by those rules. If you don't know whether you will be black or white, man or woman, rich or poor, from a family with established influence or born to recent immigrants, you will negotiate rules that can be considered fair to everyone.

    Of course it is just a Gedankenexperiment, but in his most influential book "A Theory of Justice" (1971 and revised by Rawls in 1999) he shows that the core of this idea can be transferred to reality.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Zebulon, I have nothing against bikers. Indeed, just the opposite. I am an avid cyclist and have biked through a number of national parks. Most of my riding is on a road bike I have also mountain biked, although not in a national park. I have a physical condition that makes it easier for me to ride a bike than it is to walk, so my position is not based on a desire to have the park trails to myself. Insofar as leaving it up to the individual park manager to make the decision as to whether or not to permit mountain bikes in back country areas, I consider that to be a bad idea. Major changes in park policy are best accomplished through the planning process which then are implemented by park management. I have seen the results of park management making informal decisions to permit otherwise prohibited park uses. When the uses prove to be destructive to park resources and values it becomes almost impossible to reverse the action, even when it is legitimately prohibited. It is not a question of park managers either loving or hating bikers.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Frank,

    I want to spend more time on what you wrote, but I find I am unable to do so tonight. I found out that a friend of mine died tonight back in Washington, DC. This does have an important NPS connection, as he was the founder of an anti-nuclear war vigil in Lafayette Park outside the White House, and was a man under intermittent persecution by the Park Service. I wrote a prose ode to him that I wrote mostly for my friends here in Montana to know how his inspiration has been an influence on my work for buffalo here.

    However, the question of ethics, of course, is not a simple one, and I'd like to respond to your points line by line. Right now, I need to cop out and point you to essays I wrote regarding the way we approach ethics in Yellowstone. I wrote a long series of essays on John Locke, property rights, and Yellowstone National Park. Part 4 in particular begins to extrapolate my ethical views, but it's hard to read that as a stand alone. That is here: http://www.yellowstone-online.com/2007/02/part-1-john-locke-yellowstone-and-dogma.html . That gets us further down the path than I would intend for this discussion. If I find time, I will get more specifically again to what you write here; tonight, my heart is somewhere else.

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Zebulon,

    Re Washington bureaucrats making decisions, that's not the point. Rather, why should the rest of the nation be shut out of commenting on a rule change to a "national" park? The current process allows for that national debate and discussion.

    Did you have a position on the Yellowstone snowmobiling matter? Would you be satisfied if you were locked out of commenting on the park's winter-use plan?

    As for the horses, I must admit I don't like the evidence that they've been around;-) Plus, if you've been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and tried hiking down some of those trails, the way the steps have been cut to accommodate the mules wrecks havoc on a good hiking stride....

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Kurt, very good points indeed. IMHO, horses are tolerated because 1) they're part of the history, 2) they're pretty animals, 3) they usually travel slowly and 4) they are so few of them that it's not a big deal (I read somewhere that in CA there are 30+ mountain bikers for every horse rider).

    Warren Z, I'd love to know how it is that some bureaucrat in DC will come to a better answer than somebody in the field as to why a trail should be opened to bikers. I fail to see the logical reasoning. What I do see is that the current system is set up to make any changes impossible due to the bureaucratic red tape. Trails are staying off limits not because it is somehow the right decision, but because nobody wants/can fight the built in bureaucratic inertia. Anti bike crusaders are fully aware of this and want to fight to preserve the status quo simply to keep cyclists out. It always boils down to not sharing a public trail, no matter how you try to rationalize it. I don't see how not sharing a public good among human powered users is fair.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Careful, imtnbike, lest you draw the ire of horse-packers...;-)

    And yet....that's one camp that's been missing in this discussion. Much has been made in similar discussions on the Traveler that horses cause more erosional problems than mountain bikers. Is that so? Is there a horse outfitter out there who can weigh in on this?

    Are horseback travelers generally given a pass in this trails discussion because America grew up with horses? Because horses were the original locomotion (aside from foot travel, of course) into the wilderness?

    If one feels slighted because they have to step to the side of the trail, or off the trail, when mountain bikes come through, how does it feel when you have to do the same with horses coming at you?

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    @ Warren Z: Is your preferred mode of travel in the national parks "appropriate," as you put it? If so, why it is so and mountain biking not?

    I emphasize Warren Z's use of "appropriate" with quotation marks because it and "inappropriate" are, as the writer J.M. Coetzee has alluded to (and I will argue directly) the ultimate obfuscatory adjectives. They are often invoked when the writer wishes to make a value judgment but is uninterested in defending it, or unable to do so, with more precise language. So whenever someone invokes either adjective my linguistic brain module sounds an alarm.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I must take exception with the above. The fact that parks are the common property of the American people does not necessarily mean that all must be equally accommodated when it comes to access preferences. Cycling is generally permitted on established roads in the parks but may be excluded from less developed areas. There are other public lands, including national forests and BLM managed areas, where access is more liberal, and mountain biking may be allowed. Parks are special. That is why they are called parks.
    If national parks (or federal Wilderness) are that special, why should hotels, paved access roads, large parking lots, long motorways, commercial amusements, etc., be allowed in the former, and why should commercial luxury horseback and packstock operations be allowed in the latter?

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    A very reasonable comment, Ray. National Parks are special places. And full recreational use, mountain biking for instance, just isn't appropriate for all NPS lands.

    But some folks just aren't used to hearing "please wait", or "no" in response to their wishes, no matter how reasonable or harmless they think they are.

    While I do agree that some of the opposition to expanded mountain bike access is based on a bias against non-walkers, this is not an issue of special rights for some, as the IMBA would have one believe.
    Neither is the current assessment and approval process too cumbersome; sometimes redundancy is a good thing. Why not be absolutely sure a trail (and the surrounding landscape) can handle the additional usage? Why doesn't that seem reasonable? Because one might have to wait a little longer before they can add a new trail to their biking score card?
    I think the real motivation for a quicker, easier approval process is financial.

    A direct quote from a "Sample Letter" IMBA website visitors are encouraged to use:
    "Improving opportunities for bicycling and promoting trails tourism could benefit economic conditions for nearby communities."
    There's money to be made by the bikers themselves if they can market and sell bike tours in National Parks for which their communities happen to be a gateway... how dare the NPS stand in the way of their pursuit of commerce.
    Well I'll tell you why the NPS should keep a thorough, redundant process: read the Organic Act for your answer.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Ray, I ride my local parks on a regular basis. I had no idea that the term "park" automatically banned bikes... :) Just be honest, and tell us that you don't want to share these taxpayer funded trails with other users. That would make more sense than making up illogical arguments.

    BTW, the proposed rule does not take away public input. It simply delegates the decision making power to the people closest to the field, and hence most likely to know what's going on. The indirect consequence of this will probably to see more trails opening to mountain bikers where parks supervisors support cyclists. Parks headed by bike hating management will see the status quo remain. Simple as that.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I must take exception with the above. The fact that parks are the common property of the American people does not necessarily mean that all must be equally accommodated when it comes to access preferences. Cycling is generally permitted on established roads in the parks but may be excluded from less developed areas. There are other public lands, including national forests and BLM managed areas, where access is more liberal, and mountain biking may be allowed. Parks are special. That is why they are called parks.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    You know it's my opinion that our national parks belong to us all and I can see no reason why it's not possible for responsible use of the parks for literally all of us. Isn't this really about respect of each other and the park? To me, this is a great opportunity for literally everyone to come together and join in that endeavor of mutual gratification and mutual respect. My favorite mode of transportation is hiking and I am always so happy with the congeniality of those I encounter on the trails. Additionally I love the peace and quiet. Yet I support a place for everyone especially in our parks.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Jim, so who decides which values are legitamite? You ask if both sides of an issue are equally legitamite and then answer your own question with, "I don't think so". You naturally believe (as I do) that our values are correct; yet individuals on the other side may be just as convinced that theirs are. Not all "value" issues are as cut and dried as racism, sexism etc. We believe that, as you say, the value is: ".... that Yellowstone recreation must not harm the environment, wildlife, and features of Yellowstone National Park." Others might argue that the value is, "to protect the recreational opportunities within Yellowstone National Park and the livelihoods of those individuals who eek out a living renting snowmobiles, and guiding and catering to winter visitors; while doing a MINIMUM (caps for emphasis) amount of damage." They might even point out, as snowmobile advocates often do to me, that the sign on the arch says, "For the enjoyment and benefit of the people". Or that any damage done (such as air pollution etc.) is only temporary, and does not impair the park for "future generations". Are both sides values legitamite? Very possibly. Isn't this, as you say, "....where letting science hold sway has its place"?
    I am simply playing devil's advocate here. I agree that science is not the answer to everything, and that the last thing we want to do is make science god to the exclusion of our core values. But the opposite is also true, because that is exactly what we have been doing for the past eight years. Making decisions in ones personal life based solely on values is one thing. Make public policy that way is another, because the only person's values that count are the person making the decision; as we have seen. Science can be peer reviewed. A person's values, not so much. Especially when that person is in a very powerful position.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Questions for those who oppose this proposed rule:

    1. Would it be acceptable to you to have alternate-day use of trails by cyclists in national parks, so that there would still be days on which you would encounter no bicycle riders?

    2. Would you accept a permit system so that the number of people you could expect to encounter on a given day, whether on a bicycle, on foot, or on a horse or packstock, would be predictably limited?

    3. Would you accept a system under which cyclists would use service roads in national parks to proceed downhill and would be limited to riding trails in the uphill direction? (Assume for purposes of this question that cyclists would be proceeding at walking speed in the uphill direction.)

    4. Do you believe it is never acceptable for a bicycle to be ridden on a narrow trail on public land, no matter what conditions are imposed?

    5. What, if anything, do you find most objectionable about seeing or encountering a cyclist on a trail? (E.g., loss of sense of solitude, fear of collision, revival of memories of past unpleasant encounters (including road cyclists in this), a feeling that the presence of any mechanical device sullies the nature of a wild area, the typical age cohorts of cyclists, and/or fears of erosion or other environmental consequences?)

    These are not rhetorical questions. I am interested in your answers. This might begin a dialogue by which people could come to some sort of understanding of one another's complaints and objections, and begin to try to resolve them. Thanks.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Unfortunately it isn't that simple. This proposed rule takes away public input at the national level and leaves it up to local interests, who occasionally apply inappropriate influence on the park manager. Not sure why requiring rulemaking, which opens up comments to a national audience, allowing all interests to be heard, is so objectionable. What's up with transparency in government?

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    I agree that science is not the answer to everything, however when it came to science during the Bush administration his line of thought reminded me of Mary Shelley's book "Frankenstein." Shelley was concerned that medical science had gone to far and doctors were now "playing God." Under the Bush administration scienctific advancement was sacrified because of his religious beliefs. I am glad he is no longer around to get in the way of progress.

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 26 weeks ago

    The collection on exhibit in the basement of Ford's Theatre in 2005 (when I left my position there) was a mixture of artifacts owned by the NPS, and those on loan from the Smithsonian; this collection included the Derringer. I would imagine it will be part of the newly refurbished museum at the theatre.

  • Help Ken Burns Chronicle the Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    One of the elements that might be considered when searching for who we are as Americans should look at who we first set out to be. In the preamble to our constitution for instance, we are betrothed to insure “Domestic Tranquility”....what does that mean?...what should it mean?...what does it currently mean to many? Is anyone really working to "insure" it?

    Personally I feel that if we hold fast to who we have set out to be, and to include insuring domestic tranquility in that equation, it needs to be defined better so that we would all make sure that we protect it....insure/ensure it.

    So this is the premise for what I think could be a great movie by Ken Burns. Maybe it is a documentary where Americans are asked to give their definition of domestic tranquility. Maybe it would include historic intentions and definitions. To me domestic tranquility is nature...protected...the ability to venture out and be a lone human in a vast, native, and natural landscape. It is a National Park...but it is more that that.

    You (Ken Burns) would be great at presenting the “domestic tranquility” thing in some way. I feel that it could be a strong platform from which to launch nationwide support for the protection of wilderness, habitat...open space.

    PS...seeing the preview of your series last night at the Emerson inspired me to share this.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Jim's dead on. Science is not an oracle that can be consulted for the answers to all of life's conundrums. Policy decisions are value decisions, and the Bush administration got to influence those value decisions for eight years because they had been elected. That's how our system works. Now, the Obama administration gets to influence those value decisions, for the same reasons. But because of an idiosyncrasy of public rhetoric, the Obama team will be able to get away with calling their value judgments "scientific."

    It does not take much observation to recognize that in the field of public policy, science is a code-word meant to evoke a confident emotional response. "You can't argue with science," they will say. But a true scientist knows that science is argument. If you don't argue (argument meaning a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition--not the automatic gainsaying of anything the other party says), you're not doing science. And even when you've played the argument out and settled on a practical conclusion, scientific conclusions do not automatically become policy prescriptions.

  • Humans as "Super-Predators" – New Study Offers Startling Information about Hunting and Fishing   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Scot -

    Good question. At the time I wrote the article, I had to rely on the abstract for the study, which you'll find at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/12/0809235106, and on e-mails with the author of the study and the press release.

    There were some links on that page for some additional information in .pdf format, but they weren't loading correctly at that time, so I was reluctant to include them and have readers be frustrated.

    Hope the above link will help.