Recent comments

  • When It Comes to National Parks, is it an "Earmark" or Prudent Spending?   5 years 34 weeks ago


    Yes, this tension between "professional" funding distribution and distribution of the funds by Congress will always be there.

    There is need for both, and the balance can go to far, either way. We have seen some horribly micro-managing congressional staff on the appropriations committee, who think they should run the NPS down to every detail. But:

    The fact is, as long as America is a representative democratic republic, there must be politics in the system, and smart and dedicated professionals will accept that, and learn how to work with it.

    The American people and their Representatives must actually back and believe in the spending or the program, or it will die. Professionals and bureaucrats, when left to their own devices -- even when extremely meritorious -- tend to look inward and not pay attention to the politics. NPS professionals in particular tend to see politics as distasteful, and political decisions as chaotic. But it is suicide to think you can ignore, or not be good, at the politics.

    Sometimes, Congress initiates wonderful programs or projects the bureaucracy never would have supported on its own. Many of the wonderful initiatives first had strong backing by an enlightened public. They are not all whim and fancy of an over-powerful Member of Congress. Sometimes, without the strong power of a strong Member of Congress, good things would never get done at all.

    We need our public servants to be effective at communicating with politicians and with the public(s) that motivate the politicians. You don't have to "lobby" to effectively communicate. This ability should be a critical ability for every park superintendent, and no superintendent should be appointed if that person is not already skilled at partnership and politics, with a small p.

    Politicians need to know that delivering for the broad needs of the National Parks System -- not just construction projects -- is a critical measure of their success. It will not improve things by repressing those congressional people who are effective at getting money. It should be the goal to have every park -- and every agency -- develop the ability to sell their mission to the American people and their reps.

    If they cannot do it, they don't deserve the money. This is a democratic republic folks. Those Members of Congress are written into the Constitution. Park superintendents and rangers, strange to say it, are not in the Constitution. Neither are high-minded public interest organizations.

  • Believe it or Not, Yosemite National Park Once had a Zoo   5 years 34 weeks ago

    The conservationist ethic is a great legacy, Redwood. I know that many people would find it odd that a professional lion hunter could be a conservationist, but I most emphatically do not. This was the 1920s, after all, a time when truly scientific wildlife management was a distant dream and getting rid of predators like lions and wolves was considered necessary for protecting livestock and human lives as well as insuring that hunters would have more deer and elk to shoot.

    It's the people who see nature's workings up close and personal who are most likely to gain an appreciation for its wonders and learn the importance of interacting with wild species and their habitat in responsible ways. Some of the most ardent conservationists in the first half of the 20th century were people who had killed lions and wolves. That even includes "environmental saints" like Aldo Leopold.

  • Believe it or Not, Yosemite National Park Once had a Zoo   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Jay Cook Bruce was my great grand father. He was a great hunter and fisherman and left a legacy of conservationists. His son, my grandfather, taught my family to appreciate and conserve nature. I believe the dogs pictured above were Ranger, Duke and Scout.

  • When It Comes to National Parks, is it an "Earmark" or Prudent Spending?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    In this case the significant issue with earmarking is this:
    - the National Park Service is given an amount of discretionary funding in the budget
    - without earmarks, those funds will be directed towards projects determined by the mostly career staff at the National Park Service
    - withe earmarks, those funds are directed towards projects determined by individual legislators, largely based on seniority and the "luck of the draw" in the committee assignment system

    There's a case to be made that decision on spending taxpayer dollars are best made by elected legislators, and while the elected officials must surely be left in charge of the big picture, there are certainly many who would make the case that individual project decisions are best made by the career staff (admittedly with oversight by political appointees) in the executive branch of the government.

  • Committee: Keep Mount St. Helens Out of the National Park System   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Part of the ORV opposition to NPS management is the strong local snowmobile lobby. They routinely ride to the crater rim from the south, even a bit beyond: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004346469_webfall13m.html
    At least there is now a non-motorized corridor for climbers and skiers.

  • Committee: Keep Mount St. Helens Out of the National Park System   5 years 34 weeks ago

    I too am disappointed by what I see as a short-sighted decision by the local committee. The eruption of Mt. St. Helen's is an iconic event in our Nation's history, and it seems to be a very notable omission from the National Park System.

  • When It Comes to National Parks, is it an "Earmark" or Prudent Spending?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    It's no way to manage anything!

    On a related note I worry what will become of the parks when the inevitable federal bankruptcy occurs in the very near future. There are no contingency plans and the way things are going now the collapse will be much sooner than anyone can imagine.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that they come out of the looming fiscal disaster with some semblance of care and stewardship. The federal charade is ending and something unknown will take its place. Let's hope for the best.

  • When It Comes to National Parks, is it an "Earmark" or Prudent Spending?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    the problem, you see, is that politicians go back to their states and districts, stop into their favorite unit of the National Park System, and ask what needs exist. They then are given a (usually long) list of projects waiting for funding, and then head back to Washington with a number in their head that they then inject into the most convenient appropriations vehicle.

    The folks back at the park, I'm told, more often than not don't know about the appropriation until after the fact. The other side of the coin is that in these times of staff shortages, does the National Park Service have the contracting staff to process all these projects, if they somehow get funded?

    I think we can all agree that this is no way to manage parks.

  • Where in the World is Paul Fugate?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Wow, fascinating, if sad, story. Thanks for it. :)

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    My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

  • Committee: Keep Mount St. Helens Out of the National Park System   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Well, that sucks. I disagree with the conclusions, however I'm at least glad the locals are the ones who made the choice rather than some office full of D.C. windbags.

    I only hope the decision was made honestly and not through undue influence peddling (like by mining firms who promise jobs in exchange for destroying the landscape & polluting the rivers).

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

    My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Lands Windfall In Donation of Historic Buildings, Memorabilia   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Hi, Jim.

    Thanks for the response. I do better understand the meaning of your original post. However, if you saw some of the photographs and read the first public made accounts of the Rapuzzi collection you will recall that along with the great early historical collectibles were toilets and items I would definitely consider trash and a waste of public funds to preserve. It would truly be ironic to allot funds for some of the collection, including the "nuts and bolts," while not being able to afford the restoration of one of the most famous buildings in Alaskan and Klondike gold rush history.

    Jeff Smith

  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Lands Windfall In Donation of Historic Buildings, Memorabilia   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Jeff -

    No intention to downplay the role of "Soapy" Smith. Anything the park can offer for interpretation in downtown Skagway would be a wonderful asset for the town and the park, and a nice alternative for tourists to the souvenir shops. No doubt Soapy's saloon would be a hit.

    My comment was simply about the potential - and thus far probably unknown - cost to restore and maintain both of the donated buildings. Unless extra funds are made available for such projects, any donated historic building has the potential of being a budget buster for a park's limited funds.

  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Lands Windfall In Donation of Historic Buildings, Memorabilia   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Soapy Smith was unquestionably one of the most interesting characters that America's frontier culture ever produced.

  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Lands Windfall In Donation of Historic Buildings, Memorabilia   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Jim Burnett writes, "I hope the cost to restore and maintain the donated buildings won't make this a burden rather than a blessing." Reading this I have to wonder if he knows who Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith was? Naturally, being a descendant of Soapy I am a little bias but in my honest opinion Jeff Smith's Parlor outweighs a good portion of the Rapuzzi collection in importance, especially in the public eye.

    I still don't understand why the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park is making the building into an exhibit on Martin Itjen rather than Soapy Smith. When Itjen owned the building he transformed it into a museum on Soapy. Once the Park Service reopens the display it will be a museum on a museum about Soapy Smith. Tourists to Skagway have been expressing disappointment for decades in not being able to enter "Soapy's saloon." I sincerely doubt that once open tourists will be referring to the building as the Martin Itjen display, but rather will be asking one another, "did you go into Soapy's saloon yet?"

    Jeff Smith
    Author, Alias Soapy Smith, The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, The Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith II.
    Alias Soapy Smith website
    Soapy Smith Soap Box blog

  • Stimulating the National Parks: Good For the Short-Term, But Then What?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Yes, the Park Service may have done rather well compared to the Fish&Wildlife Service and BLM, but those agencies tend to have a lot fewer facilities and capital needs than does the National Park Service. And if you start making the comparison outside of land agencies, then the small stimulus boost for the National Park Service pales in comparison to the doubling of the usual budget for things like highways, education, and public transportation - let alone the massive infusion of dollars into the high-speed rail program (reportedly done at the personal insistence of President Obama as part of his "legacy" - which I guess makes it unfortunate that National Parks weren't a priority for that legacy.)

    At the end of the day, given the sheer size of budget increases being handed out to other programs, the only way I see to reasonably conclude that the National Parks "did quite well", is if one believes that despite all the press releases about maintenance backlog, at the end of the day the National Park Service simply didn't have the management wherewithal to absorb any larger of a funding increase in a short period of time. That may very well be the case, and if so, it would certainly be a sobering thought that should certainly color our expectations for appropriate NPS budgets for the next several years.

    Otherwise, if one doesn't believe that, and one honestly believes that the NPS should be receiving much more money towards the maintenance backlog each year in the immediate future, then I see few alternatives other than to admit that the stimulus package was a disappointment, and to start thinking about "what went wrong" and why despite the "Teddy" election campaign this year, National Parks still aren't a priority, even when there are trillions of dollars to be spent, and a Democratic Congress and President doing the spending...

  • This Park Has Ties to a Pirate, a Forgotten American Holiday and a Chart-Topping Song   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Its interesting that the Treaty of Versailles would not have allowed them to keep New Orleans even had they won. A Park Ranger at Chalmette once told me that the British force engaged at Chalmette had also sailed with two colony ships laden with women, children, and supplies - the subtext seemingly being that they didn't intend to leave quickly if they had won.... I guess Treaties are not final until ratified, and even then....

  • House Committee Studies Proposal To Expand Saguaro National Park By 975 Acres   5 years 34 weeks ago

    One of the amazing experiences at this Park is to stand on the mountain and be able to almost literally trace the Park boundary with your eyes, solely based on the lines of vegetation. This Park is being quickly surrounded by urban development, and is already becoming something of an island. This Park seems to clearly need additional acreage to achieve a viable critical mass for its habitat - so this news is a welcome development indeed.

  • National Park Quiz 44: Potpourri II   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Good job, Barky. You'll soon be ready to take over as Quizmeister. That site you referred to (full name Lower East Side Tenement National Historic Site) is an Affiliated Area.

  • National Park Quiz 44: Potpourri II   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Wow, 10 out of 12! But what about the Tenement Museum in Manhattan, isn't that an NPS site??

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

    My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

  • Stimulating the National Parks: Good For the Short-Term, But Then What?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Chris "Bugsyshallfall" wrote:

    "Money is always good..."

    Unless it isn't actually money, but is instead fiat currency printed out of thin air or borrowed from foreign creditors.

    Fiat currency was anathema to American Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Jackson went so far as to pass the Specie Circular in 1836, which required all payment for government lands to be in gold or silver coin. The Austrian School of Economics has long held that no sound economy can long endure under fiat money, with prominent Austrian Economist Ludwig von Mises arguing in this book Human Action that, "What is needed for a sound expansion of production is additional capital goods, not money or fiduciary media. The credit boom is built on the sands of banknotes and deposits. It must collapse."

    Fiat currency has also been criticized by some, such as G. Edward Griffin, for increasing the number and severity of boom-bust economic cycles, causing inflation, and allowing nations to initiate or prolong war.

    Dumping fiat currency willy-nilly into a particular economic sector or area of the government inflates the money supply and leads to higher prices and costs, neither of which is good for the long-term preservation and maintenance of national parks.

    Anonymous wrote:
    Do you really think that adding 20 positions to the Legislative branch would have any added value?

    It's doubtful that anything politicians do 3,000 miles from small parks like Lava Beds or Lassen will add any value; it will increase cost, though.

    Rick Smith wrote:
    I sense that the NPS has lost its mojo on the Hill.

    All the more reason to remove park management from the kings of the Hill.

  • National Park Quiz 44: Potpourri II   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Pooey, missed numbers 6, 9, and 11. I may have to hit GEOG 370 yet.

    Rick Smith

  • Stimulating the National Parks: Good For the Short-Term, But Then What?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    20 more people cleaning restrooms would always be welcome, but let's not sell the legislative positions short. I had the privilege of working in the legislative division in the late 70's in the Service's DC headquarters. People in that division had the responsibilty of doing the research related to any pending legislative activity, maintaining effective relationships with the members of authorizing and appropriating committees, preparing NPS testimony for Congressional hearings, and coordinating the preparation of responses to Congressional inquiries. I sense that the NPS has lost its mojo on the Hill. A few more people doing the work that the legislative division used to do would certainly help regain it.

    Rick Smith

  • Stimulating the National Parks: Good For the Short-Term, But Then What?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Do you really think that adding 20 positions to the Legislative branch would have any added value? I'd rather have 20 more people to clean bathrooms.

  • Going to Olympic National Park this Summer? Plan Ahead Due to Major Bridge Work   5 years 34 weeks ago

    Thank you for the heads up. I will def reschedule my plans for that area.

  • Stimulating the National Parks: Good For the Short-Term, But Then What?   5 years 34 weeks ago

    "I could go on, but this is not the time or place. I'll close by saying that the NPS somehow needs to develop a visitor interface in the park setting that gives them a realistic picture of conditions and needs without alarming them. If the Service can't do it, the NPCA, NPF or other groups need to do so. Adding about 20 positions to NPS's Legislative Branch would be a good start." - Road Ranger

    You make an excellent argument for more candid communication with park visitors. The Park Service has historically been underfunded in relation to their responsibilities in protecting and managing park resources and values. I recall that at Katmai NP&P the lion's share of the meager park budget was spent supporting about 50 acres surrounding Brooks Camp. There was little left over to apply to resource management and protection elsewhere in the park, including the coastal lands vulnerable to the poaching of park wildlife. As funding becomes ever tighter there will be a natural tendency to increasingly withdraw into pockets of visitor accommodations and to maintain a facade of everything being fine - even while critical needs go unmet.

    All things considered, the current economic contraction/crisis is likely to be far deeper and last much longer than the typical recession. Indeed, this is a global phenomena, so we cannot rely on economic growth in other countries to help pull us out of our predicament. The "d" word is increasingly being used to describe the state of the world economy. The Park Service needs to proactively plan and prepare for the fallout of a prolonged financial decline. This includes setting realistic goals and establishing triage procedures to cope with the possible economic and even social impacts of the coming years.