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Wednesday, 11 January 2006 00:00

Debate erupts over wording of new Park Service guidelines

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The National Park Service says the management guidelines governing national parks need to be clarified in the face of a changing world, thus prompting the pending rewrite.

“Every day, without fail, we are tested when we make decisions on what to do or what not to do, what to build or what not to build, what to allow or what not to allow,” Stephen Martin, deputy director of the Park Service, said during a Senate testimony on the proposed changes in November. “By evolving and adapting our policies to keep the parks relevant to the public we serve, we ensure that future generations will have the same opportunities for enjoyment of park resources that we have today.”

Martin said the new guidelines give parks better criteria for making decisions and allow more flexibility where needed. Sometimes a new activity in a park could be considered incompatible at first glance but could be incorporated without impacts to other park users if given a chance, Martin said.

“By applying a more sophisticated planning process, the manager may conclude that even small adjustments in the time or location of activities can avoid or adequately mitigate the conflict,” Martin said. “The revised policies encourage this kind of forward-thinking management.”

The new policies also emphasize national parks’ needs to work with neighboring communities and not see themselves as an island or operating in a vacuum.

“By enhancing the National Park Service focus on partnering with communities and neighbors, we intend to ensure that sites representing the fullness of the American experience are preserved,” Martin said.

Martin said nothing in the policies will compromise the long-held tenants of the Park Service.

“These new draft policies maintain our strong commitment to the fundamental mission of the NPS to protect and allow for appropriate enjoyment of the parks,” Martin said. Martin also said that members of Congress have expressed an interest in seeing the Park Service review its policies.

Fran P. Mainella, director of the National Park Service, has said accusations that the rewrite is an attempt to undermine park values are unfounded.

“Despite what you may have heard or read in the media, these draft policies do not increase the likelihood of more snowmobiles, cell towers, personal watercraft, commercial activities, reduced air quality or other activities currently governed by law or regulation in the national parks,” Mainella wrote in a letter to Park Service employees.

“We remain fully committed and passionate about passing on America’s treasured places improved to future generations,” she wrote.

In response to an editorial on the rewrite in the New York Times titled “Destroying the National Parks,” Mainella wrote a letter to the editor calling the editorial’s take on the rewrite inaccurate.

“As we balance the conservation of our natural resources with an enjoyable experience for the visitor, the Park Service must continue to incorporate contemporary management practices,” Mainella wrote.

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