Interior Official Sheds Light On Park Policy Review Uproar

Paul Hoffman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior, told a group of recreation community leaders that the uproar over a first draft of revisions to National Park Service Management Policies was misguided and unfortunate. Mr. Hoffman authored a draft document revising the National Park Service’s Management Policies 2001, the policy guidance for park managers nationally, but emphasized that the draft was an internal document which was in the process of review and revision by senior agency personnel when it was leaked to media and environmental organizations. Subsequently, the draft has been the topic of stories and editorials in the New York Times , the Los Angeles Times and other publications. His comments came at the American Recreation Coalition’s September Recreation Exchange.

Especially upset are the environmental community and leaders of the Coalition of NPS Retirees, who argue that the changes would fundamentally alter the mission of the NPS. Others have applauded the proposal and expressed support for changes that reflect national priorities and for policies which would open the parks to more people and a greater diversity of uses. Mr. Hoffman acknowledges that draft intentionally emphasizes conservation over preservation. While these terms were once synonymous, he said, today, conservation connotes broader use of resources in a sustainable manner.

At the heart of the debate is the interpretation of what is traditionally identified as the core mission of the National Park Service expressed in a 1916 statute: “to protect and preserve unimpaired the resources and values of the national park system while providing for public use and enjoyment.” There is passionate disagreement among national park constituencies over whether the direction to “protect and preserve” is co-equal to “providing for public use and enjoyment” and requires skillful balancing by agency leaders or whether the “protect and preserve” direction is the dominant directive. Critics of Management Policies 2001, now in effect, contend that the document emphasizes the protection directive and have urged review and revision.

Mr. Hoffman stated emphatically that it is the responsibility of his office to provide oversight for park management and policies, and to revise them as needed. He believes that the draft document fulfills that responsibility. Mr. Hoffman told Exchange participants that he has received a clear message from many constituencies that a revision of the National Park Service’s 2001 Management Policies document was necessary because of the document’s evident bias in favor of preservation of the park system over human use and enjoyment, the dual foundational mandates of the National Park Service. He noted that the 2001 document was developed by those serving as Presidential appointees in the previous Administration. And he also noted that the current document does not address issues now facing park superintendents in such fields as information technology and new recreation technologies such as Segways and geocaching.

Mr. Hoffman stressed that he believes human impacts in the park system can be managed so as not to constitute impairment of the resources for the future. He believes that the current draft document does not favor human use over preservation, but instead aims to integrate the two through management for sustainable use of the resources consistent with the mandate to preserve the parks unimpaired for future generations. Mr. Hoffman is also seeking a more user-friendly “handbook” for park superintendents that will assist in resolving conflicts and serve as framework for decisions as they confront new challenges brought about by increased visitation and new recreational uses.

Mr. Hoffman reiterated that he is “a team builder” who wants to assist park managers to do their jobs, and he expressed dismay at those who saw his efforts as an attempt to force changes. Instead, he said his draft is a starting place for discussion within the National Park Service leadership, followed by “a full public vetting” and comment period. He added that he solicited input from NPS staff while preparing the draft, and he is not “consciously intending to gut the National Park System” as some have charged. He reminded the group that he has lived in Wyoming virtually all of his adult life and has a deep love of parks and Wilderness. He estimates that he has lived the equivalent of 5 years of his life in Wilderness. Mr. Hoffman asked that people of all viewpoints await publication of the proposed changes in the Federal Register and approach the review process with open minds.

In closing remarks, ARC President Derrick Crandall called for “discussion without furor” to arrive at a consensus policy document that will help the National Park Service do its work, while making it clear that “ownership of the national park system rests with the American people, not the National Park Service".

To see "Management Policies, 2001", click here.

To see the Hoffman draft and commentary by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, click here.

If you would like to contact Mr. Hoffman, he can be reached as follows:

Mr. Paul Hoffman
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW, Room 3156
Tel: (202)208-4416
Fax: (202)365-4533