Everybody has an idea about how to improve the country's parks and the National Park Service that manages them.
The National Parks and Conservation Association, a non-profit, non-government group founded in 1919 to guide the park service, announced sweeping recommendations in late February.Among the 150 proposals detailed in the nine-volume report is a plan to make the agency independent, with a director serving a five-year term. No longer would it be under the control of the Interior Department and Interior's political appointees.
Shortly after the report was published, Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., chairman of the powerful House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, introduced H.R. 3964, which would accomplish the goal.
Vento says the change would provide for some degree of independence so that a park superintendent could freely and publicly voice opposition to an action that might degrade park resources, without fear of being fired, demoted or punished.
The bill would establish a Park System Review Board of three experts, appointed by the president for fixed terms, removable only for cause.
The National Park Service director would also serve for a fixed term, without fear of frivolous removal.
University of Utah law professor William J. Lockhart, a nationally known park advocate, said the Park Service should go beyond independence. It should become more aggressive to protect its resources.
It's seldom involved in suits on the parks' behalf, he said.
Park priorities sometimes conflict with those of adjacent federal landlords, yet the Justice Department takes the position that federal agencies should not disagree in public.
In the case of the Park Service, any effort to take legal action to protect parks goes "through so many layers of political approval, and then legal approval," that there's a great opportunity for interference.
Lockhart also thinks the Park Service should have independent legal counsel, free of the Justice Department's control.
William P. Horn, the assistant secretary of the Interior Department - who oversees the National Park Service - thinks there's no need for agency independence. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.
Horn said government has a duty to "prevent the threats (to parks) from materializing."
As part of this, he has tried to redirect research dollars away from what he sees as esoteric science proj-ects and toward questions about possible threats to the parks. These include projects about logging near Yellowstone and the "whole plumbing system in South Florida," which affects Everglades National Park.
William Penn Mott Jr., the Park Service's director, likewise cited no need for agency independence. Instead, he called for greater effectiveness in dealing with external factors that could harm the parks.
"If the last decade has taught us anything, it is that parks are no longer islands. Most parks outside Alaska do not have boundaries that include complete ecosystems or encompass entire historical-theme activities.
"We must reach out to, and work with, adjacent landowners and land-managing agencies to let them know the potential impacts of their actions on park resources.
"We must reach out into the surrounding communities, even in some cases such as air and water pollution, many, many miles beyond the boundaries of a park, and work with government agencies and the private sector to resolve problems before they reach crisis stage."
Mott recounted several programs that are proposed or under way, including non-profit groups to boost the parks, a new bimonthly magazine, and promotion of more research to provide information on which to base sound decisions.
Other goals include installing a new maintenance system and improving selection and training of managers in the Park Service to bring in more diversity.
Meanwhile, the National Parks and Conservation Association made several specific proposals for Utah. It wants a dozen park enlargements, plus the creation of two new park areas protecting the San Rafael Swell and the Escalante Canyons region.
Denis P. Galvin, deputy director of the National Park Service, said the Park Service has not taken any official position on a new park unit in the San Rafael Swell area.
Another possible change is installing a new transportation system at Zion National Park, said its superintendent, Harry Grafe.
"We do have 2 million visitors now visiting Zion, and a large share of them are coming up into our Six Mile Canyon, creating a lot of congestion up there," he said.
"A shuttle-bus system where people can get on and off at various points" could relieve this pressure, he said.