Waiting Game on Director Appointment

Here we are, nearly nine months into the Obama administration, and we still don't have a new National Park Service director.

Why not? Political gamesmanship, and a bureaucratic morass.

While Jon Jarvis, the agency's Pacific West Region director, was nominated earlier this summer, and that nomination approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a hold on his confirmation by the full Senate was placed just before the chamber took its August recess.


Well, apparently one of the senators wasn't happy that a colleague in the House of Representatives was having a difficult time obtaining information from Grand Canyon National Park, and placed the hold until that information was provided.

What information was Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) seeking?

In a nutshell "all documents and correspondence of all types" between the park superintendent and the park's science director and the media or any individuals working with the National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Arizona Archeological Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

That's quite a shopping list, no? And the time frame? Starting from January 1, 2007, and running to the present.

While Grand Canyon officials had provided this information to Interior Department officials in early June, by early September it was slowly navigating a bureaucratic morass in Interior and had not been relayed to Rep. Bishop.

Sadly, these sorts of political games and slow-paced bureaucracy create an unnecessary roadblock at the very time the National Park Service needs a hands-on director, one with a strong scientific background to see that science, not politics, guides management decisions in the National Park System. Jon Jarvis has such a background, and his reputation across the Park Service is such that his arrival at the helm of the agency will do much good for the moral of Park Service employees.

Getting Ready for the Burns Effect

With Ken Burns' documentary on the national parks coming to PBS stations starting on September 27, you can expect the month to be heavy on parks' PR.

Expected to be released a week before the documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea (read the interview with Ken Burns) airs is the final report from the Second Century Commission, a body funded by the National Parks Conservation Association and charged with analyzing the National Park System and the national parks from top to bottom and offering recommendations on how best the agency can approach its second century in existence,

Among the issues the commission grappled with was climate change and what role the Park Service should serve in addressing it. How the commission's final report touches on that issue remains to be seen, but during discussions there was talk about having the agency create "ecological restoration areas." These would be similar to the 46 "Recreation Demonstration Areas" the Park Service built around the country in the 1930s and early 1940s and gave to the states to run as state parks.

"The more you can do that and the more you establish new thriving areas of open space, the more leverage you have on climate change," says Deny Galvin, a commission member and former deputy director of the Park Service.

Also expected by month's end is a new web portal from the National Park Service that is intended to capitalize on interest in the parks spurred by the Burns' film.

Kurt Repanshek is the author of several national park guidebooks, including National Parks With Kids. You can get a daily dose of national park news, trivia, and commentary by visiting This site tracks "Commentary, News, and Life in America's Parks." Follow National Parks Traveler on Twitter at

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