Saturday, September 13, 2008

WILL THE REAL PAUL HOFFMAN PLEASE STAND UP?

For the past 6.5 year, I served the Bush Administration at the U.S. Department of the Interior. I have been told by many of my colleagues within the Department, that I earned a reputation as a good listener, a collaborator, a quick study, respectful of and kind to people regardless of their position, a keen ability to help find resolution to complex problems, a straight shooter, a person of conviction who is fair and when necessary decisive.

Outside the Department, I have been judged mostly by people who have never worked directly with me as being an incompetent political hack, the Darth Vader of conservation, a minion of the ATV industry, a destroyer of National Parks and all they mean, mean spirited and vindictive, and a puppet of Dick Cheney.

SO WHO IS PAUL HOFFMAN?
What do I stand for, and what did I do to earn such disparate reputations? I think my personal mission statement probably says best who I am and explains why some people disdain me. My personal mission statement is:
I believe that my gifts come from God and that I am called to use those gifts to serve people by helping them, listening to hear their needs, assimilating and distilling facts that relate to their needs and the issues, and advocating in the public forum to bring forth solutions that benefit the whole by applying the principles of honesty, concern, fair play, respect, discernment, integrity and trust.

WHAT WAS MY SO-CALLED CRIME?
In 2005, I had the temerity to propose changes to the National Park Service Management Policies that put the “enjoyment” part of the National Park Service mission and back into the management policies. Moreover, after 3.5 years of working with the National Park Service to resolve challenges that many and various park managers were facing, I thought that the NPS Management Policies needed to be updated to give the park managers the tools they needed to make management decisions that were consistent with the overall NPS mission as well as the legislated purpose of each individual park unit.

By the way, as opposed to the hue and cry of some people who are offended by Americans enjoying their National Parks, as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, my job was to provide policy guidance to the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. So, making changes to the NPS Management Policies was well within my purview and authority. In my proposed changes to the management policies, I never changed any regulations or laws as was often stated.

CONSERVATION AND ENJOYMENT
National Parks and the relationship of enjoyment to conservation is clearly articulated in the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. You will often hear environmentalists refer to the Organic Act in the context of conservation only as though enjoyment was not contemplated by the U.S. Congress when it founded the National Park Service. The following text from the Organic Act of 1916 is often referred to as the core legal mandate of the National Park Service:
The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. (emphasis added)
Later in what is called the Redwood Amendment to the Organic Act Congress added that the NPS should also conserve the “values” of the National Parks, but never has Congress suggested that enjoyment is not part of the National Park Service mission.

THE CRUX OF THE DEBATE
The crux of the National Park idea debate throughout its first century has been the relationship between conservation and enjoyment and what constitutes “impairment” knowing that all enjoyment has some impact on resources—the dichotomy is too much enjoyment and when conservation should prevail in order to prevent impairment.

Over the years, many observers of the National Park Service believe they had moved away from enjoyment and leaned disproportionately toward erring on the side of conservation. Modern technology was resulting in more ways for people to enjoy parks. Growth in the National Park System and the populations surrounding parks was leading to more conflict between enjoyment and conservation. For many park managers, the easiest decision was to just say “No.” However, in many cases to just say “No” ignores the primary mandate of the Organic Act, “The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of… …by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes…” (emphasis added). Now, there is no debate about what to do if a specific use cannot be regulated by such means and measures to prevent impairment. Under those circumstances the park manager is morally and legally obligated to prohibit the use. But, just saying “No” because it is the most expeditious decision, abdicates the responsibility of the park manager to manage.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?
I worked through the management policies line by line, page by page and I made proposed changes based on what I believed to be unclear policies and policies that were problematic thus causing park managers to be faced with impossible decisions. However, after sharing my changes with the NPS leadership with the intention of working with a team of career professionals to finalize the proposed changes, the document which became known as the “Hoffman Redline” was sent to the media with comments that mischaracterized and in some cases blatantly distorted what the changes said or meant. The “Hoffman Redline” was also shared with a non-profit organization of National Park Service retirees which had been formed in 2004 and who opposed the reelection of George W. Bush. Stories in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Time incorrectly stated that my changes would:
--More snowmobiles in national parks
--More Off-Highway-Vehicle use in national parks
--More noise in national parks
--Cell tower proliferation in national parks
--Low flying aircraft in national parks
--Mining in national parks
--Prevent park superintendents from stopping activities outside parks that may impact or impair park resources
--More commercial enterprises in national parks
--Commercial livestock grazing in national parks
--Replaces evolution with creationism
--Lowers the standard for impairment
--Changes the role of park managers by diluting their authority

These patently absurd accusations resulted in lead-editorials impugning me and my character in the New York and Los Angeles Times and their blatant and inaccurate comments were repeated in literally hundreds of articles across the country. A shameless hatchet piece was published in the online version of Vanity Fair and even the normally even-handed National Geographic magazine published a commentary that repeated the errors without ever calling me or the Department of the Interior to check their facts.

FOR THE RECORD
Here are the answers that were provided to the media in response to each of the false accusations made about the proposed changes to the management policies.

Will the new policies allow snowmobiling in more NPS units?
No. Snowmobiling can only occur where there is a special regulation that allows snowmobile or over snow vehicle use. It is also covered by an Executive Order. The new policies only affect snowmobiling when it is permitted by regulation and occurs on roads that are used by automobiles during the summer and then the policies suggest that in those circumstances, snowmobiles should be managed the same as automobiles so long as they do not cause unacceptable impacts.

Will the new policies allow Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) use in more NPS units?
No. OHV use can only occur where there is a special regulation that allows OHV use. It is also covered by an Executive Order. The new policies only affect OHV use when it is permitted by regulation and then the policies suggest that in those circumstances, OHV use requirements such as driver qualifications, equipment standards and safety requirements should be similar to those same requirements on adjacent lands, and OHV use should be closely monitored to ensure that the use continues to be an appropriate use.

Do the new policies allow more noise in parks?
No. The NPS is very aware that people seek out parks to get away from the daily hustle and bustle and that in many parks visitors have a high expectation of a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. In the new policies, the soundscape policy is clarified to make it clear that all human sounds are not forbidden. It makes it more clear that in certain parks that are located in more urban settings, near airports or other noisy areas; or have within their boundaries parkways, airports, industrial sites, or equipment; or providing historic demonstrations such as use of historic weapons, industrial equipment, musical instruments, or social activism, then certainly portions of those parks cannot be expected to provide a natural quiet experience. Even within large natural park sites, in front country areas of the park the visitors may have a higher expectation of non-natural sounds, even noise, but the NPS will manage as much of an most areas as is reasonable and practicable to create a natural soundscape.

Will the new policies make it any easier for cell towers to be built within NPS units?
No. The telecommunications policy remains unchanged. Cell tower applications must still undergo NEPA analysis and if appropriate ESA consultation and Migratory Bird Treaty Act compliance as well as provide opportunity for public input.

Will the new policies allow more or new low flying aircraft over NPS units?
No. The approximately 120 park units that currently have some level of air tour operations must still work with the Federal Aviation Administration in the development of Air Tour Management Plans (ATMPs) under the requirements of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000. The NPS and FAA work cooperatively in developing the plans and conducting the NEPA analysis. The FAA controls the airspace over parks and is responsible for creating special flight area restrictions. The NPS has expertise in determining significant adverse impacts. Both agencies have expertise in sound measurement and analysis and they work cooperatively in the development of ATMPs. Separately and under a different law, the NPS is working cooperatively with the FAA and stakeholders to bring final resolution to the 18 year effort to “substantially restore national quiet and improve air traffic safety at the Grand Canyon.

Will the new policies allow more mining in NPS units?
No more than the 2001 policies or the 1988 policies. When mining claims have been or are being validated, or were pre-existing valid claims, or were pre-existing active mines, those operations have certain rights to conduct those legal activities. The NPS may and does regulate such activities to minimize impacts and a lawful mandate to prevent impairment. Under certain circumstances or when impairment may occur as a result of mining operations, the NPS may pursue a purchase of or land exchange in order to retire the mining claims.

Will the new policies prevent park superintendents from stopping activities outside parks that may impact or impair park resources?
No. There are a number of laws that may be used by the park superintendent to protect park resources from impacts that may result from activities outside the park unit. These laws include the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Remediation and Liability Act, the Oil and Natural Gas Act, and others. More importantly the new policies encourage park superintendents to employ civic engagement and cooperative conservation principles in order to stay abreast of issues and engage neighboring governments and leaders early in the planning processes in order to prevent activities that cannot be mitigated and/or ensure that activities outside the park boundaries have minimal to no impacts.

Will the new policies allow more commercial operations inside parks?
No. Commercial services that serve the needs of visitors and are determined to be an appropriate use of parks are governed under the Concessions Reform Act of 1998. Concession operations are limited in parks, strictly regulated to ensure minimal impacts, must not create unacceptable impacts, and are prohibited from causing impairment of resources. Most parks have a commercial services plan that is developed with public input, using best available science in order to determine the appropriate level of visitor services to be provided by concession services.

Will the new policies allow more commercial livestock grazing in parks?
No. Commercial livestock grazing only occurs where it was an existing use prior to the establishment of a national park and when specifically authorized by the establishing legislation. On occasion and after NEPA analysis, livestock grazing may be used to address invasive species or restore rangeland to a more natural condition. Recreational livestock grazing such as pack stock occurs in many national parks and is an authorized use especially in Wilderness Areas. The new policies suggest that visitors be educated about recreational livestock uses and the history and culture of this use before they encounter recreational livestock in the park back country areas.

Do the new policies replace evolution with creationism?
No. The only change regarding evolution was to delete references to managing “natural evolutionary process” because evolution which is the outcome of natural selection, by definition, cannot be managed. In the section of the policies that describe the types of publications that can be sold in stores operated by cooperating associations or concessioners, the new polices describe allowable publications as those that increase understanding of natural conservation, interpretation of cultural resources and provide for the inspiration of visitors. The word inspiration was added because a long held purpose of the National Park System is to provide inspiration to all mankind. The NPS protects and preserves a number of cultural sights that have their origins in religion or that interpret aspects of cultures that have spiritual components. However, the NPS does nothing that would either establish or discriminate against a religion.

Do the new policies lower the standard for impairment or park protection?
No. In fact, the new policies further clarify what constitutes what constitutes unacceptable impacts. NPS managers typically manage for a standard of impacts that is well below impairment by avoiding unacceptable impacts. The new policies provide more criteria that enable the park manager to better recognize unacceptable impacts.

Do the new policies change the role of superintendents in managing parks?
It is the park superintendent’s job to make decisions about what uses may be allowed that will provide opportunities for enjoyment and ensure that the resources are kept in as good of condition, or better, for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The new policies provide more clear guidance to superintendents about what is entailed in exercising appropriate use of parks as well as what constitutes unacceptable impacts. The criteria for appropriate use includes many factors in addition to not allowing unacceptable impacts, however, the appropriate use terminology puts both enjoyment and conservation in the affirmative context that is part of the NPS Organic Act of 1916 when it describes the NPS mission as “…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Moreover, the new policies provide guidance on what is meant by the phrase in the professional judgment of the park superintendent. Professional judgment is too include consultation with resource professionals and subject matter experts, best available science, civic engagement, public input, and cooperative conservation.

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