Case for Reform

The National Park Service bureaucracy is out of control. The government spends twice as much on regional offices and national administration than it does to operate the 58 national parks in the system.

A better government would be cleared of excessive regulation and would allow competition. To use an ecological analogy, the government has become like modern forests: dense and overgrown to the point where nothing can grow; it is a tangled mess making navigation through it nearly impossible. It needs a fire to clear out the overgrowth (Director's order this and Director's order that) and to return nutrients (money) to the soil so that the trees of the forest (national parks in this case) may grow stronger and so that new plants (innovations and competition) may take root in the ashes of the forest to replace older, dying plants (outdated ideas, programs, laws--such as the Organic Act).

Park Service officials, who work for the American people, refuse to disclose what should be public information. It's symptomatic of the larger problem of the calcification of government under the pressure of transfer-seeking interest groups who permeate government. During the last decade, the NPS has been lobbied by 30-50 interest groups per year representing a plethora of interests waving the banner of altruism while they, like all of us, look to secure their individual interests. There's an association of museums, mountain bike and ATV groups, "hospitality" groups, and even hiking groups (who lobbied for and got a million dollars for an outhouse in Glacier's backcountry in the late 80s).

To cut political interest, it is necessary to depoliticize national parks, and to do that, we need to overhaul or disband the NPS bureaucracy. The Organic Act, written almost 100 years ago, is anachronistic and was heavily altered by interest groups of the time (such as railroads, hotel owners, and the National Park Transportation Association, a government-sanctioned monopoly that promised no visitors to Yellowstone would be "subjected to the hazard and inconvenience of walking ... through the park"). Special interests shaped the Organic Act by forcing rhetorical changes from the word "preserve" to "conserve" and by redefining "unimpaired".

We need a new charter for the management of our national parks, a charter that shuns interests groups and mandates preservation and scientific management of our national parks. Parks should remain public trusts but should be administered by non-government organizations.

I understand this idea will upset many, especially those who have a financial interest in perpetuating the status quo. However, people should ask themselves what it really is that they love: national parks or the national park service?