“Green Blood” at the National Park Service

The author says that the nominee to head the National Park Service will be good for the agency’s future.

When I heard that Jon Jarvis had been appointed as the new director of the National Park Service (NPS), I felt like joining Cousin Larry and Cousin Balki of the old TV show "Perfect Strangers" in doing the dance of joy.  At this age, I’d undoubtedly strain something (besides credulity), but the spirit was willing. 

Jarvis has been the director of the Service’s Pacific West Region since 2002 and has earned widespread respect both within the NPS and among conservationists for his unswerving and outspoken commitment to the NPS Organic Act mandate to preserve "unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations."
Republican and Democratic administrations alike largely followed the intent of the 1916 Act – until 2001, that is, when the Bush Administration, led by the Department of the Interior, embarked on an eight-year crusade to undermine it, promoting commercial and recreational activities in the parks at the expense of resource conservation.  
The most blatant attempt was carried out by Paul Hoffman, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Michael Shnayerson opined, in a June 7, 2006, Vanity Fair article, that Hoffman’s proposed changes to the NPS management policies would have "opened the parks for uses that do impair them – now and for the future."  
Shnayerson further opined that "Parks superintendents have learned that questioning Interior dictates is a good way to stall a career rise or induce an unwanted transfer."  Many top-level NPS officials opposed the proposed changes in management policies but, understandably, few openly challenged them or other Bush Administration initiatives they thought were detrimental to the parks.  Jarvis was a notable exception, as was one of his major park superintendents, J.T. Reynolds, who was the manager of Death Valley National Park. 
In the same Vanity Fair article, a characteristically straight-from-the shoulder Reynolds, a former football player at Texas A&M who I am convinced cannot be intimidated, stated that "What concerns me is the idea of changing the Organic Act.… It is the law that establishes the Park Service.  It is the law that binds all the Park Service areas as units.  Congressional intent tells us that ‘preserve and protect for future generations’ is paramount, and that if we’re going to err on any side of protection versus use, we’re going to err on the side of resource protection.  That’s part of one’s indoctrination.  There are training sessions where the Organic Act is taken apart element by element."  ‘This is the issue," Reynolds noted, ‘that many of us are willing to fall on our swords for.’"
Because so many inside the National Park Service were effectively silenced by what Shnayerson characterized as the administration’s "culture of intimidation," three former top-level NPS officials, Bill Wade, Rob Arnberger and Rick Smith, founded the Coalition of Concerned NPS Retirees in May 2003, as a voice of experience which could credibly challenge proposed NPS policy changes it thought would be detrimental.  This unprecedented organization, of which I am a proud member, has grown to more than 725 members and includes most living former NPS directors, deputy directors, associate directors, major park superintendents and other key officials. 
Rick Smith, speaking for the Coalition in a July 15 article by Cory Hatch in the Jackson Hole (Wyoming) News & Guide, enthused that Jarvis’s nomination "has got to warm everybody’s heart who is working in the Park Service.  He started his career as a seasonal ranger, so he’s seen life from all different levels in the Park Service."  Smith colorfully observed that "The Park Service morale was lower than squid (excrement) at the bottom of the ocean during the Bush Administration." 
NPS employees who are dedicated to the agency’s mission of preserving the parks unimpaired for future generations are said to "bleed green."  I think Jon Jarvis fits that description to a "t" and I am delighted, and relieved, to find the National Park Service placed in such capable, knowledgeable and dedicated hands. If any donations of green blood are needed, I’m ready to volunteer.    
Any opinion expressed within this article is that of the author and should not be attributed to FedSmith.com or any other person or organization.

About the Author

Steve Oppermann completed his Federal career on March 31, 1997, after more than 26 years of service, virtually all in human resources management. He served as Regional Director of Personnel for GSA and advised and represented management in six agencies during his federal career. Steve passed away after a battle with cancer on December 22, 2013.