Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM

Mr. Don Castleberry

Former Midwest Regional Director, National Park Service (Retired)




NOVEMBER 1, 2005

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Don Castleberry. Thank you for holding this hearing on a subject so vital to our nation, and thank you for allowing me to express these views.  I had the privilege of a 32-year career in the National Park Service, during which I held such positions as Park Ranger, Park Manager (of five different parks), Deputy Director, Mid-Atlantic Region, Director, Midwest Region and (acting) Associate Director- Operations, in Washington.  I served six years as member, Board of Trustees, National Parks Conservation Association and am now a member of the Executive Council, Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is over 430 individuals, all former employees of the National Park Service, with more joining us almost daily.  Together we bring to this hearing more than 12,000 years of experience.  Many of us were senior leaders and many received awards for stewardship of our country’s natural and cultural resources.  As rangers, executives, park managers, biologists, historians, interpreters, planners and specialists in other disciplines, we devoted our professional lives to maintaining and protecting the National Parks for the benefit of all Americans-those now living and those yet to be born.  In our personal lives we come from a broad spectrum of political affiliations and we count among our members, five former Directors or Deputy Directors of the National Park Service, twenty-three former Regional Directors, or Deputy Regional Directors, twenty-seven former Associate or Assistant Directors and one hundred and eight former Park Superintendents or Assistant Superintendents.

The proposed changes to National Park Management Policies provide one of the clearest examples of why this coalition, which never seemed necessary until two and a half years ago, has come together.  Believe me, there are few among us who would not prefer to be writing our books, tending our roses, enjoying grandchildren, or volunteering at a National Park.  We have coalesced because this is a critical time for the treasures to which we devoted our careers.  It is a time when this nation may decide whether to retain the benefits of victories painfully won over 130 years of National Park history or to risk losing them to narrow, short-term, and private interests.

The parks are often called national treasures—the crown jewels of our republic—but they are far more than that.  They are repositories of information against which human progress—or its opposite—can be gauged.  They are touchstones of who we are as a people and even as members of the human race.  They are the best hope for preserving the cultural record that defines American civilization and the biological diversity upon which life itself depends.  For evidence that the people of the United States know this, simply recall the times a few years back when the Federal government was shut down due to budget disputes.  Network news explained the meaning of that crisis to ordinary citizens by answering just four fundamental questions:

- will the nation be defended
- will the Social Security checks be issued
- will the mail be delivered, and
- will the National Parks be open?

Congress, in its Act of August 25, 1916 created the National Park Service and charged it with a duty to provide for enjoyment of the parks “in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  If that left doubt of Congressional intent, the Redwoods Act Amendments of 1978 clarified that when use conflicts with preservation for future generations, preservation must prevail.  Since 1916 nine Republican and seven Democratic administrations have followed these directions in reasonably consistent and evenhanded ways.  Management Policies of the National Park Service, through which law is applied in detailed and specific ways to what actually happens in the parks, have been revised occasionally, although not frequently, the last two times in 1988 and 2001. 

The draft of proposed Management Policies of the National Park Service that was released for comment on October 19, like its earlier version—Deputy Assistant Secretary Paul Hoffman’s rewrite that became public information in August—is a drastic and dangerous departure from a longstanding national consensus.  It is driven neither by law, by any conservation need, or by any failure of practical application.  Little has changed since the present Policies became effective only four years ago.

The Department of Interior has suggested that the present policies need improvement, but section provides abundant evidence that improvement is not the goal of these proposed revisions.  That section, dealing with access to and use of cultural resources, in both the present policies and the proposed revision, contains the statement: “These regulations are currently under review, and NPS policy is evolving in this area.”  If improvement of policy were really the goal, this nearly four-year-old statement surely would by now have been supplanted by some actual new policy.

If improvement cannot be demonstrated as the goal, one must conclude that the motivation stems from the personal agendas of a few nearly anonymous appointees in the Department of Interior who know that they could not achieve the same goals by asking the Congress to change the laws.

This is the first time since Assistant Director Tolson started writing administrative policies back in the 1940’s that superintendents and their staffs have not been included in any proposed re-writes of such policy documents.  Under the new process the vast majority of superintendents and staff members only input into the proposed revisions would be to comment, as members of the general public, after the policies have been developed.

During this past summer, Deputy Assistant Secretary Paul Hoffman labored quietly to create a draft of Management Policy revisions, carefully limiting knowledge of his work to a small number of others and forbidding them to share it broadly.

Since the need for a revised policy did not originate from NPS career employees, nor from the visiting public, a reasonable question emerges, as to its origin.  When asked, the political employee, Mr. Hoffman declined to identify anyone who had urged the changes.

After Hoffman’s disastrous proposals were exposed in August, public reaction was so powerful that the Department of the Interior quickly disavowed them, calling the draft “devil’s advocacy,” and “intended to promote discussion.”

Aside from noting that the national parks are more in need of the advocacy of an angel than of a devil, one can only wonder how much real discussion might be generated by a draft passed hand to hand among a gagged and silent few.

In a chilling parallel action, new personnel policies, instituted by the NPS director, subject career employees to a “litmus test” of loyalty to this administration’s political objectives, as a condition for promotion, further limiting candid input from knowledgeable professionals.

One also might ask “what is the rush?”  Why a 90 day process when in the past, such efforts could take years, and involve a wide range of NPS employees, in an open, participatory process.  With rushing can come mistakes.  In matters of such overriding importance, should not the guiding principle be “first do no harm?”

The next step of an appointee who had been embarrassed by exposure but who remained determined to have his way was entirely predictable, he would assemble a group of National Park Service professionals, dictate the goals of changes to be made, direct them to find language that the public would accept but that would still achieve the goals, and require them to come back and negotiate even the palliative language with him.  That, Mr. Chairman, is what we are reviewing today.  Although the October draft is being attributed to 100 National Park Service employees, it is in fact the Hoffman draft, forcibly and uncomfortably dressed in a rumpled and ill-fitting Ranger uniform.

Although entire sections, such as the ones dealing with wilderness and grazing, still look much like the Hoffman draft, for the most part the October draft simply uses softer language to make the same changes.

Examples follow:

1. The Hoffman policies deleted from section 1.4.3 include two critically important policy directives from congress that are included in the existing 2001 policies:

Present Park Service policies deleted by Hoffman: “Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.”

(This mandate) –“is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment, and so applies all the time, with respect to all park resources and values, even when there is no risk that any parks resources and values may be impaired.”

From the 1916 Organic Act of Congress creating the National Park Service:  “The – National Park Service – shall promote and regulate the use – of national parks – as provided by law, by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment for the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

A 1978 act of congress further emphasized preservation in the Redwoods Amendment “Congress further reaffirms, declares and directs the promotion and regulation of various areas of the National Park System –shall be consistent with and founded in the purpose established by the first section of the Act of August 25, 1916, to the common benefit of all the people of the United States.  The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these area shall be conducted in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by congress.”

The effect of the Hoffman deletion of these two paragraphs deletes the clear mandate of congress in the management of national parks that the primary purpose of managing parks is preservation of the resources.

2. A specific application of the Hoffman changes that weaken the Park Service mandate to preserve resources includes this change to planning for cultural resources. 

Present Park Service management policies direct park planners to “always seek to avoid harm to cultural resources.”  The Hoffman rewrite directs park planners to “always seek to avoid ‘unacceptable’ harm to cultural resources.”

The effect of this Hoffman rewrite is to direct that there is acceptable harm to cultural resources, in direct conflict with current policies that direct planners to always seek to avoid harm. 

3. A Hoffman deletion allows visitor activities to degrade the experience of other visitors to the park.

Present Park Service management policy deleted by Hoffman: “the Service will not allow visitors to conduct activities that unreasonably interfere with –the atmosphere of peace and tranquility, or the natural soundscape maintained in wilderness and natural, historic or commemorative locations within the park.”

The effect of the Hoffman deletion allows uses by some visitors to unreasonably interfere with the experience of the park by other visitors.

4. The Hoffman rewrite weakens the protection of natural soundscapes in a park:

Present Park Service management policy deleted by Hoffman: “The National Park Service will preserve to the greatest extent possible, the natural soundscapes of parks.”

The Hoffman rewrite adds: “The National Park Service will restore degraded soundscapes wherever practicable and will protect natural soundscapes from degradation due to unacceptable noise.”

The effect of the Hoffman deletion and change requires the park to determine what is unacceptable noise, and practicable restoration, rather than a simple directive to preserve the natural landscape.

5. The Hoffman rewrite deleted a clear direction on use of equipment, vehicles and transportation systems.

Present Park Service policies deleted by the Hoffman rewrite: “Use of motorized equipment: where such use is necessary and appropriate, the least impacting equipment, vehicles, and transportation systems should be used.”

The effect of this Hoffman deletion removes the direction to use the least impacting equipment in a park including all vehicles and transportation systems.

6. Strong words that require “preservation” of resources have either been adjoined to or supplanted by weaker words like “conservation,” or diluted by adding “as appropriate.”

7. Previously clear sentences have been replaced by vague language that will be more subject to error or challenge in court.

8. Present Management Policies provide examples that help a park manager identify “traditionally associated peoples” such as tribal groups.  The proposed draft replaces the examples with fuzzy guidance that might place a gateway city’s chamber of commerce on an equal footing with native peoples who have occupied a park’s lands since time immemorial.

9. New requirements to “cooperate” with outside groups, in lieu of present requirement to “collaborate,” threaten a park manager’s ability to protect park resources on behalf of all the people of the United States when a small number of park neighbors have different ideas.

In not one single instance does a proposed change increase the likelihood of park natural or cultural resources being preserved unimpaired, but they do significantly decrease THAT likelihood.

Former Director Roger Kennedy has accurately identified the Hoffman strategy.  The August draft threatened to take off a leg.  The October draft says “no, no, we will only take off a foot,” and hopes we will be relieved and grateful at the somewhat diminished harm.  It was the bitter duty of the career National Park Service employees to whom the Department of Interior is now attributing this draft to diminish the severity of the amputation.  They did the best they could, but harm has only been diminished or masked, not eliminated.  Fortunately, there are over 430 National Park Service retirees whose jobs are not at risk, and we can say what the career employees cannot—that there is NO need for any amputation at all, and any amputation is unacceptable.

Mr. Chairman, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees challenges the Department of the Interior to explain why this revision is needed.  The public certainly did not ask for it—95percent of American park visitors rate their visits good to excellent.  Perhaps the Department, instead of telling us that 100 National Park Service employees worked on the draft could tell us what percentage of National Park Service career professionals believes the October proposal is actually needed—specifically whether it is better or worse than the policies now in effect.  We have been there and we know the answers—they are not needed and they are not only worse than the present policies but if adopted they will place the heritage of all Americans in extreme jeopardy.

Thank you for allowing this testimony, thank you for your continued vigilance on behalf of the national parks, and thank you for the actions you will take to assure that they can continue to be enjoyed by this and all future generations in unimpaired condition.

I will be happy to answer any questions.