The U.S. Department of the Interior released its revised and re-written rules governing the National Parks Service and so far, the Outdoor Industry and conservation community is reacting with skepticism and, in some cases, hostility. The largest controversy so far is due to the modifications to the NPS Foundation, or the underlying governing principals of the Nation’s parks. Critics contend that the new document represents “Tectonic shifts away from traditional philosophy and the intents of governing statutes.”

The 275-page document is divided into ten chapters that dictate every aspect of the NPS and the rules that affect the end users. News of the proposed changes first leaked out of the Department of the Interior last month, when the New York Times reported on a memo, authored by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary at The Department of the Interior. The leaked memo proposed broad changes to existing statutes that protect the NPS from overuse. The changes were clearly written to allow more commercial access to preserved areas which could lead to the occurrence of more environmental damage. The final document does not include all of the changes proposed by Hoffman, but many conservation groups have called the proposals “Hoffman-lite” because key protections are still weakened.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees is one of the more out-spoken groups fighting these changes. “Not only has no compelling case been presented for rewriting the 2001 NPS management policies, but we are seeing what we believe is most likely a false claim that the revised draft represents the views of 'more than 100 key NPS professional staff.' We challenge the Interior Department to name these 100 of our former colleagues who would embrace this only somewhat watered down version of Mr. Hoffman's deadly prescription for national parks,” said CNPSR spokesman Bill Wade, the former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park. “We simply do not believe that 100 key/non-political NPS officials — that is career people such as ourselves — actually signed off on this document…We look forward to seeing the list to which the Interior Department and NPS Director Mainella keep referring in defending this rewrite.

One of the key arguments in favor of the changes to the rules is that “the American people” are asking for them. “To suggest that the American people are clamoring for changes in the way our National Parks are managed is not supported by the facts,” said OIA’s president Frank Hugelmeyer in a statement to the press. “Since 1998, statistics collected annually in conformance with the Government Performance Results Act have shown visitor satisfaction with our National Parks at or above 94% each year. I can’t imagine there is another program within the Department of Interior or the entire US Government that has higher public approval and is slated for such wholesale changes.”

Comments to the National Park Service can be submitted via:

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Bernard Fagan, National Park Service
Office of Policy-Room 7252
Main Interior Building, 1849 C Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20240

Note: Names and addresses of people who comment become part of the public record.