VERBAL STATEMENT OF MS. FRAN MAINELLA, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING NATIONAL PARK SERVICE MANAGEMENT POLICIES.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to summarize my written statement that has been submitted for the record.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your subcommittee to discuss the National Park Service’s Management Policies. Our policies play a vital role in helping us make intelligent and fair decisions about the national parks, and I welcome this opportunity to explain what the policies are, how we develop them, and how we apply them to our daily management of the national park system. I want to describe how we are ensuring that our park superintendents implement the changes found in the Management Policies 2001 appropriately and consistently. I also welcome the opportunity to hear any concerns you may have about how we developed and apply the current policies.
Policies are guiding principles or procedures that set the framework and provide consistent direction for management decisions. Through our policies, we try to translate laws, regulations, Executive orders, and Secretarial orders in a cohesive manner that all our employees can understand and implement as intended. Second level directives known as Director’s Orders supplement our Management Policies, and in some cases a third level such as a Handbook or Reference Manual is required.
Congress intended and visitors expect that the parks will be managed to the highest standard of consistent and professional care. Visitors rightly expect that they will have appropriate opportunities to enjoy park resources and values. Management Policies help bring a reasonable degree of order and discipline to the decision-making process, which is important in a dispersed organization with 385 diverse park units.
Our written policies are also a means of keeping both the Congress and the public informed on how we will implement the laws that govern the parks. Policies provide an understanding of the ground rules by which the Service manages the parks.
Policies to guide park management have been with us for a long time, and many of the fundamentals have remained the same. Since 1918, there have been 13 documents issued, by the Secretary or the Director, that provided guidance on the administration of national park units. The current form known as Management Policies first appeared in 1978 and has been revised four times since then.
The 2001 issue of Management
Policies was developed through an internal effort that began in 1994, and
involved extensive field review, consultation, and an opportunity for public
review and comment. Most of our
policies offer flexibility to deal with special circumstances. If a park manager has a compelling reason
why he or she cannot comply with a particular policy, the Secretary, Assistant
Secretary or Director may grant a waiver in writing, so long as the waiver is
consistent with statutory law and other higher authorities such as Presidential
Proclamations and Executive Orders.
The 2001 Revision of Management Policies
Most of the policies from the 1988 edition have not changed, but some are explained more fully. For example, the new edition explains in more detail the need for superintendents to be good neighbors by inviting participation in park planning and decision-making. There is also more detail and emphasis on the need for scientific management of park resources, so that better decisions can be made, and an increased emphasis on the administrative record, which justifies the decisions made by park managers.
The No-Impairment Provisions of the 2001 Management Policies
One issue of particular interest that was addressed in 1998, but is more fully explained in the 2001 edition is the responsibility imposed on the Service by the no-impairment clause of the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act. This issue was dealt with in greater detail primarily because of a court case involving Canyonlands National Park. The Organic Act requires the Service to conserve park resources and values and provide for their enjoyment “in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The policy in section 1.4 of Management Policies essentially mirrors that requirement of the law, and explains that impairment “is an impact that, in the professional judgment of the responsible NPS manager, would harm the integrity of park resources or values, including the opportunities that otherwise would be present for the enjoyment of those resources or values.”
Implementing the No-Impairment Standard
A significant change in how the
National Park Service implements the impairment standard on a case-by-case
basis is the integration of a question regarding impairment into the
environmental impact evaluation that is already performed under the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This
is a step that strengthens the administrative record and responds to the
deficiency found by the courts.
Ultimately, the decision as to whether the adverse impacts of an action
reaches a threshold and becomes an impairment lies with the superintendent and
the regional director. To ensure we
develop consistency in the implementation of the impairment standard, most if
not all findings of impairment will be subject to review at the national
The Service is going through an internal learning process as managers strive to meet their responsibilities under the policy. We are developing supplemental guidance to help all our employees better understand and implement the policy. Our planners and environmental coordinators have been instructed to monitor closely how the impairment issue is addressed in our planning and environmental documents, and to coordinate with our Washington staff on any areas of uncertainty. We provide training and orientation on the no-impairment policy at every level of the organization and at every opportunity.
Another important safeguard in implementing this policy is the Secretary’s Four C’s program -- conservation through consultation, cooperation, and communication. To ensure we carry out these principles, I have asked our Policy Team to begin drafting a Director’s Order that will address public participation and outreach for our management decisions. I believe that implementing the no-impairment policy under the guidance of the Secretary’s Four C’s principles will help ensure that our actions comply with the law, protect park resources, and guarantee the American public appropriate opportunities to enjoy access to their parks.
I would like to clarify any misunderstandings that may arise about the no-impairment policy. It does not mean that the Service will not provide any new facilities in the parks, or that we will not allow reasonable public use and enjoyment of the parks. While visitor uses may cause impacts, we are confident that we are managing over 275 million visits a year in a manner that leaves our National Parks unimpaired, and the public at large supports our efforts. While we must always try to avoid impacts on the parks, there are times when there is a compelling reason to develop a facility or allow an activity, even though it may have an adverse impact on the park’s environment.
While I have been Director the policy has not been unreasonably applied. It has not brought a halt to the construction of roads, visitor centers and other amenities to serve park visitors, nor has it curtailed visitor use and enjoyment. If the Subcommittee is aware of any situation where it believes the no-impairment policy has led to an inappropriate decision, I would be pleased to review it to avoid any misapplication of the policy.
One area that may lead to confusion is the distinction between appropriate uses and the impairment of resources. The term “appropriate use ” is key to the way we manage use and enjoyment of the National Park System. The National Parks belong to all Americans, and all Americans should feel welcome to experience the parks. Visitors to the National Park System today continue to enjoy a wide range of recreational activities, where appropriate and as determined by legislation or a unit’s General Management Plan. These activities include: biking, wildlife viewing, boating, canoeing, sailing, personal watercraft, cross-country skiing, down-hill skiing, fishing, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain climbing, off-road vehicle use, orienteering, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, snowmobiling, and swimming.
We in the National Park Service appreciate Congress’ past reminders that the enjoyment of the parks today must not be at the expense of future generations. However we also understand some of the concerns of committee members have regarding the current Management Policies. With respect to the no-impairment standard, we are
· developing supplemental guidance,
· expanding our training and orientation programs,
· reviewing our impairment findings at the national level, and
· keeping a better administrative record on any decisions.
In addition for all management decisions we will be developing policy guidelines on public participation and outreach.
With your help, the Service will ensure that we today, and our children tomorrow, continue to enjoy the same quality of the natural, cultural and scenic splendors of our National Park System.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this background information. This concludes my prepared remarks, and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.