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Remarks of Jonathan B. Jarvis
Director, National Park Service
Clemson University, South Carolina
October 25, 2011
Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.
It is truly a great honor to be here at Clemson to present the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Lecture. It is also an honor to see several of my predecessors in the audience. Each of us has come to the position of Director with a plate full of challenges and opportunities. Each of us has worked to make a difference both for our great system of national parks, but also for the country. And if I may, I want to take a moment to mention the passing of former Director Roger Kennedy, whose services will be held in a few weeks. He was a friend, a mentor and a director whose love of history brought focus to the deeper meaning behind many of our historical parks. He will be missed.
George Hartzog took the helm of the National Park Service in 1964 and served until 1972. Those were tumultuous years when America was undergoing profound changes.
The Vietnam War was at its height.
The Civil and Women's Rights movements were fighting for equal opportunities for all Americans.
Baby boomers were coming of age.
Americans were enjoying unprecedented mobility.
And a new national environmental awareness was dawning.
In a series of interviews in 2005, George articulated his three objectives as director: expand the National Park System, make the National Park Service more relevant to the American people, and incorporate more women and minorities into the management structure.
His success at all three is his great legacy.
George led the largest expansion of the National Park System in history, redefined what "national park" meant to include recreation areas in major cities, and created programs like Summer in the Parks that bused kids from inner city environments to give them a park experience.
George named the first African American park superintendent, the first career woman superintendent, the first American Indian superintendent, and the first black chief of the US Park Police.
So, 50 years later, what are the drivers facing the NPS today:
The population of the US is now 60% urban, far more than in the Hartzog era and even more disconnected to nature.
Our US economy is struggling, and there is a competition to see who can cut the most from the federal budget.
Political rancor and partisan bickering is at an all time high.
The US population is increasingly diverse, with an increasing number of people who have had no contact with or even knowledge of national parks.
There is a growing desire for government to be more businesslike, more entrepreneurial, with a drumbeat for privatization.
Public education in the US continues to fall behind other countries in the areas of science, history, and technology.
And impacts from climate change on our parks are increasing while the public's belief in climate change is declining.
So considering these challenges, I have asked myself, as Director, and the employees and partners of the National Park Service, how can we help?
Almost 50 years after George Hartzog presided over the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service, we find ourselves on the eve of our centennial in 2016.
Our 100th anniversary presents an opportunity to not only reflect on our past successes but to take actions over the next five years, to prepare for our second century of Stewardship and public engagement.
Over the last twenty years, there have been many reports, developed by blue ribbon panels that call upon the NPS to step up to the mantle of responsibility that only the NPS can carry:
- To invite all Americans and visitors from around the world to explore wild places and see the grandeur of the American landscape
- To learn of the trials and tribulations of great leaders, activists, scientists, authors and artists by walking in their shoes: people like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Wythe.
- To openly confront the environmental challenges of our time: climate change, habitat fragmentation, the spread of exotics and the transport of global pollution, not by echoing the shrill voice of advocacy, but by the accurate articulation of impact, shown directly on the ground in special places, like impaired visibility over the Grand Canyon or the melting glaciers of Mount Rainier.
- To use our parks as classrooms to inspire young minds to the possibility of the future as scientists, historians or educators.
- To assist communities to create their own green spaces, to celebrate and protect their own history as important and to reconnect to restored rivers. To recognize that the entire parks family, national, state, regional, county, and city must work together to provide seamless services to the public at a landscape scale.
- To make this grand experiment in democracy actually work.
- To remind all citizens of what it means to be an American These commissions, often led by luminaries such as John Hope Franklin, Sandra Day O'Connor, E.O Wilson, or Howard Baker, reported a constant theme: Wake the sleeping giant that is the NPS and help this country achieve its lofty goals: to be the more "perfect union", to achieve "the pursuit of happiness".
I have all these reports, stacked neatly on my office shelf, where they gather a bit more dust with each passing day. While they were all crisp in their clarion calls, they languished in part because they called for Congress to act either with authorization or an appropriation. Their success was dependent upon a President or Secretary to wield his pen or his influence. Some came out at the sunset of an administration and were immediately discarded, as so many initiatives are when there is a new boss in town. Also, each document was never really adopted by the NPS itself, and without the support of the rank and file of the organization, they dropped off the radar.
Coming in as the 18th Director, I am well aware of these pitfalls. I felt we needed a second century plan that draws from the best of these past recommendations, is informed by the voice of the public; and built, embraced and adopted by the NPS employees and our partners. It is also needed to not be dependent upon the actions of Congress or the current administration. It must be designed to survive a change in administration, should there be one, in 2012, since 2016 is coming regardless of who sits in the Oval office or in the Office of the Director.
If you are wondering why it took so long, I must admit we got off to a slow start. It took over six months to get me confirmed through the Senate. DC is a tough town. Then there was the Gulf oil spill where I spent three months as an incident commander, and the issue absorbed the focus of the most of the Department for over a year.
We did however launch the America's Great Outdoors, with over 50 listening sessions, over 20 with just young people. And we heard a consistent theme, that people still love their national parks, but also they are worried about their future.
As the culmination of these thoughts, and the thousands of comments from the public from the AGO world tour, we launched A Call to Action, Preparing the NPS for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement.
The Call rallies NPS employees and partners to advance 36 action items toward a shared vision for 2016 and beyond.
You can read it online at www.nps.gov/CallToAction.
You will note that there is no ask for new money or any special authorizations. You will note that the power to implement all 36 actions is completely within the power of the NPS and its many great partners, of which I include Clemson University.
The Call reaffirms our fundamental achievements and mission and also addresses change - the world's and ours. Choosing 36 actions from the hundreds with which we began was the hardest part, but we screened them not only for the above criteria but also if they were transformative of the organization.
The Call to Action addresses four buckets of actions: Connecting People to Parks, Advancing the Education Mission Preserving America's Special Places, and Enhancing Professional and Organizational Excellence. I will take the rest of this talk to highlight a few actions within each of these.
Connecting People to Parks
The people who have shaped this land; from indigenous cultures that lived here thousands of years ago to the newest immigrants - have each contributed; and each deserve recognition in the American narrative and within the National Park system.
The very first action item, called Fill in the Blanks, is the development of a comprehensive National Park System plan. Through what is essentially a "gap analysis," we will identify the places and stories critical to the American narrative that are not yet included.
One piece is already underway.
Earlier this month, the National Park Service convened the American Latino Heritage Scholars Panel, a group of esteemed historians who have agreed to help put us on a path to developing and sharing with the American people a fuller, richer, and truer story of the history and culture of 50 million American Latinos.
Their work will recommend new national parks, national historic landmarks, listings in the National Register, new layers of history at existing sites, and other forms of recognition and preservation.
For example, as young American Latino students study the Civil War, they will learn from the NPS that over 20,000 Hispanics fought in the war, including a Latino woman who so desired to serve that she disguised herself as a man and fought in multiple conflicts.
A Call to Action also acknowledges that one visit to a national park is not enough. In an action called Step by Step, we are working with partners to create deep connections through a progression of experiences for 10,000 kids a year that offer education programs, volunteer opportunities, internships, and even employment.
Through actions called History Lesson and Next Generation Stewards we will foster a new generation of citizen scientists, historians, and hopefully future stewards, through hands-on biodiversity and history discovery events in at least 100 parks.
We are also part of a growing international movement, working with health care providers to show how national parks - and all open space - are an important but often-overlooked variable in America's public health equation.
Simply taking an hour-long walk in a natural environment can bring about a drop in blood pressure and heart rate because of the immediate relaxation you experience. There can be an increase in white blood cell count, a reduction in stress hormones, and a boost to the immune system.
A Call to Action recognizes the enormous potential that parks and protected lands have as a source of public health. We called this action Take A Hike & Call me in the Morning.
The National Park Service is the U.S. leader of Healthy Parks, Healthy People an international initiative to bring the outdoors into the discussion about public health and recognizes the growing body of evidence that suggests that human health is linked to the health of our natural world.
In February, we'll be back here at Clemson for a workshop we are cosponsoring that will bring together scientists and public health experts to help craft a National Park Service plan to guide our research on Healthy Parks, Healthy People.
The First Lady's Let's Move program is fighting the childhood obesity epidemic by encouraging exercise and good nutrition.
And good nutrition is key. With apologies to Spock, we call this action: Eat Well and Prosper. The Call advocates for our food service concessioners to offer visitors nutritious, locally-grown food. This not only encourages healthy eating habits but has the added benefit of sustaining the local economy and is a great marketing tool for our concessioners that healthy food is part of the park experience.
In a group of actions (Parks for People, In My Back Yard & Follow the Flow) we are recognizing, perhaps for the first time in my memory that the National Park Service has a body of programs, authorities and responsibilities that extend well beyond traditional park boundaries and into communities. Our Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program has been in existence for 45 years and has a long record of success helping communities develop trail systems and riverfronts so that residents have more opportunities to get outside and get physical exercise.
A Call to Action amplifies this work by targeting at least 50 communities across the country with the least access to parks, committing every urban national park to improving access through a physical connection to public transportation or bike paths, and establishing a national system of water trails.
Advancing the NPS Education Mission
I believe that the national parks are our nation's most underutilized classrooms. They are unequalled in their ability to teach not just about the past, but about today.They are the biggest, real-world science laboratories on the planet, and the eyewitnesses to American history.
In a series of Actions like Live and Learn, and A Class Act, we will use urban parks, battlefields, monuments, and historic homes to form a rich syllabus in civics and the humanities.
Places like Manzanar, Little Rock Central High School, Ellis Island, and Lowell provide the opportunity to explore topics like human rights, labor, immigration, and a host of other subjects that are relevant now, today.
From the Hall where independence was proclaimed in 1776, to a camp where Japanese Americans were rounded up and confined during World War II, to the workshop where the greatest inventor before Steve Jobs created the light bulb, national parks are the places where our next generation is inspired. I have heard directly from EO Wilson that his encounters with ant hills in Rock Creek park inspired him to become one of our greatest biologists, and I heard that a recent recipient of the President's gold medal for science, awarded for his pioneering work in the structure of DNA gained his inspiration in the geological hoodoos of Bryce Canyon NP.
Because evidence shows that kids who participate in place-based learning-like history and environmental programs in the national parks-tend to retain more information, do better on tests, and show more enthusiasm about the subject matter, we are taking action, called a Ticket to Ride with the National Park Foundation and other park fundraising partners to support transportation for 100,000 kids to visit national parks each year.
To reach new audiences and engage in a conversation with all Americans, in our action (Go Digital) we will transform the digital experience we offer through a user-friendly web platform that is downloadable in any phone, tablet or whatever they invent next.
Preserving Special Places
When George Hartzog took over the Director job from Connie Wirth in 1964, he had on his desk a fresh copy of the Leopold report, the recommendations from a group of scientists and scholars who called upon the NPS to use science to manage for natural processes in order to create "vignettes of primitive America." The 1963 Leopold Report has been the basis for our resource management policies for half a century.
It is time to revisit the Leopold report, and incorporate the recognition of climate change, native Americans influence on ecology, cultural resources and the role humans now play in the world environment. In the Action "Revisit Leopold", pre-eminent scientists led by Rita Colwell and Tom Lovejoy, assisted by our NPS Science Advisor Dr. Gary Machlis will take a year and provide a new report on August 25, 2012 that I hope will set a new foundation for resource management for the next half century.
In the Action (Go Green) we task parks to reduce our carbon footprint, use less energy and less water, and produce less waste. The action commits us to double the amount of renewable energy generated within parks and used by park facilities and to show our success to the public.
In the action (What's Old is New) we are demonstrating how sustainable practices can be applied to historic structures.
And we are rethinking the visitor center. In partnership with the Van Allen Institute we have invited student and faculty teams from colleges across the country to "re-imagine" national park design and how 21st -century technologies can be used to meet visitor expectations and enhance experience.
I encourage the faculty and students of Clemson to consider applying. The deadline for proposals is November 1!
Professional and Organizational Excellence
In our second century, the National Park Service will need a workforce that can adapt to continuous change, think systemically, evaluate risk, make decisions based on best available sound science, accurate fidelity to the law, and long-term public interest. We will use scholarship, work collaboratively with communities, and maintain our characteristic esprit de corps in the face of new challenges.
To do this, we are going to provide employees with the tools, training, and developmental opportunities they need to reach their full potential through a career academy in an action called Tools of the Trade.
I have always known the NPS to be a very creative and innovative organization at the local park level or within our variety of programs. A strong sense of mission and very little funding seems to drive a lot of creativity, but we have also learned that Washington is the place good ideas come to die. In order to create the environment where innovation and creativity is embraced, nourished and honored we have established the Action: Destination Innovation. Here we are going to accelerate the spread of good ideas and inspire peer-to-peer collaboration through a network for innovation and creativity that will address mission critical problems.
And 50 years after George Hartzog diversified NPS leadership with a series of firsts, I do not think we have made much progress, so with the Action (Value Diversity) we are recommitting to a workforce that reflects the face of America by valuing diversity and an inclusive work environment and recruiting and retaining diverse employees.
Our second century finds the National Park Service at a pivotal moment.
As in the Hartzog era, there is a sense of urgency, a conviction that action is required if the national parks are to be relevant-if they are to survive in good stead-in a different world than the one that created them.
Since its creation in 1916, the National Park Service-like any new organization-has grown, learned, and adapted.
At the dawn of our second century, we must continue the best traditions of the previous one, but success in the coming century will require a re-evaluation of what we do and how we do it.
It will mean change, and an expanded and more strategic focus to earn our relevance to the American people.
A Call to Action is the start of our adaptation to the demands of this new world.
There are many things that seem to divide us as a nation: socio-economic status, political leanings, religion, ethnicity, or income, but the idea behind the National Park Service can unite Americans in a sense of wonder and pride in our country.
Our mission is truly unique among government agencies.
As the stewards of the national experience, the keepers of our cultural memory we can use the power and place of the National Park Service to ensure that everyone knows what it means to be an American.
This is not only an honor but an awesome responsibility. The social challenges we face as a nation require the action of informed, engaged, open-minded adults. For guidance and inspiration, they can look to our national parks.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, wrote, "There's no better route to civic understanding than visiting our national parks. They're who we are and where we've been."
Our goal is to present to the American people a vision of our work that speaks to their lives today. The national parks must be, in the minds of coming generations, as treasured and vital as they were to the generations that have sustained them. And, the work of the National Park Service must continue to touch communities and improve people's lives - our success in our next century depends on it and in a way, the success of our country depends on the National Park Service achieving this higher calling.