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NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


current topic NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





The National Park Service and the
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980: Administrative History

Chapter Five:
The National Park Service in Alaska, 1973-1980
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The National Park Service had worked since the 1950s to overcome past deficiencies in administration of the national parks and monuments in Alaska. Particularly during the last half of the 1960s, it made considerable progress toward that end. Between 1971 and 1973 that goal had been overshadowed by the massive effort required to meet the congressionally mandated deadlines in section 17(d)(2) of ANCSA. In February 1974, following submission of Secretary Morton's proposal, Keith Trexler, assistant project leader of the Service's Alaska Task Force, proposed establishment of an NPS office in Alaska with major responsibility for carrying out programs relating to ANCSA. The objectives of such an office, he said, would be to work to assure passage of legislation establishing the eleven proposed areas, and to provide guidelines and expertise for management of those areas. [1] The Service did not establish such an office. But as it continued to work for passage of an Alaska Lands Bill it developed the information base that would be necessary for managing the areas when established. The continuing effort in Alaska resulted in changes in the NPS Alaska organization, and brought about a re-evaluation of its approach to management of the Alaska parklands.

A. Organizational Developments, 1974-1979

The Park Service, despite personnel and budget restrictions, had been able to respond to near-impossible deadlines by using the task force organization Director Hartzog had devised in the spring of 1972. The work accomplished in 1972 and 1973, however, proved to be only preliminary to what was to come. After the last of the thirty-three people who had been detailed during those years returned home, only a skeleton staff remained to accomplish a program that included, among other things, continual updating and revision of the legislative support data; revision of the 1973 master plans in response to greater knowledge of the various areas; managing a burgeoning Native assistance program; monitoring a substantial number of research contracts; addressing a variety of complicated issues such as subsistence, minerals, and access; and coordinating an ambitious program to educate the public both in Alaska and in the "Lower 48" on the Park Service's program for Alaska. [2]

Frustrated with his inability to convince the Washington office to provide additional help to meet the new demands, Al Henson questioned whether the NPS directorate fully grasped the enormity of Alaska, or the opportunity offered the Park Service there. It is true the Service had experienced something of a let-down once the Morton proposals went forward in 1973. But it had already begun work in developing short and long-range goals for Alaska. By fall 1974 NPS Director Ron Walker indicated that in response to a July 9 memo from Assistant Secretary Reed, the Service had begun to re-examine the organizational structure established to achieve those goals. [3]

In response to these concerns, the newly appointed NPS Director Gary Everhardt announced on May 6, 1975, that he had decided to substantially increase the size of the Alaska Task Force by the addition of ten full-time professional positions in FY '75 and '76. Most of these professionals would be recruited from the Service's central planning office in Denver. Each of these "keymen," as they were called, would be responsible for one or more of the proposed areas, and would have, additionally, a broader responsibility. Bill Brown, for example, who had left his position as regional historian in the Southwest Region, would serve as leader of a planning team at the proposed Yukon-Charley National Rivers. He also served as task force historian with responsibility for developing historical themes for all new proposals, initiating critical thematic and historical site studies, and assisting the Alaska area director in the historical program at existing areas. Don Follows who came to Alaska from the Denver Service Center, was keyman for Harding Icefield-Kenai Fjords, with additional responsibility for developing a conceptual interpretive plan that addressed all eleven proposals. Stell Newman, who was also recruited from the Denver Service Center as keyman for Chukchi-Imuruk and Kobuk Valley, also served as task force anthropologist with state-wide responsibilities. In this capacity Newman took the lead in developing a cultural resource management program that would, in concert with the State Historical Preservation Officer and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, insure both protection of unique cultural resources and a smooth flow of compliance for planning and management of the new areas. Along with Bob Belous, who took over as keyman for Cape Krusenstern and Kobuk Valley, Newman would be primarily responsible for developing the Service's draft subsistence policy. These keymen would "ground truth" the data and planning concepts advanced in 1972 and 1973. They would not only provide a continuity in the planning process, but would also perform a vital public information function by their very presence. It was generally assumed that selected keymen would eventually form the nucleus of a professional services office in an Alaska Regional Office with others serving as first managers when the new parklands were authorized. [4]

By late summer 1975, a revived Alaska Task Force consisted of fifteen professionals, additional support staff and seasonal appointees, some of whom assisted the keymen in the field, and others who fulfilled various functions in the Task Force office. Al Henson continued as task force leader. Keith Trexler, one of the original members of the Task Force, had assumed the duties of management assistant. Bailey Breedlove, who had been with the Service's Alaska office since 1966, was special assistant to Henson. Along with the nine keymen was an engineer (Ed Stondall) with responsibility for engineering, transportation, and preparing cost estimates. Bob Belous, a former journalist who had joined the task force as a photographer in 1972, served as public programs and liaison officer, and Roy Sanborn functioned primarily as liaison with the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for interim management of the d-2 lands. In addition, the Task Force maintained a close relationship with the Service's Cooperative Park Studies Unit at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. [5]

Increasing the size of the Alaska Task Force allowed the Service to carry out an ambitious program associated with the planning for the proposed national park units in Alaska. It did not, however, address questions that had been raised regarding the organization of the Service's Alaska efforts, or the growing friction between the NPS offices involved in Alaska. The task force approach devised by George Hartzog in spring 1972 was not new, and it seemed especially well-suited to meet the Service's needs in implementing section 17(d)(2) of ANCSA. It allowed both flexibility of approach and the rapid decision-making required to meet mandated deadlines. [6]

But it was not without problems. A number of people in the Service had serious concerns regarding an organization that operated largely outside the traditional lines of authority, fearing that the reporting relationship between the Alaska Task Force and Alaska Planning Group would serve to weaken the Service's control over decision-making, transferring it upward into the Department of the Interior. Pacific Northwest Regional Director John Rutter expressed concern that his office had not been effectively or adequately utilized. Despite an effort to separate functions of the Alaska Task Force, the Pacific Northwest Regional Office, and the Alaska State Office, the functions often overlapped. Because the task force would be working closely with Natives, for example, the Service's Washington office ordered the Pacific Northwest Regional office to suspend the on-going Alaska cultural complex study, over the strong protest of Regional Director Rutter. In 1974 Al Henson warned that a recent memorandum outlining Regional Director Rutter's thinking on a possible compromise position on prospecting and mining within the proposed Alaska parks could be used to weaken the position outlined in Secretary Morton's 1973 legislative proposals. By October 1974 Regional Director Rutter had become concerned regarding rumors that a separate Alaska Regional Office would be established. Writing that he was "very proud of progress in Alaska in the last four years," Rutter advised against establishment of a separate regional office and pointed out that "I doubt that the Pacific Northwest Region could be justified without the Alaska areas." [7]

Differences were not, however, merely territorial and organizational. Basic philosophical differences regarding the very nature of the National Park System as well as the Service's approach to ANCSA mandates existed. Regional Director Rutter questioned the wisdom of attempting to acquire so many and such large new areas in Alaska or spending large sums of money to study them when personnel restrictions and budget cutbacks hampered the Service's ability to protect established areas elsewhere. He expressed concern, too, that acquisition of those areas would create public relations problems in Alaska that could render effective future management well nigh impossible. Rutter, an NPS veteran with more than thirty years' service, was, moreover, among those in the Service who believed that national parks should be developed for the enjoyment and comfort of the people who visited them, and was uncomfortable with the concept of preservation of wilderness for its own sake. The proposed Alaska areas were, in most cases, not easily accessible, nor would they lend themselves easily to development designed to attract large numbers of people. [8]

In addition, several of the proposed areas simply did not conform to what many believed a national park should be. From Franklin K. Lane's charge to Stephen Mather in 1922 that in studying new park projects one should seek to find "scenery of supreme and distinctive quality as some natural feature so extraordinary or unique as to be of national importance," many NPS employees had viewed national parks primarily as areas possessing outstanding scenic values. [9] They were especially disturbed over the proposals to include in the National Park System such areas as Noatak and Chukchi-Imuruk, where the scenery might not be as awe-inspiring as it is elsewhere. Those involved in ANCSA implementation, generally, and they enjoyed considerable support throughout the Service, advocated a more recently evolved position expressed in the 1971 NPS publication, "Criteria for Parklands," and 1972 National Park System Plan, that the National Park system is rightly the conservator of a wide variety of landforms and that physiological and ecological representativeness is the primary criterion for evaluating the addition of natural areas to the system. To them, the areas possessed other values—their very remoteness, their vast untouched spaces, and their virtual timelessness, for example—that were worthy of protection and that met the very highest standards of the National Park System. To John Kauffmann, the Noatak had "a scope, a sweep as awesome and as unforgettable as the desert or Great Plains." To John Rutter, and he was certainly not alone, the Noatak possessed no special values deserving national park status. If protection were warranted, said Rutter, it should be accomplished by other Federal bureaus, such as the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. [10]

By 1975 the Alaska Task Force and Pacific Northwest Regional office were at loggerheads. Relations between the two were certainly strained, and communication at an all-time low. [11] To at least one group, conditions by June 1975 were in such a state as to threaten the Service's Alaska effort. Between June 8 and 21, 1975, the Secretary's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments traveled to Alaska to view the existing and proposed park areas. [12] The year before, the Advisory Board had commended the Service, and in particular Theodor Swem, for carrying out "what many would regard as an impossible task," and for "the excellent products that resulted from its surveys, research, and recommendations." [13] On June 28, 1975, after its tour of Alaska, however, the Advisory Board sent a strongly-worded telegram to Secretary of the Interior Stanley K. Hathaway asserting that

the administrative structure set up to pursue the important Presidential and Congressional decrees concerning major expansion of National Parks in Alaska is hopelessly inadequate. The Alaska Task Force on National Parks has not done its job, and has become an ineffective bureaucratic duplication that by-passes the oversight and control of the Director of the National Park Service. The present organization of the Task Force under the Assistant Secretary is so diffuse and unminitored (sp) that without drastic change the desired Congressional objectives cannot be effectively accomplished.

The board recommended that "planning, implementation and management of the Alaska Parks be accomplished by the Director with delegation to the presently structured Northwest Regional Office and the Alaska state office," and that the Secretary order an audit of Alaska Task Force budgeting, expenditures, and operations. [15]

The Advisory Board's action was really quite extraordinary, and provoked an angry response from Assistant Secretary Nathaniel P. Reed, who lectured the board on its role and function. In retrospect, the charges leveled by the advisory board seem at best to have been emotional and overdrawn. A comprehensive examination of all financial transactions of the Task Force by J.L. Norwood, associate director for administration, found nothing to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of Task Force members. [16]

The Service had considered reorganization in Alaska for some time. As early as 1974, in fact, Alaska Task Force Project Leader Al Henson had discussed reorganization with Ted Swem, suggesting that one way to accomplish the necessarily ambitious program would be to make the Alaska Task Force part of a Professional Support Division in the State Office. [17] The Service had not chosen to change the existing reporting relationships in 1974 but did indicate that it would monitor the program closely and do so when warranted. By May 1975 the Alaska Task Force planners had been asked to comment on a new organizational arrangement that would blend the operations and planning functions together in a new Alaska Area Office. In October, Director Gary Everhardt announced, following "long and careful" consideration, that all NPS functions in Alaska would be brought together in a new Alaska Area Office. The Alaska Task Force would be abolished, but its function would continue in a professional support division in the area office. The next June, as a follow-up to Director Everhardt's announcement, new Pacific Northwest Regional Director Russell Dickenson appointed Don Campbell as the regional office liaison with the Alaska office. Campbell's appointment would, Dickinson wrote, insure that the Seattle office had a clear source of information regarding Alaska affairs. [18]

Everhardt did not go as far as he might have, however, and, whatever his personal inclinations, the new organization indicated an acceptance that the Alaska proposals could not be handled in the normal way. The new area office director, Bryan Harry, a career park manager just completing a stint as superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, would report to the Pacific Northwest Regional Director on all matters concerning the existing park areas and all programs not related to ANCSA. In regard to activities and programs relating to the Service's involvement with implementation of ANCSA, he would report to the Director, through the office of special assistant to the director for Alaska. In practice, because of the direct involvement of the Department of the Interior, Harry often reported directly to the departmental official responsible for the Alaska proposals. [19]

In 1975 and into 1976, moreover, the Park Service re-examined both the organization and role of the Washington office in ANCSA implementation. By May 1976, as indicated in Chapter Four, Director Everhardt had decided to increase the involvement of the Office of Legislation, and had begun to transfer a portion of the activities to that office. The Special Assistant to the Director for Alaska, now had responsibility for all program areas relating to Alaska. [20]

Many, but certainly not all, expected that the Alaska Area office would be upgraded to a regional office when and if an Alaska national interest lands bill were passed. [21] Planning for the establishment of a Regional office in Alaska had begun as early as 1972. By May 1978, as part of implementation planning in anticipation of an Alaska lands act, the Service had begun to investigate more seriously manpower, funding needs, and organizational arrangements for an Alaska Regional Office. [22] Formal establishment of such an office would not come for another two years, but in September 1978 NPS Director Whalen effectively gave the Alaska regional office status. [23] Whalen's action actually depended largely on the personality and influence of John Cook, whom he had tapped to succeed Bryan Harry, who had recently transferred to a similar job as director, Pacific Area Office. Cook, whom Whalen first approached in September 1978, was a third-generation NPS official, had served as NPS Associate Director from 1973-77, and was currently Southwest Regional Director. As a condition of Cook's accepting the position as Alaska Area Director, Whalen agreed that Cook would report directly to the director on all matters, would be able to choose his own deputy (Douglas Warnock), pick his own superintendents, and have "five unencumbered, undesignated, and ungraded positions," which, in Cook's words, could be five "go-go dancers" if that was what he wanted. [24] The Alaska Area Office formally became a regional office by Secretarial Order on December 2, 1980. [25] Between March 1979, when he reported for duty, and 1980, however, John Cook operated as de facto Alaska Regional Director. [26]

Chapter Five continues with...
NPS Activities in Alaska, 1975-1978


Last Modified: Tues, Jan 9 2001 10:08 am PDT

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