Rear-view policy 

Bush’s secret agenda for marketing parks

They say the Pentagon’s generals always fight current wars using the strategies and tactics from the war prior—and there are certainly plenty of examples to back up the truism. But the “living in the past” syndrome doesn’t apply just to the military. In many ways, on both the state and federal level, bureaucracies and the political appointees who manage them are woefully behind the times.

Take the recent shocking news released by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) concerning the Bush administration’s secret rewrite for national park management. Given that the rewrite was conducted under the direction of a Bush political appointee—a former head of the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce—it should come as no surprise that national parks and seashores are envisioned as marketable motorized playgrounds, where pollution and noise are welcome and environmental damages are expected.

Like so much in the Bush administration, the nefarious document was created in secrecy, without a single Congressional hearing or input from park superintendents or the public. For a full explanation of what such a radical redrawing of park management might mean to future generations of Americans, feel free to access the document at

But hold on to your hat when you read the original secret document and the analysis by retired park service employees. Just a few excerpts from “Trashing National Parks” by Patrick Mitchell in this week’s Hiking/Camping News will give you the gist of the Bush agenda.

• “Under the proposed rules, the use of snowmobiles would be radically expanded from currently limited levels at Yellowstone and other national parks. In dozens of national parks and seashore areas, the use of jet skis, ORVs, dirt bikes and other mechanized vehicles would be permitted on a virtually unrestricted basis.”

• “At Shenandoah National Park, polluters would get a seat at the table to decide how much they should be allowed to impair the air quality and views at the park.”

• “At Great Smoky Mountains National Park and dozens of other parks, the rules would permit huge increases in the number of noisy overflights that destroy the natural peace and quiet.”

According to Jerry Rogers, the former associate director for cultural resources of the National Park Service and a member of CNPSR’s executive council: “This radical rewrite stands nearly 100 years of national park stewardship on its head. Under these changes, the sights, sounds, and smells of motorized vehicles would dominate previously quiet parks. No longer would such impacts damage only Yellowstone and a handful of other parks. These rule changes would unleash on our national parks an army of off-road vehicles, dirt bikes, jet skis, powerboats, dune buggies and the like. No seashore, reservoir, forest area or desert patch would be immune from this attack and the result would be devastating: the end of national parks as the last great places where America cherishes the outdoors.”

So horrific was the rewrite that current park superintendents, once they got wind of the document, revolted en masse and forced the Department of Interior to change it. Those changes aside, according to Wade, the secret document remains the “true agenda” of the Bushies. “If the Interior Department tells you that this rewrite of the rules is no longer on the table and that it doesn’t really reflect what they want to do, my advice would be simple: Don’t believe a word of it. Say whatever else you want about it, but this is an incredibly honest document that exposes the true agenda of the people running the Interior Department. Making a few cosmetic changes and pretending to walk away from this draft won’t change a thing. This document is the game plan and they aren’t really going to move off what, in fact, is their true agenda.”

Closer to home, the same wacky idea to turn parks into cash cows seems to have found adherents in Montana’s own Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. In a recently released document titled “Connections: A marketing plan for Montana State Parks,” the agency lauds the money generated by the new $4 vehicle registration fee and suggests using it to establish a program that will “create a driving force that attracts new visitors, establishes visitor expectations” and “manages visitor behavior.” Moreover, FWP thinks parks should be used to “facilitate economic development through tourism” and “meet the needs of savvy consumers who want the most value for their money.”

Most Montanans likely consider going to a state park as an outing in our wonderful natural environment or an opportunity to visit a historic site—not an exercise in “savvy consumerism.” It is also likely that most would prefer to have those who manage our parks work on picking up the garbage, cleaning the toilets, controlling the noxious weeds and restoring damages to the natural or historic environment instead of devising new ways to “manage visitor behavior.”

Given the aging status of Baby Boomers, the economic struggles as our kids try to deal with the world we’ve left them, record high prices for gas and the likely decline of expensive and polluting power toys, you might think state and federal agencies would include such factors in future management plans. After all, with gas projected to hit $3 a gallon or more, how many more RV sites do we realistically have to build? And how many more multi-million-dollar “visitor centers” will we really need? If anything, this summer’s “Lewis and Clark” bust—an event that was predicted to be an overwhelming “boom” by these same people—should give us a clue.

But no. Thanks to “living in the past” syndrome, instead of carefully stewarding these precious public resources for future generations, the current agenda is to market our state and federal parklands for more commercial use, more pollution and more resource damage—inevitably steering us into a degraded future by driving with both eyes on the rear-view mirror.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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