WASHINGTON - February 21 - Buried in the fine print of a Bush administration makeover of national parks are authorizations for artificially increasing fish and wildlife populations within parks “to provide appropriate visitor enjoyment,” according to an analysis of draft National Park Service Management Policies released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The policies would also, for the first time, subject park wildlife to state hunting regulations and would substantially weaken wilderness protections. If adopted, these changes would mark a radical change of direction in park management.
The public comment period for the controversial top-to-bottom revision of national park policies closed last Saturday, February 18, two months after the original deadline was extended at congressional request. The plan, championed by Paul Hoffman, a top Interior Department official and former Dick Cheney aide, would make “visitor enjoyment” a paramount park system purpose that could trump resource preservation.
While the role the plan would play in expanding all-terrain vehicle traffic, proliferating cell phone towers and weakening air quality safeguards have occupied much of the public debate, studded deep within the 275-page plan are other far-reaching changes, including –
- Game Farming. The Bush plan explicitly allows the stocking fish and wildlife for the purpose of “recreational harvesting” in all park units where hunting and fishing is permitted. Currently, introduction of wildlife is limited to restoring natural ecosystem balance, such as the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Similarly, the plan would allow for the removal of predators in order to increase the availability of game animals, such as elk, for hunters;
- State Control Over National Park Wildlife. Under the proposed policies, states would be given “shared jurisdiction” over park wildlife, with respect to issues such as trapping, trespass, control of “feral livestock” and other management issues. This concession to state control would compromise the ability of national parks to set stricter rules when need to conserve park wildlife; and
- Wilderness. The Bush plan is honeycombed with provisions that restrict or supersede wilderness preservation.
Like his mentor, Hoffman is an avid hunter and has often clashed with park officials on hunting issues in the past. Last year, for example, Hoffman forced the Mojave National Preserve to illegally set up artificial water sources in order to facilitate hunting of desert wildlife which would congregate around the piped-in water. The Hoffman plan was retracted after PEER and other organizations sued.
“This plan certainly was not crafted by professional park managers; it bears the paw-prints of hunting groups who have long wanted greater access to park preserves,” stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, the former assistant superintendent at Mojave National Preserve, who underlined a multitude threats posed by the plan to what he termed the fundamental “three W’s of national parks – wildlife, wilderness and water.” “If the devil is in the details, this plan deserves to be consigned to a fiery pit.”
On February 2, PEER sued the Interior Department under the Freedom of information Act for failing to surrender documents identifying which lobbyists worked behind the scenes with Hoffman and other top officials to develop this park plan. Last week, the Interior Solicitor’s office indicated that it would hand over the documents but had not done so prior to the plan’s public comment deadline.