A: . . . "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects" therein by such means and such manner as have been used today but to conserve them for future generations.
Q: The valley is seven miles long and only a mile wide. How many visitors can you accommodate without affecting the resource? Is that the crux of the planning process? The number of visitors has doubled since 1980.
A: In my mind, it's not [so much] the numbers of people as the management of them. Carrying-capacity studies work great when you're talking about sheep and pasture. But this certainly isn't pasture, and people aren't sheep. It's not so much what they tolerate--like white rats in a maze experiment--but what they prefer. So we're trying to get to the point where we could manage the experience, and the quality of the experience, and help people choose the right thing.
Q: Some argue that a more natural experience, meaning less development, is the better experience.
A: That's saying you've got to enjoy the world the way I enjoy it. I've got black coffee. I don't begrudge you the fact that your coffee has something else in it. There's nothing in that 1916 law that said only if you suffer can you really have the the experience. . . . There's nothing that says these places have to be the way that one class of people sees them.
Q: Your job is to reconcile differences among people to the greatest degree so you can accommodate all?
A: This is my life's work, so maybe I feel a little bit more emotional about it. To me, one of the most special things about Yosemite National Park is the beauty of the place and how it inspired people. It was so important at the time it was set aside that one of our greatest presidents, Lincoln, took time when our country was trying to rip itself apart . . . to set aside Yosemite for the people. Just in its genesis the park is special.
I think this place is so special for so many reasons. It is more than than just a place, it is a sacred place. And what we do here, we have to do for the common good, not just for the most shrill or the loudest voice who thinks their way is the best way. Does it mean it's a place where anybody can engage in any particular recreational pursuit just because it can be done here? I don't think it is, because it's not a recreation area. It's the most special of our places. That's why we're not a land-management agency. We manage our nation's heritage, our national patrimony, the things that define us as a people.
Q: But you do have to manage future development in the park.
A: Sure. The 1916 act didn't say set these places aside but don't do anything with them. The 1980 general-management plan at least preserved it until today. Maybe we haven't got it right yet. But at least it's improved, and almost 50% of that general-management plan has already been implemented. We're still working at the hard stuff, but this place is worth the effort.
Q: Are the decisions left to you the toughest ones?
A: We will take public comment over the next couple months and come up, I think in the spring, with a final plan that may not satisfy everyone, but it'll be the best plan for the common good, the public good. It'll be the plan that best meets the challenges that we have before us.
Q: You have a reputation for resolving disputes.
A: The basic thing is to listen, to understand what others are trying to say what the disagreements are and understand the problem, first of all. There may be segments that may not have their way, but at least we'll hear it. Sometimes, people will have great ideas, but you can't always execute them. We've got to take the stuff we can implement to get to where we need to go, as opposed to trying to take giant leaps and faltering and falling down. I think we'll come out with a plan that will stand the test of time.
Q: A transit system is still critical?
A: The flood of 1997 [which washed out roads and campgrounds] offered us an opportunity and also just increased the complexity of the challenge. It would have been wonderful if we could have just stopped the world, closed the park and then fixed it and opened it up again. But we didn't have that luxury. We have people who want to visit while we're doing it. There's the short-term stuff we have to deal with while we're crafting a long-term fix. The transit portion has to be more effective. We have to do a better job to move people around.
That does not mean that we have to force them into it. Folks in the gateway communities are just horribly fearful that we're banning all automobiles. What if the visitors are just going in for the day? Well, they can come in and drive their car for the day, but maybe if they want to get a parking space they're going to have to get here early. Maybe we can have some incentives that they would choose to park somewhere outlying and take the bus. What we've got to do is get out of the negative part of the transportation.
Q: You can't please everyone.