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Controversy Over Plans for Changes in U.S. Parks

August 26, 2005|Julie Cart | Times Staff Writer

A Park Service supervisor participating in redrafting the policy said a new version was not ready. He rejected the assertion that Hoffman's version was intended only as a provocative idea-generator.

"The Hoffman document is what the Department of Interior would publish, absent input from the Park Service," said the Park Service veteran, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Craig Obey, vice president for governmental affairs with the National Parks Conservation Assn., a nonprofit group that seeks to protect parks, also dismissed the claim that Hoffman's document didn't reflect policy.

"I would find it surprising that someone would put something like this together as a think piece," Obey said. "Documents like this are put together with a purpose."

But according to Interior spokesman John Wright, the Hoffman document "is no longer in play" and the Park Service is free to produce its own changes without adopting any of Hoffman's suggestions.

Despite his brief tenure with the Interior Department, Hoffman is familiar with controversy. He has weighed in on issues at Mojave National Preserve, opposing the park staff and siding with ranchers and others on grazing and water issues.

Last year, he overruled the decision of the superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park to remove religious plaques on display near the South Rim. And he instructed the park to allow a book that espoused a creationist view of the canyon's formation, which runs counter to the park's own scientific-based approach and had been criticized by the park's scientific staff.

While working in Wyoming, Hoffman took the side of ranchers in opposing the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. According to Chuck Neal, a biologist based in Cody, Hoffman gave a speech in 1996 calling the Park Service decision "the equivalent of detonating a nuclear bomb in the West."

Hoffman was not available for comment.

His latest effort has won the praise of at least one longtime adversary of traditional park policy.

"The Park Service has been arrogant for a very, very long time. They are a cloistered, almost cult-like society," said Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Assn., which frequently clashes with the agency over private property rights.

"The Park Service doesn't believe it needs to listen to what Congress is telling them. They think, 'We know better how to define the law.' They have a whole history of using parks as a tool to lock up land."

But to those loyal to the Park Service's traditions, the management policies are inviolable.

"It's a disaster," said Denis Galvin, who was deputy director of the Park Service from 1998 to 2002 and is an expert on the management policies.

He noted that seemingly obscure issues such as the requirement for maintaining a dark night sky and preserving quiet would no longer be emphasized.

"We know how important these things are for animals," Galvin said. "Birds use the night sky to navigate and animals need to hear each other. This version, as I understand it, doesn't recognize the biological values of those things and it eliminates them as visitor amenities."

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