Senators Welcome New National Parks Plan

Posted on June 21, 2006

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne won praise Tuesday from both sides of Capitol Hill as lawmakers welcomed a new management plan for national parks that stresses conservation as the park service's predominant job. The policy reverses a proposal by Kempthorne's predecessor, Gale Norton, that would have shifted the parks' priorities toward recreation. It is one of Kempthorne's first moves after resigning as Idaho's governor to take over the Interior Department last month. The plan is expected to become final in August. ''The National Park Service has proved to be a good listener, and Secretary Kempthorne is therefore off to a good start,'' said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Alexander and other senators called the new management plan a vast improvement over a draft released last fall, which they said raised serious concerns about the park service's commitment to conservation and air quality in the nation's 390 national parks. Lawmakers said they were especially pleased at Kempthorne's statement that when there is a conflict between conserving natural resources and using them, ''conservation will be predominant.'' Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said Kempthorne's comments -- and the new management plan -- should ensure that ''we are passing on these crown jewels to future generations.'' Thomas Kiernan, president of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said the new report redeemed a review process that he said threatened the very mission of the National Park Service. ''What began as a difficult process appears poised to produce a product that is good for American parks and good for the American public,'' Kiernan said at a hearing of a Senate subcommittee on national parks. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., the panel's chairman, said the park service ''seems to have improved'' in compiling the new report, noting that the agency received nearly 50,000 comments on the draft report released last fall. Under the new policy, snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts will have a tougher time getting permission to ride in national parks. The report emphasizes that when deciding whether to allow cell towers, ATVs or jet skis, a park supervisor must consider whether they would damage not only the air, water, land and wildlife, but also ''the atmosphere of peace and tranquility and natural soundscapes'' in parks. The report specifies that lands eligible for wilderness designation should be free from snowmobiles, ATVs and other motorized vehicles. Maureen Healey, executive director of the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, said her group supports the new draft. Recent scientific studies on the use of personal watercraft at 15 national parks ''have all have determined that personal watercraft present no unique impact and should be allowed where other motorboating is allowed,'' Healey said.