National Parks Issues Wait For New Head
DAVID GREENE, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
The first family is venturing into the great outdoors this weekend. President Obama and his wife and two daughters are touring several national parks out West. Today they're in Yellowstone. Right now the National Parks Service is still waiting for a permanent direction.
Mr. Obama's nominee for that position is John Jarvis, who is currently overseeing parks in the Pacific West region. And if the members of the Senate confirm Jarvis after their August recess, he'll face a number of challenges. And to talk about some of those challenges, we've brought in Rob Arnberger. He retired from the service in 2003 and was in charge of several parks during his long career. He joins us from member station KUAZ in Tucson, Arizona. Welcome.
Mr. ROB ARNBERGER: Glad to be here, David. Thank you for inviting me.
GREENE: Oh, of course. So Mr. Arnberger, when you were regional director of the parks in Alaska, John Jarvis was director of the Pacific West region. So I assume you two worked together. What are some of the things he worked on that you feel like are important to him?
Mr. ARNBERGER: Well, we teamed up on several, but one that stands out in my mind was an educational initiative that would restore the vitality and the integrity and the initiative and imagination back to the National Parks Service education program.
GREENE: What is some of that? Like, what can people learn from the parks if the program's gone well?
Mr. ARNBERGER: Let's look at what parks represent. You know, I mean, there are 391 sites and they're an expression of our national identity. They represent the best collection of what we are as an American people from places where we gained our liberty to some of the most incredible wilderness and wild places to homes of leaders and sites of shame that we even commemorate as part of the learning process of the culture.
It's important for people to have a touchstone as to what we are as a people and where we came from. And history is part of that, but also the protection of our resources, of maintaining these vital places as part of the fabric of American culture, is an important piece of business. And…
GREENE: But when it comes to protection, as you said, you're actually on the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. And that advocacy group…
Mr. ARNBERGER: That's correct.
GREENE: …was against a new law that allows visitors to carry loaded guns into national parks. And that law is going to take effect in February. So what does the Parks Service do to prepare for that?
Mr. ARNBERGER: Well, the first order of business for the secretary of the interior is to start a rule making that's required once the law is passed, and it has to answer such questions as, you know, does that allow employees to carry weapons on the job now? Those are unanswered questions and there's a multitude of others that are not answered in the law.
So once the rule is articulated, then in fact it's up to the Parks Service superintendent to follow those rules and implement those rules. And…
GREENE: Let me just ask you about the tension that we've long heard about when it comes to the National Parks Service. I mean, between preserving the land for tourism but also preserving it for environmental conservation. Is that tension still there? Is that still a problem?
Mr. ARNBERGER: I think that tension is a manufactured tension.
Mr. ARNBERGER: I think the framers of the original Organic Act in 1916 that created the national park system clearly said the primary mission of the National Parks Service was to protect the landscape, to protect those resources and then to provide them for enjoyment.
GREENE: So the enjoyment is the second priority.
Mr. ARNBERGER: It has to be, because you have to protect the fabric of what is there for people to even enjoy it.
GREENE: We've been talking to Rob Arnberger. Over his career, he was in charge of national parks in Alaska, also Grand Canyon National Park. Mr. Arnberger, thanks for joining us.
Mr. ARNBERGER: Thank you very much for having me, David.