Guns, Climate Change Face New National Park Director

Jon Jarvis is the new director of the nation's parks. A former park ranger himself, he'll now command a veritable army of rangers through a $8-billion-dollar maintenance backlog, great concerns about the effects of climate change on the parks and the neverending battle between park use and conservation. What's his first priority? Host Scott Simon asks Jarvis about the challenges facing him.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

John Jarvis is the new director of the nation's park. He'll be in a new role but not in unfamiliar territory. Mr. Jarvis started with the National Park Service more than three decades ago, handing out maps to tourists on the National Mall during bicentennial celebrations. He is a former park ranger who will now command a veritable army of park rangers.

Mr. Jarvis joins us now from Oakland, California, where he's packing up his office as director of the Park Service's Pacific West region and prepares to move to Washington, D.C. Mr. Jarvis, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. JOHN JARVIS (Director, National Park Service): Well, thank you very much. I love being on your program.

SIMON: What do you see as your first priority?

Mr. JARVIS: Well, certainly the maintenance backlog is one of our top priorities. The infrastructure of our national parks, as you may be aware, was constructed over the last 100 years, a lot of it many decades old. But that's just one of my priorities. I think there are other challenges and opportunities that are presented for us for the National Park system in these coming years.

SIMON: I know that you - well, for example, you oppose the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. Is that something you'd like to reverse? Can you?

Mr. JARVIS: Well, the snowmobile issue in Yellowstone National Park has been an ongoing challenge for several decades, actually. And we have dueling courts and embedded constituencies on all sides of this issue. I will say that in recent years that there have been significant improvements to the resources in the park and to the experience by the current limitations on the number of snowmobiles and the increased use of snow coaches.

And requirements for both best technology and the snow machines themselves as well as the guiding requirements, all of that has improved both the quality of the experience in terms of sound, air quality and effects on wildlife.

SIMON: Mr. Jarvis, beginning in January, visitors will be allowed to carry guns in national parks - legally registered guns. Do you oppose or support that?

Mr. JARVIS: Well, my job as the director of the National Park Service is to implement the laws related to our national parks as passed by Congress and signed by the president. And in this case it will be my responsibility to implement that law, which will allow the carrying of both open carry and concealed weapons beginning in January in our national parks.

So it's appropriate for me to make sure that our park rangers are prepared and well steeped in state law, which really will be the applicable law in these cases, as well as the parks are signed for where you can and in some cases cannot carry the weapon - where we have federal employees operating in federal facilities.

SIMON: You know, we're following our interview with you, Mr. Jarvis, with a report on someone who's a ranger in Yosemite who left El Salvador at the age of 10 and now is involved in, you know, outreach programs. Would you like to increase the diversity among visitors to our national parks?

Mr. JARVIS: Absolutely. I mean, Ken Burns' and David Duncan's film do a very good job of expressing the sort of democratic ideals of the national parks, in that all Americans can stand equally, regardless of their ethnicity or their economic status, shoulder-to-shoulder and view the Grand Canyon.

The problem is, is that the lineup along the edge of the Grand Canyon does not really reflect the demographic ethnic diversity of this country. I find that to be a problem. Not all Americans are experiencing their national parks. And another one of my priorities is to rebuild that connection between the national parks, both natural and cultural parks, and all Americans.

SIMON: Mr. Jarvis, thanks so much.

Mr. JARVIS: Thank you very much.

SIMON: John Jarvis is the newly-appointed director of the National Park Service.

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