Washington, DC — The vast trove of natural resources within our national park system is in far worse shape today than eight years ago, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which points to the turbulent tenure of National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan (Jon) Jarvis as the primary cause. After nearly eight often scandal-plagued years, Jarvis steps down today as the 18th NPS Director.
“By almost any measure, Jon Jarvis is the worst Park Service Director within living memory,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that national parks were far better protected during the Clinton and both Bush administrations. “In a misguided quest for ‘relevancy,’ Jarvis repeatedly sold out the very values and resources at the core of the Park Service mission.”
Aside from his own ethical violations, a series of festering sexual harassment scandals and a maintenance backlog ballooning to $12 billion, or four times the entire NPS annual operating budget, PEER points to a Jarvis track record of removing safeguards designed to protect –
- Wildlife. One of his first actions as Director was to kill a planned ban on lead-based ammunition and fishing tackle on park lands. He followed that by dropping promised protections for Mojave Desert tortoises and topped it off by authorizing commercial harvest of park plants and trees;
- Habitat. Jarvis authorized new mountain-biking trails to carve up park backcountry, bent rules to give swamp buggies access to the wilds of Big Cypress and pushed to allow jet-skiing to disturb national sea and lakeshores. A typical Jarvis deal was greenlighting – behind closed-doors – a humongous power transmission corridor cutting across some of the most scenic portions of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; and
- Against Commercial Intrusion. In one of his early acts, Jarvis authorized corporate bio-prospecting of park flora and fauna. And in one of his final acts, he expanded displays of corporate logos, billboards and other “recognition” inside parks. To please corporate donors he blocked a ban on sales of plastic bottles – the biggest component of most parks’ waste-streams – falsely claiming he acted out of concern for visitor safety. While forced to backtrack, Jarvis drop-kicked a system-wide goal of halting disposable water product sales and installation of drinking water filling stations (capable of filling reusable containers) in 75% of all visitor facilities by 2016.
Park resources were further strained by Jarvis’ strategy to drive park visitation to ever new record levels even in parks already paralyzed by overcrowding. Compounding these ruinous effects was abandonment of park planning during the Jarvis years. As a result, most major parks no longer have statutorily-required general management plans and almost none take steps to prevent resource damage from overcrowding.
“Many of the adverse consequences from Jarvis policies are yet to be fully realized but may be felt for generations unless reversed,” added Ruch, noting that one of the only times Jarvis actually stood up to protect park resources was his insistence that a permit for an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore not be renewed. “The Jarvis record was so bad that national parks may be one environmental program to fare better in a Trump administration.”