Thursday, October 2, 2014

No Parking

I realize there's a host of major issues going on right now - ISIS, Ebola, the impending midterm elections, and so on. But there's a few little issues bubbling up under the radar as well. To wit:
Since last autumn’s government shutdown, when “Barrycades” blocked visitors from entering National Park Service sites such as Yellowstone, but also open-space plazas such as the World War II Memorial in Washington, the NPS has gone from America’s most-loved federal agency to a place among the rest of the Everglades-type muck that is the national government.
Not content with that public relations fiasco, the NPS is embarking on a stealth campaign to raise fees at many of our public repeat public parks.
The National Park Service is proposing to boost entrance fees at 131 of the 401 public properties it manages.

“The proposed increases in park entrance fees will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors,” said Park Service director Jon Jarvis in an Aug. 14 memo to regional directors urging them to foster public support for the first fee increase since 2008.
Notice the date of the memo (Aug. 14) which is just now coming to light. So much for 'the most transparent administration in history.'

I might have some sympathy for a fee increase, especially since the NPS has held fees level for the past six years, if not for a couple of things.

First, according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the NPS "spends $650 million a year administering a $2.6 billion budget." That's 25% of the total budget for administrative overhead, a ratio Coburn terms "outlandish."

I'm with you on that one, Tom.

Second, the NPS has a curious, to say the least, collection of parks. For example, there's the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site near San Francisco. It averages less than 10 visitors per day. As Coburn notes, “With nine employees, the National Park Service often has more staff working the grounds, than daily visitors.”

On a larger scale:

Of the top 25 most visited National Parks in 2012, only 8 have been approved since 1970 – of the 25 least visited parks, 20 have been established since 1970.

That's a record of ineptness that spans multiple administrations.

Not to be outdone by the NPS, the U.S. Forest Service has come up with an innovative revenue-raising scheme.
According to a proposed update to U.S. Forest Service regulations, still photography or video taken in any of its 439 Federal Wilderness Areas is subject to permitting (costing up to $1,500) or you can face a $1,000 fine per photo.

A little-noticed USFS “interim rule” has been in place for four years, and is now being updated to include new restrictions on vaguely defined “commercial filming” in wilderness areas. The new regulation was set to go into effect at the end of October, but due to a recent social media and political uproar, the USFS has graciously allowed the public to comment on the regulation an extra month until December 3. You can post your opinions their website, but keep in mind, the USFS says it will merely “consider such input” but it “may not be implemented, and we wish for the public to understand that.”

According to the text of the regulation, the USFS requires a permit for any photography that “uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources.” So technically, if your mom in your hiking photo, she’s a model, and you owe USFS a thousand bucks. Want to take a picture of your backpack on top of a summit? Sorry, that’s a prop, fork over another grand.

If you want to follow the rules and get a permit, guess what, the Forest Service is able to approve what sort of message your photo or video will deliver. From the updated regulations, photo or video must have: “a primary objective of dissemination of information about the use and enjoyment of wilderness…”

Perhaps the initial reasoning behind the rule was to keep major Hollywood film crews from sneaking into a wilderness and clear-cutting a forest for the next Jurassic Park sequel without a permit. Except this scenario never actually happened, nor is anyone proposing it.

According to the Oregonian story that launched the current uproar, Forest Service Wilderness Director Liz Close “didn’t cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it’s addressing. She didn’t know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years.”

Politicians, including Oregon congressman Oregon Greg Walden and Montana’s Republican and Democratic party representatives, have publicly called out the Forest Service for “the implications this [rule] has for Americans’ First Amendment freedoms of speech and press.”

In response Forest Service agency chief Tom Tidwell claimed via a news release that the “Forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment,” and that the rules don’t apply to news coverage or recreational photography, and that the permits would “only” be $800. Despite Tidwell’s claims, Idaho Public Television was denied access to film on Forest Service lands for a prior project based on the regulation, and the text of the rules give no definition or distinction between recreational, commercial, or news photography or video.

When the discrepancy between Tidwell’s free speech claims and the actual wording of the regulation were brought up to him in an interview, he said: “This is an example of where we need to clarify.”
Don't these people have anything better to do than sit sround all day thinking up ridiculous schemes to interfere with people enjoying what are supposed to be our national parks and wilderness areas?

No need to answer. That was a rhetorical question...


Bag Blog said...

In the late 1950's my dad built a small cabin in Kit Carson National Forest in NM on a 99 year lease. There were probably about 10 or 12 of these cabins built about that same time. We eventually sold our cabin. A few years ago a friend who still has her family cabin said that all the 99 year leases were thrown out and new short term leases made. The cabin owners had no choice in the matter. Then the forest service people began harassing the owners with subjective rules - my friend had to remove flower boxes which had been on her cabin for years because they were not "cabin-like." Then during high fire danger due to drought, the rangers shut down all National Forest land to hikers and campers. That was understandable. But when they stopped my fried from taking a morning walk down the road in front of her cabin, I thought that was crazy. The forest service rangers have become some sort of Gestapo. The owners have to comply or possibly lose their leases.

CenTexTim said...

BB, we have friends who run cattle on U.S. Forest land. So far they haven't encountered any problems, although I suspect that's because (1) they've been doing it for multiple generations; (2) they're in a remote part of the country where this is generally accepted practice (Wyoming), and (3) they've built up good relations with the local Forest Service rangers. But I can see how things could be different in a more highly visible location.

P.S. - The flower box thing is absurd.