for National Geographic News
In an about-face that has environmentalists cheering, the Bush Administration proposed new management policies this week that make conservation the U.S. National Park Service's top priority.
The policies reverse an earlier Bush Administration proposal to allow more commercialization and motorized recreation in the parks.
The decision could have significant ramifications for everything from snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and Jet Ski use to the construction of cell phone towers. (See "Cell Phone Towers in U.S. Parks Dial Up Debate" [May 31].)
"Where there is a conflict between conserving resources unimpaired for future generations and the use of those resources, conservation will be predominant," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who took office in March, said in a statement on Monday.
"That is the heart of these policies and the lifeblood of our nation's commitment to care for these special places and provide for their enjoyment."
The new management plan, which evolved from an extensive comment process that predated Kempthorne's tenure, was widely viewed as a test for the newly appointed secretary.
"Essentially, this is a 180-degree turn for this administration," said Kristen Brengel of the Wilderness Society, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group.
"The policies they first proposed were terrible, if you were conservation minded," she said.
"They would have lowered standards for protecting parks, would have allowed more off-road vehicle use, allowed more development, lowered standards on clean air, and made significant changes in language that makes the Park Service a leader among land-management agencies."
Brengel gives the revised policies high marks.
"This is pretty much a restoration of 2001 policies, which we fully supported and [that] say that conservation is the predominant mandate of the National Park Service."
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES