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NPS lobby internal “blowup” over advance public knowledge of NPS acquisition plans

Don't Tell the Victims: Problems when targeted property owners find out too soon

The massive new National Park campaign to take over private property across rural Maine launched publicly in 1988 as part of a long term nationwide National Park System expansion campaign was devised by the National Park Service's private lobby arm, the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA). NPCA planners collaborated in secret with both the National Park Service itself and other activist organizations.

Chief of Planning and Design for the North Atlantic Region of the National Park Service Terry Savage told the New England Environmental Network [NEEN] leadership conference at Tufts University, Medford, MA in 1990 that NPCA is “a legislative lobbyist for the National Park Service”.

The “Acknowledgements” in the NPCA Plan include
“This volume is the product of the largest single study ever undertaken by the National Parks and Conservation Association, involving countless hours of research and assistance by numerous NPCA staff, our entire grassroots network, and other dedicated in individuals inside and outside the National Park Service... Finally, we wish to acknowledge the contribution of numerous field professionals in the National Park Service for providing information and answering questions throughout the course of this study.”

In Maine, preservationist activists including the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust provided targeting information and regional political activism.

The National Park Service (NPS) was created as a Federal agency of the Department of the Interior in 1916. Three years later, in 1919, its first Director, Stephen Mather, organized the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) as the private lobby arm of the NPS. It was a politically elite organization intended to act politically and financially on behalf of the NPS in ways not permitted to a government agency, and helped to turn the National Park Service into today's powerful fiefdom that typically answers only to itself.

NPCA remains a top-down organization. John Miles, professor of environmental studies and Director of the Center for Geography and Environmental Social Studies, wrote in his sympathetic but sometimes revealing history of the NPCA, Guardians of the Parks Taylor & Francis, 1995:

“The organization is not truly grassroots – that is, derived from local-level activism. Most of its activity is generated from Washington, D.C., and done there, but in the 1990's, its communications with people near the parks, and these people have become an integral and important part of NPCA's approach to park protection and advocacy work.” [p.308]

NPCA “grassroots membership” serves primarily one purpose: to provide money, in addition to foundation grant income, for its political activism. Miles writes:

“The growth of association activity on all fronts depended on increased revenue, and a revenue base required membership… In 1988 the association began participating in the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, which increased membership in leaps and bounds through the gimmick of offering an inexpensive magazine subscription to register for the sweepstakes drawing. Retention of members recruited in this fashion was very low, but the effort did expose many new people to NPCA. Membership, excluding Publisher's Clearinghouse “membership”, stood at 95,000 in 1989... [Following a new membership drive campaign,] the membership had ... reached 350,000 in 1993... remarkable growth that significantly increased NPCA's resources and allowed program expansion.” [p.308–9]


NPS/NPCA “The Plan”

The following excerpt from Guardians of the Parks describes the NPCA's arrogant National Park System government-acquisition planning project. The account begins with period in 1982, after NPCA lost much of its political influence over Interior Department policy (but not over the National Park Service with its Civil Service-protected activists) after Jimmy Carter lost his 1980 re-election to Ronald Reagan (called “anti-government” by Miles).

“After [NPCA's] Destry Jarvis's [park expansion] challenge in 1982 was refused by the National Park Service (because the political climate would make meaningful planning by that agency impossible), NPCA took up its own challenge. It would attempt something never done before – a nongovernmental organization would write a plan for a government agency...

“The project's emphasis would be on park resources. Little attention would be paid to the maintenance and administrative dimensions of National Park Service responsibilities, although they would be factored into analysis where essential. The intended audiences for the plan were the Park Service, Congress, and the public. An executive summary of the project report would be prepared for the general reader.

“The adjacent lands survey had revealed many problems related to activity outside park boundaries; therefore, another part of any analysis of resource protection must examine boundary issues... What significant natural and cultural areas not already part of the National Park System should be added? What criteria should be used to identify new areas -- a central NPCA question for so long?...


“Internal debate raged about the wisdom of releasing the specifics of these boundary recommendations, and two versions of the boundary study were prepared, one with specifics and one without them. The fear was that identification of suggested boundary adjustments would give ammunition to the anti-park forces such as the National Inholders Association and the emerging Wise Use Movement...”


“The project planning team, headed by Jarvis, divided up the task...

“Consultants and project staff were hired. Jean McKendry, Dave Simon, Terry Kilpatrick, and Kirsten Artmen were recruited to work on the project. As work progressed and the scale of the underataking became evident, Washington staff members were drawn into the work. Susan Buffone, Steve Whitney, Laura Beaty, Robert pierce, Bill Lienesch, Laura Loomis, Frances Kennedy, Brien Culhane, Kathy Sferra, and Bruce Craig all labored on parts of the project. At one point, according to Bill Lienesch, all the staff usually involved in conservation and legislative affairs except him were working on the plan, and he was stretched to the limit. Everyone was stretched. The work was demanding, requiring exceptionally long hours. Tempers sometimes flared, and schedules were pushed back.

“The plan eventually sorted itself into nine volumes that were released in April 1988, well beyond the project's anticipated deadline. Titled Investing in Park Futures: A Blueprint for Tommorrow and called by everyone ‘The National Park System Plan,’ the report was impressive in its scale and its scope. The plan offered 147 recommendations. NPCA recommended that forty-six natural areas and forty cultural areas be added to the system. It recommended specific boundary adjustments for many units. Internal debate raged about the wisdom of releasing the specifics of these boundary recommendations, and two versions of the boundary study were prepared, one with specifics and one without them. The fear was that identification of suggested boundary adjustments would give ammunition to the anti-park forces such as the National Inholders Association and the emerging Wise Use Movement...


“A blowup resulted in the departure of Destry Jarvis from NPCA after sixteen years of service... The final straw for Pritchard came when he thought he and Jarvis had agreed they would not release the detailed version of the boundary study. When Jarvis released the study, Pritchard decided that Jarvis should move on.”


“Preparing and releasing such a report would be only the first step in the effort to implement its recommendations. NPCA revised its strategic plan in 1988 and incorporated in it strategies for implementing the National Park System Plan. An effort to educate Congress and the Nation Park Service about the plan and its recommendations was foremost in the program for park protection; however, internal stresses generated by the massive effort to produce the plan interfered in the followup necessary to its promotion and implementation. A blowup resulted in the departure of Destry Jarvis from NPCA after sixteen years of service...

“The project proved much more demanding of NPCA resources than anticipated. Once it began, there was no turning back. The association's reputation rode on this project's successful completion. As the work progressed, more staff time was drawn into it. Budget shortfalls required that grant funds be supplemented from the operating budget, and at the peak of the effort, NPCA's operating budget ran into red ink for the first and only time during the Pritchard administration. Pritchard supported the project as a vehicle to provide coherence and systematic structure for the association's park protection work, but he was not willing to let it bankrupt the enterprise. Although there was no real danger of that happening, the stresses of the effort strained the relationship of the two men. The final straw for Pritchard came when he thought he and Jarvis had agreed they would not release the detailed version of the boundary study. When Jarvis released the study, Pritchard decided that Jarvis should move on.

“Precisely when the political work to sell the National Park System Plan was needed, its principle architect and advocate left the organization. Bill Lienesch shifted into Jarvis's role, but he did not have the broad knowledge of the plan and could not lead the educational effort that would have been possible under Jarvis' direction. As a result, followup was less than needed to achieve the plan's full impact in the policy arena. The National Park System Plan was in circulation, but NPCA could not aggressively promote it. The organization moved onto other priorities. The plan was a solid body of work and contained many reasonable recommendations. The association worked on the Park Service and Congress to implement some of those recommendations, but promotion for the plan as a whole -- as a comprehensive longe range plan -- was less than it might have been if its architect had remained with NPCA.” [pp. 300-305]

Jarvis left well after the aggressive national promotion of the Plan and House Parks subcommittee chair Rep. Bruce Vento introduced his 1988 bill to implement the NPCA Plan Vol. 5. Obviously there were people in NPCA other than Jarvis familiar with the plan. NPCA was still promoting its park plan for Maine's Washington County as one of its top 10 priorities in 1990, even though its front organizations in the state had visibly dropped out of public promotion due to the controversy.


“Owners of property targeted for a park are arrogantly dismissed as no more than temporary political obstacles to be overcome for the goals of the park elitists not to be questioned.”

NPCA: “We are learning, but it is a fight... against the belief that property is one of those inalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator through the Declaration of Independence.”


Not mentioned by Miles is that an enormous backlash by property owners nationwide beginning in the late spring of 1988 helped kill the Plan. The release of the Plan was itself “ammunition” that NPCA feared from ordinary people standing up for their rights.


NPS Planning Chief Mocks Property Owners

NPS Planning Chief Savage elaborated to the 1990 NEEN leadership conference, mocking the people afraid of losing their property:

“The only problem we find is that they're [NPCA] such — I don't want to use the term zealots about adding parks to the system — but they're so interested in what they put out, the recent 8 or 9 or 10 volume National Park System Plan, this whole very extensive piece that suggested a whole series of additional parks be added. They named them, and so what's happened as a result of that is that all of the antagonists of the National Parks and Forests and others have been put on notice to watch us.”

“We had to cancel a bunch of studies up in Maine along the coast because the newspapers were filling up with articles about we're going to come in and gobble up the land and kick little old ladies and men off their property and stuff like that, so we've gotten into some trouble because of that, but that's great, it keeps our name in front of people.”

Savage did not mention the recent NPS condemnation threats just down the coast at Acadia National Park, that the “studies” he referred to were already being exploited by Maine Coast Heritage Trust who was writing one of the “studies” for NPS to prevent use of private property, and that two “studies” secretly designating National Natural Landmarks encompassing 20 miles of private property were stopped when Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME) shut down the program because NPS and its collaborators were violating the rights of property owners nationwide.

shenandoah2.jpg The newspapers derided by Savage had not mentioned “little old ladies” (or men) but the imagery comes from the NPS's own early history depicted by a famous Washington Post photo of two NPS bouncers dragging a woman out of her home in 1937 for the Shenandoah National Park that displaced thousands of rural “mountain people” regarded as unimportant. (The modern NPS with its professional PR, especailly since the documentary For the Good of All, is more media savy, but has never renounced or apologized for its abuse.)

“Powerful Network” with Pressure Groups

But Savage did describe the inside collaboration between the National Park Service and the pressure group activists:

One of the things we've been doing is that we've held two meetings now with local conservation organizations over the last year, I think, two, and it's only some of them. What we want to do is to get all of the organizations together, just all of us, in groups and begin to develop a network, a computer network, a physical one on one network, where people work together, but more importantly what we want to develop also is, from that network and a network of park administrators throughout New England, to develop, swat teams, if you will, to go out and look at all the different parks, constantly monitor them, and to develop state of the parks reports every, maybe two or three years or so, so that we can watch what's happening in the state of the parks.

And if we're all talking together we're going to be a much more powerful group of people than if we're all talking individually. It's not well thought out in detail yet Bob, but that's sort of -- I think we have the fabric to do it and I think we're the only region of the country that could do it. So I think we're going to be really leading in that. I think we have a wonderful future in New England for the environmental interests and preservation interests because of that and because we have great resources.

NPCA “Fight” Against Property Rights on Principle

The attitude of the NPCA/NPS is that once they decide they want land for a park, nothing else matters beyond ends justifies the means. They have no idea of the moral principle of private property rights or any other civil rights. Owners of property targeted for a park are arrogantly dismissed as no more than temporary political obstacles to be overcome for the goals of the park elitists and not to be questioned.

This is observable throughout their planning and actions, but NPCA's magazine National Parks made it explicit (Sept./Oct. 1993, Richard Stapleton):

“Ownership, I came to realize, is temporal: The land belongs to none of us. The catch in the ‘takings’ argument is that nothing is being taken. Land use in America has historically been determined by, and in, the public interest. The right to do this or that on any given parcel of land is not inalienable; it has been given by the community, and it can be taken away by the community [i.e., by NPS and its surrogates]”.

“We are learning, but it is a fight, a fight not just against the Wise Use Movement and its offspring, the Property Rights Movement, but against the belief that property is one of those inalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator through the Declaration of Independence.”

NPS Planning Chief Savage reiterated the goal for New England to the 1990 NEEN leadership conference:

Some of the 32 million acres of the northern forest lands, some of that area, would make lovely parks in case any of you are involved in that. [Audience laughter] Just a pitch —

We anticipate growing both in the number of parks, the number of acres, but more importantly we anticipate in growing in partnership with all of you, with the Forest Service, with other — EPA and other Federal agencies as well as states and localities and counties in New England to the point where we become an intricate fabric of people who are concerned with the environment and more importantly about developing and maintaining at adequate levels a complete, absolute network of parks.


Update: Head of the NPCA Plan Destry Jarvis' brother Jon Jarvis was later appointed Director of the National Park Service during the Obama administration. Jon Jarvis arranged with activist Roxanne Quimby to bypass Congress by (illegally) establishing a National Monument in the Maine Woods by Presidential decree in 2016, managed as a National Park while awaiting National Park legislation authorizing expansion and eventual removal of inholders.

Copyright © 2004, 2022 Erich Veyhl. All Rights Reserved

Page last updated   8/13/22