Posted by: davepidgeon | July 20, 2009

A Jarvis profile

He’s summitted Mount Rainier twice, worked to make western national parks carbon neutral by 2016 and nearly jeopardized his career by tangling with the Bush administration. He’s Jon Jarvis, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the National Park Service.

After reading the profile published Sunday in the Kansas City Star, I reflected on how refreshing it is to have leaders in the Department of the Interior like Secretary Ken Salazar and this Jarvis fella who you can be confident in. I know a lot of even casual environmentalists who held their breath during the last 8 years. You can exhale now.

Just some paragraphs from the article by Les Blumenthal to serve as evidence of Jarvis’ temperament:

During his 30 years in the National Park Service, starting as a ranger, he championed the effort to transform the “scenery management” approach of “old buffalo” superintendents into one where protecting natural and cultural resources is as important as attracting tourists.

<snip>

At Mount Rainier between 1999 and 2001, he wrote a management plan that included broad strategic goals and improvements that needed to be made immediately. His successors say the plan has aged well.

<snip>

Jarvis has been working to negotiate sensitive land swaps between the Olympic National Park and the Hoh and Quileute tribes involving areas, including a school, that are in a tsunami zone. He has convinced park service headquarters staff to make the removal of two dams on the Elwha River adjacent to the Olympia National Park a priority and negotiated with local tribes along with state and local officials.

<snip>

He spent several months on detail to (Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s) Senate office in 2001, understands the inner working of the park service’s headquarters and has several powerful patrons on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who as chairman of the House interior appropriations subcommittee has control over the park services’ $3 billion annual budget.

Jarvis appears to be an individual to understands that the National Park Service is not simply a parks-and-recreation position but requires a savvy director for a convoluted and sometimes controversial agency. He’s forward-thinking (look at how the Rainier plan has aged well), something this agency desperately needs as it transitions from its early-20th century roots into the current century. The current stress on national parks caused by visitation and demand for an expanded domestic energy profile is unprecedented, which is why you need someone who “gets” that America’s national parks are not merely photo-ops for tourists.

His experience handling sensitive relations between the parks and local municipalities and native tribes speaks well to his ability to bring people of various points-of-view to the table to solve issues. That’s important as the energy sector seeks access to federal land that borders national parks. The demand for more domestic energy sources is only going to grow in the coming decades, and you need someone at the helm of NPS who can bring energy officials together with environmentalists and politicians to draw up reasonable plans.

And Jarvis appears to represent a shift away from recreation to conservation of national parks, the former a higher priority for the Bush Administration as it sought greater access to the parks for ATVs and snowmobiles and weakened provisions for land conservation. What good is a park if what makes the park attractive is irreparably destroyed?

The last snippet quoted above, though, may be Jarvis’ greatest asset. Having an ally at the top of the House Interior Appropriations Committee means a strong congressional voice for Jarvis’ priorities. And priorities require funding to be implemented.

To be fair, Jarvis has an ongoing row with U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein about oyster farming at Point Reyes National Seashore in California (she wants extended access for oyster farmers; he appears to oppose it), and Feinstein reigns over the appropriations subcommittee on national parks. But this debate is ongoing, and I have yet to read evidence of Jarvis being unable to untangle such a controversy. At least he faulted on the side of environmental protection.

Now we’re just waiting for Senate confirmation of Jarvis’ appointment. Given his record, the U.S. Senate can’t take that vote soon enough.

The Jarvis profile is here.

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