Jon Jarvis

Jon Jarvis

Jon Jarvis Tuesday (July 28) got a taste of the hot-button issues that will fall to him if confirmed as National Park Service director, with senators grilling him on the use of snowmobiles, helicopters and guns in parks, according to the New York Times.

At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Jarvis repeatedly stressed his cooperative approach, saying his strategy has always been to “get to know my neighbors long before I needed to.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questioned Jarvis at length over snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, which has been the subject of dueling lawsuits and court rulings for the entire decade. The Obama administration last week proposed allowing up to 318 snowmobiles per day into the park for the next two winters, cutting by more than half the 720 allowed last winter, while formulating a long-term plan.

Jarvis drew laughs by saying it seemed odd the administration released the proposal just before his hearing. But he said the current situation has brought significant improvements in visitor experience and reduced or eliminated effects on wildlife. He praised the industry for developing cleaner and quieter machines. He pledged to work with all stakeholders, especially the communities near the park, to develop a “sustainable” decision that can withstand court scrutiny.

“We have two dueling courts, we have to do an interim rule,” Jarvis said. “Hopefully we can kick in immediately to do the environmental impact statement for the final rule, which will analyze the best available science, the working group that is out there, all of the stakeholders on a range of alternatives. But at this point it would be incorrect for me to make a commitment to one or the other. We have to go through the process, I think that’s the key.”

Barrasso later released a statement saying Jarvis’s responses were “not reassuring” and that he “represents the extreme policies of the Obama administration.”

Ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) asked Jarvis about his commitment to enforce legislation allowing visitors to national parks to carry loaded guns, in accord with state laws. Noting that the measure will take effect in February, Jarvis said the agency is taking the time to determine how each park will be affected, to train rangers and to put up signs explaining the new policy.

“The last thing we want is to create confusion amongst the public and the users who are bringing their weapons to the park,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pushed Jarvis to reject proposals for helicopter flights over Crater Lake National Park. Jarvis, who served as the park’s biologist at one time, said he could not give Wyden a definitive answer because the agency must follow its planning process, including public input. But he promised to preserve the visitor’s experience of being able to stand on the rim of the lake and hear only the rustling of the wind.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) questioned Jarvis over a Park Service reorganization effort that would close the agency’s Boston office, eliminate 40% of the positions in the Northeast Region’s rivers, trails and conservation assistance program, and downsize the regional staff from 107 to 45. She lamented the proposed cuts at a time when the Northeast Region has an increased workload due to economic stimulus projects and new duties from the public lands omnibus law signed earlier this year.

Jarvis said the Park Service is already “maxed out” in its capacity to deliver on those new responsibilities but added that the agency is always looking for opportunities to become more efficient. He noted that a similar downsizing proposal in the Pacific West region — which he has directed since 2002 — instead found that three offices in Seattle, Oakland and Honolulu were all viable and needed, and that other efficiencies were found. He promised to take a “very close look” at what has been proposed for the Northeast Region and to work with Shaheen’s office on a solution.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) asked about the agency’s role in objecting to energy development on public lands near national parks and whether Jarvis supports “buffer zones” to protect parks. Jarvis said he is “not a believer” in buffer zones and that the agency does not have veto power over energy development projects on other lands. But he added that he strongly believes in consultation and stressed that he will work with other land management agencies to prevent “the kind of open conflict that has been created so many times.”