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Obama admin speaks on diversifying the NPS

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billlascher | Oct 25, 2010 08:00 AM

Boldness hasn't been an appropriate adjective for the Obama Admistration's approach on environmental issues. The White House seems better known in green circles for allowing Van Jones to be squeezed out of a job, failing to take aggressive strides on passing a climate bill, lifting a moratorium on oil drilling, lowballing information about the extent of the country's worst spill ever just weeks after lifting that moratorium or clamping down on transparency for government scientists and data than for taking huge strides to protect the Earth.

So it was pretty exciting last week when National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis came right out and told a group of journalists on a bus driving through Montana's Glacier National Park that diversity was one of four priorities he chose to pursue when he got his job.

“Just look at this bus,” Jarvis said. “How much diversity do you see on this bus?”

Jon Jarvis

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis speaks to journalists on a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana. Photo courtesy Bill Lascher.

The answer was simple. We didn't see much. Many, though not all, of the faces were white.

“This is what we see in the environmental community,” Jarvis continued.

That diversity is a problem the environmental community must deal with isn't news. That access to and information about national parks isn't equitable in this nation isn't either, as I've previously mentioned on this blog. Nevertheless, the fact that Jarvis came right out and publicly addressed the problem – without prompting – is encouraging.

Jarvis reiterated the challenge of encouraging diversity at national parks the following day when he participated in a breakfast panel on the role of the parks in a changing west. He also discussed his refusal to support additional user fees. That matters, too. As I detailed in my earlier post, it's not just ethnic diversity that parks need to build, but access for all economic levels.

That might not encourage Holly Fretwell, a researcher at Montana State University who said during the panel that user fees aren't unmanageable at most parks. I want to agree that no, $15 isn't too much to ask a car full of family members set to experience a Glacier, a Zion or a Channel Islands.

But when so many things are competing for so few dollars, do we really want to make it harder for Americans to get to know their own country better? 

 Bill Lascher is a Portland, Oregon-based freelancer. He focuses on the environment's intersection with science, business, culture and policy. 

He got the name for his Web site, Lascher at Large, from the legal column his father penned for 20 years before his death. Lascher is currently working on a project with his grandmother to tell the story of her cousin, Melville Jacoby, a foreign correspondent who died in the early days of World War II.

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