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Know the West

Park status doesn't guarantee anything

  Dear HCN,

I read with dismay Tony Davis' article, "Plans for a new park in Arizona" (HCN, 3/29/99) on the movement to create a "Sonoran Desert National Park," by combining Organ Pipe National Monument, Cabeza-Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range.

This proposal looks to me like another grandiose scheme that would ultimately saddle an underfunded, minimally staffed federal agency with yet another politically compromised, underfunded nightmare. Just like Steamtown, the San Francisco Presidio and Mojave National Preserve, no one will be happy with the result, and ultimately everyone will blame the National Park Service for another disaster not of its making.

Sonoran Desert Park proponents fail to consider the following:

* Not every parcel of land is compatible with national park values. Certainly, military training flights are not, especially at 200 feet above ground level. Maybe javelinas and saguaros can co-exist with military jets, but I doubt if it is "in harmony." Considering a bombing range as part of a national park is ludicrous.

* Adding an area to the National Park Service does not guarantee either wiser or more capable land management. Some lands are so altered that they cannot be "restored" no matter what the expertise or funding level. Practice-bomb craters and "vandal-ruined sensitive areas' don't belong in a national park, either.

* Tony Davis fails to mention what species Cabeza-Prieta refuge was created to protect or provide habitat for in the first place. Does the Park Service have some magical ability to manage habitat and threatened/endangered species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks?

* Ms. Peterman is correct when she assumes that the Park Service would ban ORV use inside the new national park, but it wouldn't take "four or five years." The Park Service invariably restricts vehicular use to licensed vehicles and bans off-road travel.

* The Park Service is not the only federal land-use agency with either law enforcement or land-use planning/management capability, as is implied in the article. Neither is the agency "uniquely qualified" to "handle the problem," (attributed to Mr. Broyles). The best preservation solution may very simply be better funding and/or different priorities for the agencies currently managing these lands.

* Where will the funding for this new national park come from? Congress? Not likely in the current atmosphere on Capitol Hill. The result will be the Park Service forced once again to stretch its currently inadequate operating budget and staffing even thinner. You can also bet that Organ Pipe National Monument won't easily be prepared for an expansion of the size contemplated.

"Sonoran Desert National Park" might have been a great idea in 1966. Unfortunately, it's 1999.

Gerry Wolfe

Death Valley, California