Desert Invasion - U.S.


Letter to the Editor from a National Park Superintendent

By an unnamed National Park Superintendent
July 10, 2004

Below is a letter to the editor from an unnamed Superintendent of one of the National Parks, writing in support of Teresa Chambers, Chief of the U.S. Park Police. The top management of NPS/DOI have apparently decided she must be let go because she told the truth about lack of funding and staffing.

This writer honestly tells how desperate these Parks really are. Minor changes have taken place - shields are now being worn by Law Enforcement Rangers, a vehicle barrier has been started at Organ Pipe and at Coronado, more staffing has been given to some parks and less to others, positions are not being filled (as is documented in the paper from the Coalition of Concerned NPS Retired Employees), resources are being let go, maintenance backlogs get bigger, visitor centers have cut their hours and even some days cut, Law Enforcement Rangers are leaving NPS and going to other federal agencies, bathrooms and trails are not being maintained as well as they should be, the Park Police are not able to guard and monitor the Beltway and highways as much now because they must guard the monuments even more, and the safety of Law Enforcement Rangers at the Parks is still compromosed.

Dear Editor:

Thank you for continuing to point the spotlight on the National Park Service's shameful treatment of Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers. Teresa Chambers is a hero, yet has been fired after seven months of administrative limbo, and, in the process, treated like a criminal by NPS senior management. I'm sure this egregious action will be overturned, but at what price to Ms. Chambers? How many other federal managers, far from the spotlight of Washington DC, will suffer similar fates without the scrutiny of the Post?

As a superintendent of a national park and a career federal manager, I have never seen such a chilling treatment of one of my colleagues. Teresa Chambers was asked about her budget, and she spoke the truth, that at current levels, service would suffer. Apparently the administration is afraid of the truth surfacing, that national parks and the services the NPS provides, including the highly visible work of the Park Police in the nation's capital, are woefully underfunded despite rhetoric of strong support. The irony is that many parks have produced private-sector style business plans, supported by the administration, that say exactly the same thing. What I find remarkable is that the administration, most recently Secretary Norton at the National Press Club, continue to protest that the national parks are stronger than ever. Park managers have been encouraged to lobby Congress by our leadership, the very thing Teresa Chambers was supposedly guilty of.

What scares me is that I have - until now - thought that I was doing my job to speak out about my park, to inform those that care about what the rangers, biologists, historians, and others who wear the gray-and-green are doing - and what we would do if we had the ability (read: money) to do more. The NPS doesn't just provide vacation spots for America; we are the stewards of American heritage, and the people care deeply. The national parks are threatened, and now the people responsible for them are, too.

Now, I don't know what to do the next time a reporter calls and asks about my park. Do I say that we'll have only half the rangers we had last year, that visitor center hours will be shorter, interpretive programming will be slashed, and that our ability to rescue the lost or injured, or deal with wildlife problems in campgrounds is far less than previous years? If I tell the truth, I risk my job. If I say everything is fine, I risk my integrity. The park, and the public who owns it, suffers whichever I do.