Obama notes problems, not poor discipline at national parks
President Obama took his family to two national parks over Father’s Day weekend, in part to highlight the threat of global warming, while the National Park Service is drawing attention to a different kind of climate — an atmosphere of sexual harassment and mismanagement.
The Obamas visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and then flew to California to tour Yosemite, the country’s oldest national park, to mark the 100th anniversary of the park system. The president said rising temperatures are damaging national parks.
“Climate change is no longer just a threat. It’s already a reality,” Mr. Obama said near Yosemite Falls. “Rising temperatures could mean no more glaciers at Glacier National Park. No more Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.”
Mr. Obama has set aside over 265 million acres, more public lands and water systems than any other president in history. During his two terms, he has added 22 sites to the National Park System under the Antiquities Act, often over the objections of Republicans and Western lawmakers, who say the administration brushes aside concerns of landowners, ranchers and other private citizens.
The White House said Mr. Obama is not finished setting aside land for conservation.
More protected territory requires more funding to maintain it. In his budget for fiscal 2017, the president has proposed a 9 percent increase to boost the National Park Service’s annual funding to $3.1 billion.
The Park Service and its allies say the increase is needed to handle record numbers of tourists, to hire more staff and to address a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog.
But Congress may not look favorably on the administration’s funding request if a House hearing with Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis is any indication.
Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee slammed Mr. Jarvis’ leadership, including his failure to discipline employees who have engaged in wrongdoing.
In the latest embarrassing episode disclosed by the Interior Department’s inspector general, the chief park ranger at Canaveral National Seashore in Florida sexually harassed women on his staff in three substantiated cases in less than two years.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, expressed disgust when Mr. Jarvis testified that the ranger, Edwin Correa, is still working at the park.
“How many sexual harassments does it take to fire a federal worker?” Mr. Chaffetz said. “Three substantiated allegations, and he still works there? The guy should be arrested. What does that say to the women? Your leadership is lacking.”
Mr. Jarvis said Mr. Correa’s commission has been removed. Mr. Chaffetz was unimpressed.
“You should at least try to fire him, but you don’t do any of that,” the lawmaker said. “So don’t complain that the system is failing you. You’re failing the system.”
Interior Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said the Park Service hasn’t fired any employees in recent cases of misconduct investigated by her office. Those cases include a violation of Park Service policy by the former chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park, who allowed 19 family members and friends to live for months in his government apartment. He was transferred to another job within the Park Service.
“The department does not do well in holding employees accountable who engage in misconduct,” Ms. Kendall said. “Often, management avoids discipline altogether.”
President Obama, who said rising temperatures are damaging national parks, has proposed a plan to boost the National Park Service’s annual funding to $3.1 billion.