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John Hollenhorst ReportingThe Bush administration came under fierce attack today for allegedly mismanaging the National Parks. And the critics are people who work there: park rangers and managers across the nation who say politics is now in the drivers seat.
The emblematic controversy is in Yellowstone. Under the Clinton administration, park service experts proposed a ban on snowmobiles. But the Bush administration changed gears, allowing the machines to stay, although with new restrictions.
Raymond Gunn, Retired National Park Official: "Which is very short-sighted. It's an issue of killing the golden goose."
Raymond Gunn is a former top management official at Yellowstone and other national parks. He says the Bush administration is undermining resource protection because politics and money are in the drivers seat.
Raymond Gunn, Retired National Park Official: "There's a general feeling, very strong throughout the agency, that decisions are being made on the politics of the moment and not the science."
A survey released in Washington today seems to support that view. 1400 current park employees responded. 88% said they have a "great deal of concern" that decisions are being influenced by "politics rather than professional experience" and science. Overwhelmingly, they say resource protection is weakening and morale is plummeting.
Raymond Gunn, Retired National Park Official: "This is a downward spiral and has been accelerating downward in recent years."
An administration spokesman in Washington told us today the survey is dubious because only eight percent of park employees responded to it. But he doesn't deny that park service policies have changed since bush came to power.
The park service has a dual role: protecting resources and encouraging visitor use of the parks. The Bush administration spokesman says the balance is swinging more toward the visitor side of the equation. And he points out many businesses depend on park visitors. But critics say the balance has swung too far in favor of business and development at the expense of air quality, water quality, and protection of park resources.
Raymond Gunn, Retired National Park Official: "And they’re going to do long term damage, irreparable damage."
The Bush team counters that that the Clinton team left a backlog of maintenance problems in the parks that only now is being cleaned up.