Wayne Heimer: National Park Service functionaries impose ‘park values’ they make up as they go along

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Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park. Photo credit: NPS

By WAYNE HEIMER

I haven’t made the kerfuffle about the U.S. flag flapping in Denali National Park the focus of my life. I know what’s been reported, what I’ve heard on the street, and what folks “in the know” have told me. 

Not surprisingly, the story changed over time. The issue of how and where the flag is flown is less important than what it means in terms of Alaskan and American freedom under law, and tolerance of tradition. 

Regardless of “what the park superintendent knew and when she knew it,” the issue speaks more to zealousness, and perhaps impractical loyalty to some arbitrarily inferred “park values,” as differentiated from common sense. 

This is not the first time “park values” have arbitrarily trumped practicality or expanded beyond legal mandates. “Park values” are typically cited when federal land managers want to push the limits of congressionally authorized regulatory power. Citing “park” or “wilderness” values was a less common occurrence in the past.

“Park values” are an emerging justification for arbitrary rules and actions these government functionaries create and then cite as justification for administrative restrictions. They drift into the personal side of policy, popping up whenever righteous protectors personally perceive their “stewardship mandate” as greater than what is codified law when it comes to what they feel is ideal.

In my “tribe” we’ve long-referred to this arbitrary personal (or agency) interpretation of legal guidelines as federal overreach.  Federal overreach began the moment President Jimmy Carter’s signature hit the Senate version of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) in 1980. Here’s why:

ANILCA was the product of that era’s environmental hysteria. The findings and policy sections in Title VIII are an example. The dire predictions from 1979 have not materialized in the last 45 years. Nevertheless, federal overreach has proliferated.

Formerly, federal overreach was held in relative check by politely organized resistance from the State of Alaska. Back then, Alaska had a hedge against expansion of arbitrary federal values inferred from ANILCAs antecedent, House Resolution (HR 39).  HR 39 was extreme, but eventually went on to become ANILCA when the Senate passed a highly modified, more reasoned version in 1979. That meant the federal protection/agency lobby didn’t get everything it wanted in the final ANILCA law.   

Consequently, the zealous protectionists in the Department of Interior began to implement the Senate-nullified intent of HR 39 via administrative fiat justified as “park values” etc.  

Alaska’s check on this administrative overreach was the Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Federal Areas. CACFA reviewed all sorts of federal proposals and overreaches (which went beyond those specified in ANILCA as federal law).

CACFA’s polite “AHEM!” put  the feds notice when they were overreaching. Sometimes it helped the feds respect the actual scope of ANILCA, and sometimes “Alaska’s AHEM!” was ignored. CACFA members were unfailingly professional, and politically polite to the point that I often chided my commissioner friends for being too respectful, given the myriad of federal encroachments on Alaska’s traditional freedom.  

I didn’t rate CACFA as particularly effective in limiting overreach, but it did provide a moderating influence when the feds were headed over the line with agency-inferred values. CACFA reached its effective zenith with publication of “ANILCA PROMISES MADE AND BROKEN” (circa 2015). This document is an easy, but infuriating reading at this link.

For reasons that were alleged to be financial, the Alaska Legislature stopped funding CACFA, thus stifling “Alaska’s AHEM!” about the same time as extra-administrative actions by the federal land management agencies increased. Overreaching by the National Park Service was legally certified in the Jim Wilde case, and John Sturgeon cases. 

Other examples include the Noatak airstrip delay, in which today’s Denali National Park superintendent was a major player. Superintendent Brooke Merrill was the environmental compliance officer for NPS who forbade overland transport of equipment necessary to build a better airstrip for Noatak. She blocked crossing Cape Kruzenstern National Monument, suggesting a 150 mile detour, rather than allow crossing of the monument on an established, traditional trail, between Noatak and Kotzebue. The Noatak airstrip project is still on the drawing board.

Overreach was shown in the banning of traditional Native subsistence harvests of wolves in the Arctic. That overreach was subsequently overturned through Congressional Review. 

Today there’s nobody officially watching the small day-to-day overreaches, like banning American flags because they are apparently inconsistent with a lesser Denali official’s understanding of “park values.”

The real question here is: “Who defines extra-legal values?” Is building a road, which requires heavy machinery, consistent with “park values?” If so, what harm is there in an American flag flown flappingly during the process?  The American flag has flown in other places where “values” were in conflict — D-Day Normandy, and Iwo Jima come to mind.

We’ve heard calls for tolerance on the part of the banned “flag flying fanatics,” but no calls for tolerance on the part of the “park values” people.  Why?

Wayne E. Heimer began comparing state and federal management and ADF&G conflicts before ANILCA.  He has concluded that management is intervening in any established system to reach a pre-defined benefit. He wonders where the mandate and the benefit lie here.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Somewhere along the way, we let left wing zealots take control of the government at too many levels.

    Draining the swamp needs to be a national imperative.

    • That is because the Zealots learned a long time ago, you don’t have to win elections, you bury your people in the executive branch. You will find this happened at the end of the Obama admin and will happen again big time in the Biden Admin if they lose. They changed political appointees to Civil Service to stay on. Unfortunately, Red state people want to earn money and work real jobs. Soro’s showed you to put your people in the prosecution teams and not enforce laws. Even if Trump wins, he will have a hard time changing all the Federal Govt. That is why he mentioned firing everyone. With civil service, they are all protected and just have to wait 4 years unless we can win with another Republican.

    • Who is in control is merely a symptom of a more foundational problem. What is it that is being controlled (ie what is it that is being vied for)? The POWER to control. The underlying problem then is that the power is there to be controlled in the first place. Put simply: the government (federal in this case but the same principle applies to all levels of government) HAS TOO MUCH POWER. THAT is what “we the people” have allowed to be ratcheted away from “we the people”. Remove/reduce the level of power and you remove the overreaching control and all that that implies.

  2. Why?
    Because the greenie .feds have convinced themselves that this land is their land , not our land. As such, it’s their “personal property” with which to do as they please.

  3. Low level Commies and desperate LGBTQ get jobs with the NPS, and that’s why we are having this discussion. NPS is completely infiltrated with these brainwashed little piggies who use their Nazi uniforms, Smokey Bear hats, and fake badges to control residents and citizens who should be able to freely explore their own country.
    These are very sick people. Trump will fix this miserable agency of the federal government.

  4. I would really like the author to explain how Title VIII of ANILCA (which deals with Federal subsistence) is a product of “environmental hysteria”. Section 801 (Findings) simply states that the opportunity for subsistence by native and non-native rural Alaskans is an essential physical, spiritual, economic and social need, and that the situation in Alaska is unique from the rest of the country in this respect. Section 802 (Policy) states that the nonwasteful subsistence uses of fish and wildlife would be the priority consumptive use on public lands in Alaska.

    Again, please explain how this rises to the level of “hysteria”.

    • Actually, “the opportunity for subsistence by native and non-native Alaskans REGARDLESS OF ADDRESS is an essential physical, spiritual, economic and social need”. Title VIII as just another fulcrum used to control the state.

      • That’s not what ANILCA says though. If you don’t like it, lobby your representatives in Congress to change the law instead of complaining in all caps on here.

  5. Again, ANILCA was a huge mistake for Alaska. Some knew…most didn’t care.

    The Park Circus is the most entitled, pompous agency out there staffed with Liberal Freakshow Contestants who understand Administrative Procedure too well. It’s not just in Denali. Ask the folks in Eagle about these government punks.

    And have Democrat support.

    Again, VOTE TRUMP- get change we can live with.

  6. Defunding nps, blm, and fws would be a good start and then repatriating the land back to the state. At some point states have to grow a spine and give uncle sugar the boot, geeeesh have some pride Alaska!

  7. “Today there’s nobody officially watching the small day-to-day overreaches …”
    Maybe(?), it’s time to exact some effective measure of … “Citizen Justice”
    This approach seemed to work well for Charles Bronson in “Death Wish”

  8. The flakes in the Lower 48 have always considered Alaska their own personal park. God forbid we should be able to make a living with our natural resources, and if you need to get to medical care quickly, you better not live in a village. It is all our fault for letting these tree-huggers think we agree with them. We don’t.

    The Lower 48 “elites” always assume that we are so backward and idiotic that, given the chance, we would lay waste to our land just as they have, by paving every inch of it and poisoning the rest. We live here. We don’t do that. We are adults, not their idiot children, and we should act like it.

    If they want to make us wards of their state, we need to say no, and not only no, but hell no.

  9. Interesting history, Wayne. I personally thing the ” flag flap ” was overdone, but this article does highlight the simple fact that LESS federal government is always better. Every time.

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