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Special Live Chats on AOL


Guest: Rick Smith

Live Chat
National Parks

March 11, 1998

Moderator: Davinder Khanna

Rick is a retired National Park Service employee. He served in 6 national parks, 2 regional offices, and in the Service's headquarters office in DC. Prior to his NPS career, he was a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving as a professor in the philosophy department in Paraguay's National University. He has worked extensively in Latin American as a protected area specialist.


GSTDKhanna: As the host of America's Parks Forum, I am pleased to welcome you to a new chat series "Parks & People". Our guest tonight is Rick Smith (RSmith0921), retired Associate Regional Director of the National Park Service. He has a wealth of experience internationally with national parks, area management and protection of valuable lands. We are discussing "What can we learn from other countries".

We thank you Rick for taking the time to join us tonight. Thank you also to everyone for your participation.

RSmith0921: I'm Rick Smith. You know all about me from the intro that Davinder has given me.

Pk rnger: Owen Hoffman, nice to be with you this fine evening. It's snowing here in Oak Ridge, TN

ChanelINLV: Hello, I work for a publishing firm that offers books on America's National Parks.

GSTDKhanna: Rick, ChaneliNLV is Michele from KC Publications

RSmith0921: Not the famous KC publications?

ChanelINLV: Yes, the one and only!

RSmith0921: How's the boss?

ChanelINLV: He's doing just fine. Putting 8 books into the planning stage

RSmith0921: I thought you had covered almost all of them

ChanelINLV: Most, but not all. He is also expanding to the American Indian culture.

RSmith0921: You have to grow the business

TLCHOM: My name is Todd Chamberlin, Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain

RSmith0921: My theme this evening is what we can learn from other countries in their attempts to manage and protect their biodiversity. My sub theme is that since many of these countries have few resources and people, they often are forced to be more creative and innovative than we are. Much of their effort goes into building relationships with local communities so that local people--the ones who sacrifice most for national parks and other protected areas--can become allies of conservation. That is something the we could learn something about, I think, especially where consumptive resource use is beginning to be phased out.

GSTDKhanna: Hello Paul, thanks for joining us!

PritchardP: Ric, It is great to see you talking about others outside of US and their creativity. Thanks for chatting

RSmith0921: Thanks, Paul

PritchardP: Do you see us having fewer resources for our parks?

RSmith0921: I certainly think that is the trend now. Whether that trend will be sustained, I don't know. Any ideas of alternative income activities?

Pk rnger: Can you give some examples of alternative income activities?

RSmith0921: By alternative income-generating activities, I mean things like participating in eco-tourism activities--serving as guides, hosts, food services, etc. Another is by providing Govt incentives for sustainable activities such as small scale logging or farming, craft production, anything that lowers the pressure on the resources base.

Pk rnger: Rick, how do you create local advocates among those who've lost jobs

PritchardP: I agree. We need more people in the green uniform who understand your thinking.

TallPrairy: Good evening from the Tallgrass Prairie. Don't these jobs tend to be lower paying?

PritchardP: Are there income generating opportunities outside the parks

RSmith0921: Outside the park is where most govts hope that such activities can take place--although almost all govts would accept some sustainable activities within parks.

PritchardP: We have a problem with too little attention given to understanding the resources

Pk rnger: would this mean hiring locals first as rangers?

RSmith0921: Remember what they call parks is not what we call parks. They mean protected areas, some of which are more like our multiple use areas. Yes, hiring rangers is one of the most important strategies. It provides income and creates allies. If you want to stop poaching, hire the poachers--that kind of thinking.

PritchardP: Which nation's parks had similar mgmt to ours?

RSmith0921: Costa Rica and Argentina are probably closest

Pk rnger: I don't see a real problem in multiple use areas....the problem comes with true preserves

RSmith0921: Most developing countries will never be able to afford the creation of true national parks. They can't afford the land

PritchardP: Owen, what problem are you referring to?... Ric, I was in China in August and land was the premium problem.

RSmith0921: The most interesting protected areas are those that the IUCN calls biosphere reserves--truly multiple use areas. Land is always the problem, even here in the states. Consider Petroglph etc.

GSTDKhanna: Hello Barbara Goodman, welcome!

Chuck76029: Are most of the parks actually set aside for the environment or for tourism?

RSmith0921: A combination of the two, but biodiversity preservation plays a much higher part than it does in the US. Many foreign companies are involved in preservation efforts in an attempt to launder their reputations.

TallPrairy: Could foreign investment be encouraged for preservation of these international parks?

PritchardP: Is part of the solution getting more of the tourism on non-park lands...

RSmith0921: But, I say anyone who has money, welcome! Or, manage the tourism. Many Latin American parks are paper parks without any true management. Well, first you have to have a national strategy, something that many countries are now beginning to develop. This is a fascinating process because it truly calls for a national dialog on protection.

Pk rnger: how do you prevent inappropriate use and development? how are carrying capacities established?

RSmith0921: Carrying capacities are really not the problem that is highest priority. The first priority is establishing a management regime.

Pk rnger: please explain?

ChanelINLV: With multi-use, how do they balance leaving nature alone with controlling growth?

RSmith0921: They see it as the same issue.

PritchardP: Can you describe these "national dialogues on protection"?...

RSmith0921: You have to have managers in place before you can establish even the need for a carrying capacity. You can't manage tourism until you have managers. Once the management infrastructure is in place, you can look to determine what the highest priorities truly are.

Pk rnger: but managers need some overarching objects too

RSmith0921: Carrying capacities may be pretty far down the list. That is what comes, Owen, from the national dialog on conservation

Pk rnger: yes....and how is this dialogue developed?

RSmith0921: The dialogue has to be bi or tri partisan. It cannot be the point of view of one group or it is not a dialog One thing that is clear. No protected area can exist without the support of the local people Latin Americans recognize this.
Once a true national consensus is developed on what is being preserved and why, you can develop policies and procedures to make these a reality. The dialogue comes as a part of the development of the national conservation plan, something much easier to do in countries that are smaller than ours.

Pk rnger: How is this concensus preserved from one administration to another?

PritchardP: Our parks seem to lean toward tourism vs. preservation. How do we compare?...

RSmith0921: Paul, our situation is so different. The highest visitation in many LA parks wouldn't surpass that of el Malpais. Only in a few parks--the Galapagos, Iguazu in Argentina is the visitation at the extremes of our system. 

PritchardP: That is encouraging. My experience in China, Japan, Egypt,... is too many people.

ChanelINLV: How do they maintain any consistency? Volunteers come and go so fast.

RSmith0921: Volunteers don't come and go too rapidly because the local people are tied to the land in ways that very few US citizens are with the exception of some American Indians.
They have lived there for generations and will continue to live there.

PritchardP: You make an important distinction between locals and volunteers.

RSmith0921: There are too many people in many LA countries also. The question is to give them something to care about and to hope for in the future.

PritchardP: Enviros concentrate on the visitors vs the locals, and sometimes think of the vols...

Pk rnger: that I can relate to

RSmith0921: One of the ways to do that is to preserve a little bit of their land that looks something like it used to. They are proud of that.

PritchardP: We are trying to do that at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

GSTD Chia: Hi :)

RSmith0921: Another strategy is to decentralize authority so that it does not all emanate from the capital of the country. I know that about Tallgrass. The trick is to decentralize authority and responsibility. Too often they only decentralize the responsibility and guard the authority. 

Chuck76029: What's going on in Russia? how will their rapid changes affect them?

RSmith0921: I don't know much about Russia. Sorry

PritchardP: At Tallgrass, we hope to protect the planning process so it is done right...

RSmith0921: What you have then is people in the field who have responsibilities but not authority to make decisions. I like the Tallgrass model.

PritchardP: The issue of authority/responsibility needs to be on the agenda.

TallPrairy: We are trying to gather credible information before making rash management decisions

PritchardP: By the way, we have incredible volunteerism at Tallgrass.

TallPrairy: Not to mention the incredible resource!

GSTD Chia: How do you feel about the way Costa Rica handles there national parks, by closing them for a year or so.

RSmith0921: What about CR? chia

RSmith0921: Every park/protected area could use a rest now and then, don't you think?

ChanelINLV: But to close for a whole year? Isn't that excessive?

GSTD Chia: Do you see that happening here or would the public get too upset?

Pk rnger: this gets back to carrying capacity and deciding when to rest

PritchardP: Farmers have been resting lands since the 30s...

GSTD Chia: I think it might be 2 years or more...

Pk rnger: But its' hard to do with parks being huge incentives for tourism. Could you imagine what would happen if the Smokies were closed for a weekend?

GSTD Chia: How about rotation.

Chuck76029: Half of Bryce canyon was closed for construction, didn"t bother me. Why not for the wildlife

GSTDKhanna: Rick, what are other countries in Latin America doing that you think the US could learn from?

RSmith0921: Another issue that I think that LA is taking the lead on is that of encouraging sustainable activities around their protected areas.

ChanelINLV: What do you mean by "sustainable activities"?

TallPrairy: How large of a perimeter for "sustainable activities?"

RSmith0921: Activities that can be sustained over a measurable period of time, that don't subtract from the resource base.

Pk rnger: examples?

RSmith0921: Instead of clearcutting, for instance, go to selective cutting that can be repeated over time. Agriculture that features fewer fertilizer and pesticide inputs.

RSmith0921: Eco-tourism where money produced remains in the hands of local people instead of in the hands of multinational tour agencies. Local artisan communes. These are examples of the kinds of activities that LA NGO's and Govts are trying to promote The premise is that if people can sustain themselves and their families in this way, the put less pressure on the protected area resource base.

ChanelINLV: I agree that the locals who know the area and care for the future should be the most active participants in the control of the area.

GSTDKhanna: LA NGOs = Latin American Non-Governmental Organizations

PritchardP: We have too many multi-nats. in/around the US parks...

RSmith0921: Yes, and the US could learn from that. 
I meant Michele's comment. When was the last time locals had much to say about national park management in the US?
We need to promote this kind of interaction

ChanelINLV: Americans really don't know much about our park system.

TallPrairy: A great example of local input in our parks is happening now at the Tallgrass Prairie

RSmith0921: and follow the model of Tallgrass prairie

PritchardP: I hope we are not setting ourselves up for failure, but Tallgrass' advisory commission feels great.

RSmith0921: Another thing that many LA parks are doing is moving away from great, huge general mgmt plans and moving toward annual operating plans.

PritchardP: But you still need the long range vision that the GMP creates, don't you?

RSmith0921: The goal is to reduce the money spent on mgmt plans that are often out of date on the day they are published

Pk rnger: yes....but there need to be some overarching rules of management practice and objectives

RSmith0921: Yes, but maybe only once every 20 years or so. Not as often as we do them. Covered, Owen, in the mgmt policies

Pk rnger: ok

PritchardP: 20 years seems right now if there are also national goals for the system.

RSmith0921: One thing that we could help on is in environmental education and interpretation. Almost none of that is done to any standard.

RSmith0921: Which brings up the point. Do you guys feel we should spend money assisting our colleagues in other nations?

Pk rnger: Isn't that what foreign aide is all about?

RSmith0921: How much foreign aid goes to conservation?

ChanelINLV: I always feel that assistance in educating will always pay off.

Chuck76029: We as a government or as individuals?

RSmith0921: both

KathOH: In environmental education , yes, that has global effects.

ChanelINLV: Assistance in other forms often can make slaves or idiots of those who are supposed to be assisted.

RSmith0921: I see one vote for env. edu.

ChanelINLV: Absolutely!

Chuck76029: We have tried for years to finance the world, it hasn't worked yet

ChanelINLV: And there is no way we can succeed in that endeavor.

RSmith0921: What about resources that cross international boundaries--birds, animals, etc.

ChanelINLV: But we can educate the world so they can take the knowledge and continue with it.

TallPrairy: Is money spent on education ever wasted Chuck?

Chuck76029: Never, wasted for education

PritchardP: I hate to say it, but I see more change brought about by TV and the stock markets than ed...

RSmith0921: I would argue that the NPS ought to spend more of its money assisting our colleagues in other nations for one selfish reason--it makes the world a more livable place

PritchardP: I want to agree, but the ed has to come from outside govt.

GoodmanBo: Paul, why?

PritchardP: Govt agencies are easily controlled by radical changes in leadership. Ed needs consistency.

GoodmanBo: I would argue that outside gov groups are also subject to leadership changes....

PritchardP: Ed needs to be sharing. I don't feel that we have that ability in govt.

GoodmanBo: NPS has had many successful educational exchanges thru its international program

RSmith0921: That is an office that deserves to be strengthened and enhanced

PritchardP: I agree, but that program was ended, now it's random.

RSmith0921: But in the case of environmental education, we know more than almost anyone else.

ChanelINLV: "we" meaning govt. or U.S.?

RSmith0921: The NPS

Pk rnger: some of this is the development of a sense of value for natural preserves

KathOH: are park people from other countries brought here to intern? Do you think this promotes the most effective form or educational exchange? or not?

RSmith0921: Often times.
A large group from Slovakia was just brought here by the Peace Corps.

PritchardP: Exchanges are excellent, but they are not formal education.

RSmith0921: The participants say yes. They often claim they learned more in a few weeks here than any place else. More important, our rangers going to other countries learn a great deal.

RSmith0921: Hi Glen

GSTDKhanna: Oh, Glen, you are late

GFHLKaye: Rick, what kind of educational levels have you found among Latin American park rangers?

RSmith0921: Lots of high school graduates, some elementary graduates, and increasingly more university graduates. The problem is that the university graduates are often thrust into positions of considerable responsibility upon leaving
school--without any experience.

GFHLKaye: Can you name some universities that prepare Latin American students for park careers?

RSmith0921: They don't prepare park people, they prepare biologists, anthropologists, etc.

GSTDKhanna: By the way, we wish Rick Smith "A Happy 60th Birth Anniversary!" It was March 8. :-)

Pk rnger: Gosh, happy birthday!

RSmith0921: thank you

Pk rnger: thanks for a fun evening was a good one

ChanelINLV: Thank you Ric, but I must leave. It has been a pleasure.

GSTDKhanna: Well, our scheduled time with our guest is coming to an end.

RSmith0921: Thanks for joining the chat. The men and women who work in LA parks are true heroes of conservation
We owe them a lot.

Chuck76029: Thanks Ric

PritchardP: Great chat. Thanks for being there.

TallPrairy: Good night from the Tallgrass. 

RSmith0921: Keep up the good work in the prairie

TallPrairy: Thank you. We'd like to invite you out here

RSmith0921: Sign me up

GoodmanBo: Nicely done Rick --- night

GSTDKhanna: Thank you Rick for taking the time to join us tonight!

RSmith0921: Davinder, Thanks, this was fun. Hi and good night to all of you

GSTDKhanna: Goodnight


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