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Special Live Chats on AOL


"Science in Parks" live discussion

Tuesday, July 13 at 9 pm EDT

The Panel & Resources

Moderator: Davinder Khanna

About the Panel

Dr. Michael Frome is a nationally renowned environmental journalist, author of scores of books, and an authority on national park issues.  He lives in Bellingham Washington.

Dr. Garrett Smathers
Retired science chief of the US National Park Service.

Brian Scherf
A co-founder and board member of the Florida Biodiversity Project a grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of Florida's natural ecosystems and associated plant and animal species. The organization was founded in 1993 as a response to Florida exploding population growth and resulting habitat destruction.

Gary Flashner, M.D.
An emergency room physician now living and practicing in Pennsylvania.  He was formerly the medical director at Yosemite National Park and has a particular interest in park science and visitor safety issues.


GSTDKhanna Hello everyone, we are pleased to welcome you to our chat series "Parks & People Live." The topic of tonight's chat is "Science in Parks." 

We are honored to have with us some distinguished guests. We have Dr. Michael Frome (MFrome), a nationally renowed environmental journalist, author and an authority on national park issues,  Dr. Garrett Smathers (GAS1926), retired science chief of the National Park Service, Brian Scherf (RScherf350), a co-founder and board member of the Florida Biodiversity Project, a grassroots conservation organization, and Gary Flashner, MD.(FlashDome), a former medical director at Yosemite National Park.  We also have with us Paul Pritchard, president of  National Park Trust.

If you have any remaining questions after tonight's chat, please feel free to post them on our Message Boards. You will receive answers to your questions there from these guests.

Before we begin, I would like to thank Vera Guise for her assistance in coordinating tonight's chat.

So, let us welcome our guests, and begin our session. Thanks to our guests for taking the time to join us.

Johnredbon:  John Redbone here, could each of the experts tell us what their experience is in National Parks?

Pk rnger: Hi I'm Owen Hoffman, former park ranger naturalist and long time proponent of science based resource management in the parks.

Russparks: Russ Butcher, greetings from the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. 18 years with National Parks and Conservation Association.

RScherf350: This is Brian from the land of extinction -- FL.

Johnredbon: Do you think science is controlled to the point that it is not really science?

MFrome:  I understand your question. The answer is science in national parks is controlled . Politico-Politics prevails. It silences science.

Johnredbon:  Well, I have read where if researchers do not produce what the sponsor wants they cannot get future work or funds.

Pk rnger:  How is it controlled Mike?

MFrome:  Scientists should be free of politics and oppressive park managers who have been turning our precious preserves into popcorn playgrounds.

MFrome:  Ranger: It's controllled by managers who ship scientists out when they endeavor to practice best science.

PritchardP:  Michael, maybe management and science are opposites?

Johnredbon:  Does NPS units allow any one, including industry to do resarch on their lands?

Pk rnger:  The same happes to managers in the NPS.

Russparks:  What should be done to increase meaningful research in the national parks?

Pk rnger:  Mike, can you give specific examples of controlled science?

MFrome:  Of course. Exhibit A. Adolph Murie, superb scientist...worked 32yearsfor NPS in Alaska and Tetons, made miserable the whole by bureaucrats .

Exhibit B. Riley McClelland at Glacier, fired by Briggle and Hartzog, with approval of Bob NPS chief scientist

Pk rnger:  I guess much the same can be said for Douglas Larson at Crater Lake but now you are going back decades...Bob Linn

MFrome:  Yes, a good guy but when push comes to shove, the boss--

PritchardP:  Back decades?  What happened to the NPS science program under Babbitt?

MFrome:  Good question, Paul. NPS doesn't even control its science.  Science must come from outside the agency to help those on the inside who care and try.

Gas1926:  Michael, We need science and research in the national parks to provide definitive resource management, interpretation, and planning.

RScherf350:  Independent peer review would help park research! Babbitt talks but no action.

Pk rnger:  Does the NPS even have in house scientists other than resource managers?

GSTDKhanna:  We are just joined by Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Director from Strong City, Kansas (TallPrairy).

Pk rnger:  No incentive outside the agency to do applied research - carrying capacity is considered a dead topic by some

MFrome:  Yes, I have a copy of a report NATURAL RESOURCES YEAR IN REVIEW  from the NPS Chief Scientist. It has some promise but doesn't tell enough of problems scientists show in their own agency.

Russparks:  How do we reconcile ecological protection and visitor use?

FlashDome:  Medical research comes from the outside and makes its way into medical journals.

Gas1926:  Michael, you're right. We need to start forming alliances with the university scientific communities, and the National Scientific Communities such as the Nat. Science Fnd. and take our message to the Congress in hearings and publications.

Pk rnger:  My concern is that reserach must address the limits of resource use and the maximum tolerable rate of change of the resource

MFrome:  Yes, we need those good scientists, like Clebsch in Tennessee, Habeck in Montana, with conviction and courage, to tell what really must be done

Pk rnger:  How many present park supts have a science background?
Clebsch was one of my profs as was Sharsmith in YOSE.

MFrome:  Some have the background, but they play politics first.  Sharsmith-- ah, we need him a thousand fold...people who see parks as preserves, not popcorn playgrounds.

FlashDome:  Was Sharsmith ever a superintendent?

Pk rnger:  No, but he was perhaps the longest naturalist in uniform...65 seasons and a Ph.D. botanist.  If they aren't politically savvy, their careers will be short.

MFrome:  They ought to be honest first, then politically savvy.

Vera Guise:  Engineers were hired as supers during the 50-80's, leaving a huge scientific hole in parks management.

MFrome:  Vera, do you have any special engineer in mind? Don't answer..

Russparks:  Mike, what is your opinion of "bioprospecting" in the parks?

FlashDome:  Gary Flashner here-- yes, Carl Sharsmith was honest and brilliant!

PritchardP:  I dont think we'll ever have park science until we make NPS independent.

Johnredbon:  NPS independent, from what or who? The public?

BARJNPWLL:  Independent of what, Paul?

MFrome:  I agree with Paul. We should get parks out of Interior.

CTMcASHE:  Greetings from Asheville,  Charlie & Shirley Anne McCullough

PritchardP:  Michael, you wrote the book on this idea and why.

PK rnger:  Unfortunately there are many in the NPS who resented the fact that they could not manage Carl Sharsmith.

Johnredbon:  MFRome, if we take it out DOI it will not take it out of pollitics.

Pk rnger :  The parks have huge economic importance.....this is where science has problems if science defines the limits of use.

MFrome:  We need more, not less, public involvement. NPS leaders and managers see their involvement with industrial tourism, chambers of commerce, Disneyesque.

Gas1926:  Remember  that Watt left a legacy to open the parks to the people-it still plays with some managers. There  was a national recreational plan created.

Johnredbon:  Paul, as long as there are people there is pollitics and bills have to be paid.  So how do we deal with this and keep support?

MFrome:  People love the parks. They want to save, not desecrate but park bureaucrats lack principle and genuine purpose.

RScherf350:  We had to get the National Research Council involved in Everglades Restoration

Johnredbon:  They want to use them and love them. Is this not right?

Pk rnger: So how can science be used to define limits?  And who will pay for such science to be conducted?

FlashDome:  Unfortunately, people love parks to death (and sometimes do the same to themselves).

MFrome:  Yes, use not abuse, love and protect. Americans will respond when they are told the truth about the endangerment of all of our parks and the  deadly role of park bureaucracy.

Pk rnger:  So how to change the bureaucracy?

Johnredbon:  RScherf, is the NRC the only group in Everglades Restoration?

RScherf350:  No, all the agencies are mucking it up!

Johnredbon:  Rscherf, is NRC an agency or an environmental group?

RScherf350:  Part of the national Science Foudation that does peer review.

PritchardP:  I will take my chances with a citizen commission over NPS.

MFrome:  Change bureaucracy? Yes, by public defense of professionals who speak out.

Pk rnger:  Who will appoint the "citizen's"?

FlashDome:  Who holds the citizen's group accountable, Paul?

Johnredbon:  Paul what citizen's; citizens for tax cuts?

PritchardP:  Michael, where have citizens done the right thing?  I'd say the NPS Adv Council.

Russparks:  Would a citizens' commission have enough clout on Capitol Hill?

Pk rnger:  This is a reason why most research in parks is descriptive but not focused on management issues.

MFrome:  Yosemite, in its own backyard.

RScherf350:  The parks are slowly dying and we need radical action.

FlashDome:  Michael, such as?

MFrome:  You got it,brother Scherf. Parks are dying, need radical action.

Pk rnger:  There is indeed a need for formal oversight of some kind.

BARJNPWLL:  Radical action, Mr. Scherf?  Like Earth First! type radical action?

MFrome:  Flash, Yosemite: the big concession, the millions for roads, you name it.

RScherf350:  Sure.

GSTDKhanna:  We have KC Publications here represented by ChanellNLV.

SHERBILL:  What are the benchmarks for a park thriving or dying?

MFrome:  Environmental groups mess up too. I dont' see the Sierra Club tackling the tough.

Pk rnger:  But there are fewer developments now in YOSE than two decades ago.

MFrome:  A park is dying when it gets more people to see fewer is dying when concessionners have more power than park is dying when superintendents make partnerships with profit-makers...

Gas1926:  Radical action could be a call for a congressional hearing by leading scientists...

FlashDome:  How do you feel about the "partnership" in Yosemite between the big concessions and NPS?

Pk rnger: That's been the case for nearly 40 years

Johnredbon:  Pk do you think money rules in these issues?

Russparks:  How do we get the NPS to ban snowmobiles/jetskis, etc., and manage the parks ecologically?

PrksRus:  This is Ken Fitch signing on from the offices of American Grassroots Unlimited in the Mountains of North Carolina. I live in New York where I work on  issues concerning Parks.

Pk rnger: Economics is a huge force for sure.

MFrome:  I need to get a word in opposition to fee demonstration areas.   "Pay to play", pay to walk in the woods is bad news. That places the burden on park supts to generate more business, make deals with profiteers.

FlashDome:  Michael, can we "re-direct" those profits into the overall good and preservation of parks?

Johnredbon:  PK is not economics political power?

Pk rnger:  To preserve means to have defined limits of change and use of course.

FlashDome:  Information is political power--- more than money.

Pgoosem:  There seem to be several agendas here..would it be possible to have MFrome state his views uninterrupted for a few minutes?  Then responses?

Pk rnger:  But the public is typically sheltered from information about the status of parks and NPS ...

MFrome:  "Wild and Free in the 21st Century" is theme of Day of Protest, August 14.

FlashDome:  Michael, agreed-- but can partnerships begin to put the brakes on this process?

MFrome:  Check Internet for more.

FlashDome:  Will do.....

MFrome:  Flash, they should make partners of you and me, but they'd rather talk to Big Bucks

Gas1926:  Etc. over the country.

PrksRus:  Many of us are well aware of the problems with the bureacracy in the Park system, but that issue communicate to the public. What the public quickly understands are injured ...manatees,  buffalo slaughters and oil spills.

Pk rnger:  So where does park science fit in?

FlashDome:  Agreed!!  My own feeling is that if you can control information, you then control economics...and thus control the resource.

Pk rnger:  How do you control information?

Russparks:  What percentage of the NPS budget is presently devoted to scientific research?

Pk rnger:  Good question.

Johnredbon:  Flash, to control information is to control society.  Is this not going on Now?

Gas1926:  Again I ask where is the great recreational plan that was made by Watt when he was heading...the bureau of outdoor recreation  It is now being carried out in the parks to make the park open to the people-let the flights over grand canyon goforth.

MFrome:  Hey, don't control information -- I'm a journalist!!

FlashDome:  Controlling information is complex -- but those tools exist and yes this is currently going on in society.   Information is potentially more powerful than money

Pk rnger:  Sounds like communism

FlashDome:  How is this communism?

Russparks:  Is it too generous to estimate that 2 to 3 percent of NPS's budget goes into science?

Pk rnger:  I don't think the budget allows for even 2 to 3 %.

ChanelINLV:  I believe the public deserves to hear the information...and have access to viewing the parks...but the science is what we need to find a way to keep our parks alive.

MFrome:  The mainstream media does a lousy job, but the alternatives are growing.   Sure, the public should have access, but not all at once.

Johnredbon:  Sounds like communism and old Russia is dead without $ will our parks be the same?

Russparks:  How do we bring about a meaningful boost in the NPS budget for science?

FlashDome:  Science is predicated on information gathering-- is this communism?

ChanelINLV:  How do you say some can enter and others can't, when we have so many people interested in the parks?

Pk rnger:  Information gathering is not information control.

MFrome:  I'm against giving more $$. They conduct studies that ever end, never give hard answers.

FlashDome:  Information gathering hopefully leads to educated conclusions and courses of action.

Pk rnger:  There must be limits of use, carrying capacities established, but these will affect tourism, and thus political pressures will result.

RScherf350:  Ecological integrity must be defined and never compromised.

FlashDome:  If you want to preserve parks, you had better gather and then control that info.

PrksRus:  Regarding scientific advisors, what is the opinion of those gathered here regarding the.

MFrome:  I'm for science, the real stuff, that searches and warns, with courage.

Pk rnger:  Nope, do not control information.....who controls those who control?

PritchardP:  NPS monitor the resourse publically and let the info determine visitation.

Johnredbon:  Chanell how about he who can pay goes to the park?

ChanelINLV:  Is that fair?  The rich can do whatever they want...And go wherever they want...while the poor can't do or go anywhere?

Johnredbon:  Chanell no it is not fair,  then we need people for pollitical support.

MFrome:  NPS is such  an inbred bureaucracy. The old guard controls

ChanelINLV:  When the old guard leaves a new old guard takes over.

PrksRus:  "White House panel of scientists convened to advise on the future of the Everglades?

Vera Guise:  Vera here in NC:  WHEN is the old guard going to retire, for God's sake?

MFrome:  Vera, they breed them that way, young.

Johnredbon: The old guard never retires because the new old guard is in training.

Pk rnger:  Well, not too many with a science background left in upper management.

Vera Guise:  It has been my experience that park managers 50 year and younger are cut from a different cloth in many respects.  At least they're TRAINABLE!

ChanelINLV:  How is science being utilized today in our parks?

Pk rnger:  Lots of administers though.

MFrome:  They go in cycles over science and resource management, but the managers ignore warnings from their own good people. 

RScherf350:  Some of the science is being marginalized by Superintendents.

FlashDome:  Medical studies are one form of science utilized in parks.

Fineart111:  What kind of med. studies?

ChanelINLV:  What happened to the ecologists of the 80's?

MFrome:  They got promoted in the 90s.

Pk rnger:  Lots of basic academic research, but limited applied research  of relevance to park issues.

FlashDome:  Use of Epinephrine by EMTs in Sequoia/Kings for anaphylaxis.

Johnredbon:  What hapopened to the ecologists of the 80's? They manage now!

FlashDome:  Use of portable lab equipment for evaluation of dehydration in Grand Canyon.

MFrome:  Hey, we're on the same wavelength here.

Pk rnger:  More administers than ecologists in management.

Fineart111:  Interesting, any applications actually changed overall in the medical community because of these studies?  Has the medical community started practicing these techniques?

FlashDome:  Not sure what you mean by "applications" that have changed?

PrksRus:  One problem is that the funding uncertainties for the Park system forces many managers to seek partners who offer economic rather than scientific or academic resources.

Gas1926:  The scientists of the 80's were purged from NPS by Watt-his clones are still in the nps doing their thing.

Pk rnger:  That's more to the point Vera.

Johnredbon:  Let's face it the NPS is under funded in all areas!

Pk rnger:  Not in Law Enforcement it isn't.

ChanelINLV:  So we need to understand how to best utilize the funds available.

MFrome:  I think they get enough money to build roads, visitor centers and to go to conferences in Las Vegas. One NPS friend said  "Don't get us more money, we'll do the wrong thing with it."

FlashDome:  The techniques started in urban areas and were re-formulated for use in the field.

Russparks:  Scientifically based knowledge should be the foundation for protecting ecosystems. But, how do we get the NPS to gain that needed scientifically based knowledge?

ChanelINLV:  Just like all other government agencies, stop forming panels and start using the funds for what they were meant for.

Johnredbon:  So the $ is applied wrong.

FlashDome:  Agreed!!!

Pk rnger:  It's not more science, it's focused science to address pressing park issues.

Vera Guise: Just wondering if we have amongst us some true believers in the Watt plan?

MFrome:  Get NPS out of Interior. In sometning like Smithsonian, it would have a chance.

RScherf350:  You need more independent scientific review not polluted by agency dogma.

ChanelINLV:  What pressing park issues are the most important...that you feel should be addressed first?

Fineart111:  What scientific studies are being done in the area of restoring environmental conditions?

Johnredbon:  Then what do you need, people, $, panels, boosters, law suits?

PrksRus:  The problem is that many Congressional reps see more significance in construction rather than preservation or restoration.

MFrome:  We have plenty of studies on top of studies. We need to get snowmobiles out of Yellowstone... place limits of use on every park...

Pk rnger:  Research often takes decades before tangible results are in.

FlashDome:  Part of what is needed is a means of creating action out of mountains of data that already exists.

Vera Guise:  Sherbill, what is your view on how we might use the law to break the noose?

Russparks:  Recommended reading: Preserving Nature in the National Parks, by Richard Sellars.

CTMcASHE:  I agree with The Sellers reference-- an Excellent overview.

Fineart111:  Yes, I understand that mechanized transports are really creating some big enviromental probs.

Pk rnger:  Limits of use should be based on sound science that hasn't to date really been funded some research needs to address aesthetic limits as well.

SHERBILL:  There are lots of groups suing or ready to sue. I think what is needed is much greater public awareness. To most of the public, what we're hearing today is inside baseball.

Gas1926:  A little litigation might be real good for the bureaucrats.  It seems to be the only thing that TALKS.

MFrome:  The law is clear: Parks must be protected first and foremost.

FlashDome:  Vera, it can certainly get their attention-- it does so for doctors!!

Gas1926:  Well, here in NC we're dealing with a park superintendent that is pandering to developers by arguing that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a recreational road--not a national park.

Pk rnger:  But resource limits must be defined or protection cannot occur

ChanelINLV:  Oh, don't tell me they will let someone build on the Parkway!

SHERBILL:  Vera, isn't that symptomatic about how the majority of the public feels around there?

Gas1926:  In a New York Minute---if the price is right.

Russparks:  Mike Frome, what is your next book?

Johnredbon:  Doesn't litigation use up already short $ of the NPS? Isn't there a better way?

PritchardP:  Maybe the people should set the resources' limits.

PrksRus:  Litigation has worked at Niobrara, is at work At Gateway against the TDWR, etc.

MFrome:  Hey, North Carolina, is it true they will name that monstrous park hq. after Stan Abbott.

Gas1926:  Renegade, arrogant, unchecked park management has so despaired the people here and NPS has been no help at all.  Well, the jury is still out on the Pk headqts. A proper EA was never done, and an Imax is also planned. I wouldn't name a complex in controversy after a man of such distinctin as Stan Abbott.

CTMcASHE:  If we could only have an apolitical NPS system--So much remains political on issues.

FlashDome:  That won't go away-- but neither will the research, studies and data.

ChanelINLV:  It sounds to me like the managers, interpreters, scientists and others in the NPS have to start talking to each other.

PrksRus:  The fact is that many legislators look to litigation to resolve issues that they would not pursue legislatively, forceing them to expend political capital. This is putting an undue burden on activists and groups who must man the front lines with linited ammunition.

MFrome:  Politics is good, not evil, but people need involvement and awareness.

Pk rnger:  Hard to do when parks are so important economically to local tourism.

Johnredbon:  People should set the resources' limits, isn't this a panel Paul?

Pk rnger:  I agree with Mike on that, involvment and awareness is important

PritchardP:  A principle is what's needed.  e.g., resources must thrive.

MFrome:  Does his son the architect approve? His wife would not..

FlashDome:  Back up principles with information and data.

Fineart111:  What is the greatest problem facing the park system today?

Gas1926:  Carlton Abbott is also a very fine person and professional.  He is in a different class than park managers here but knows he has to endure.

Pk rnger:  NPS promotions should reflect a commitment to resource protection and applied research.

RScherf350:  Resource degradation,

Pk rnger:  Population growth,

PritchardP:  Flash, I agree.  Principles based on info and data.

Pk rnger:  And an eroded mission.

FlashDome:  I think a lot of the data may already be there--a matter of mining it.

Pk rnger:  Not data with the right sampling design.

Gas1926:  AMEN to PrksRus comment.

FlashDome:  How so?

MFrome:  The greatest problems: Overuse, inappropriate use, encroachment of development, and lack of courage to face hard issues and deal the public in.

Fineart111:  Any suggestions on how to better protect the parks from the overpopulation problem.

Pk rnger:  Like doing epidemiology on the effects.

Johnredbon:  Paul, but currently the info and data are controled by someone so how do we know it is right?

FlashDome:  I can see that one--- inadequate sampling.

Fineart111:  I mean, there must be some simple ideas to work with on these problems.

Vera Guise:  This chat script reads like an Agatha Christy novel.

PritchardP:  Fight the bastards, study the data, be an expert, be guided by commitment.

FlashDome:  Agreed!!

Johnredbon:  Paul right on!

Pk rnger:  But how to ensure that those with commitment survive?

Gas1926:  Much intrigue, mystery, and talk of tyrrany.  Surely I'm mis-reading it.

FlashDome:  Survive by grass-roots "sticking together".

Fineart111:  But what can the simple person with limited involvement do? Don't make it too complicated and you might get more help.

MFrome:  Agatha ended her stories at a famous hotel in Istanbul. We went there last year and found it seedy, like our national parks

PrksRus:  Dr. Pritchard has often pointed out that a greater number of Parks would give opportunities for the public to visit a wide range of extraordinary places, taking  the pressure off the Crown Jewels.

Vera Guise: Touche!  Michael, Touche!

PritchardP:  Frome is the role model: think locally, act globally. more qualified parks

FlashDome:  Think locally but consider connecting globally.

Gas1926:  Brian, what ingredients do you credit with the BC and EVerglades grassroots holding together effective coaltion during these tough times?

Johnredbon:  Paul, is this what you meant " more qualified parks"

MFrome:  I learned a lot from Horace Albright, also Howard Zahnniser, Harvey Broome, and those good guys inside and outside the parks

RScherf350:  Most of the big groups have caved in!!

Johnredbon:  Brian, "Most of the big groups have caved in!!" How?
Brian, why have they caved in?

FlashDome:  All of us are a big group, aren't we?

Vera Guise:  Yes, large and small groups caved when we temporarily lost PP as our flag bearer.

RScherf350:  They buy in to compromise to get any little thing done and lose site of the big picture.

BARJNPWLL:  The sportsmen haven't caved in.

Vera Guise: Neither have the park activists.  We are very much alive.

PrksRus:  It's about money. That's what drained Florida and caused the caving in of the sinkholes.

PrksRus:  The policy makers have to get off the airboats and into the swamps.

Pk rnger:  From behind desks and phones.

GSTDKhanna:  Well friends, the scheduled time with our guests is coming to an end. However, the chat room is available to continue your discussion.

Our sincere thanks to Michael Frome, Dr. Garrett Smathers, Brian Scherf, and Gary Flashner for giving us their valuable time tonight. Hope we will have another opportunity to interact with them online.

Thanks to Paul Pritchard, Owen Hoffman, Russ Butcher and others for joining us. Last but not least, we thank every one in the audience for their participation.

My thanks also go to Vera Guise for her assistance tonight.

Barbara Zurhellen from Tallgrass Prairie, thank you.

TallPrairy:  Thank you for a great hosting job DK.

MFrome:  Thank you, Davinder. You do a great job and service.
Johnredbon:  Thanks enjoyed!  We did drift!
PritchardP:  Thanks, all.  Great chat.
Pk rnger:  Yes, thanks Davinder
RScherf350:  Thanks, Davinder!
FlashDome:  Thank you Davinder for putting this together.

Pk rnger:  I wish we could have addressed the science issues more directly.

Vera Guise:  Hey, technology ain't perfect. Thanks to our guests, thanks to Davinder. Thanks AOL

Pk rnger:  Nice meeting with all of you.

TallPrairy:  Bye All! See you soon Dr. Frome

FlashDome:  A lively discussion. Good night to everyone!!

Pk rnger:  Thanks for raising this as an issue and do promote others to read the book by RichardSeller...Preserving Nature in the National Parks.

CTMcASHE:  Good night all.

GSTDKhanna:  Remember, the Keyword on AOL is  Parks.
Until next time, take care every one!


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