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Obama Nominates Jon Jarvis to Head National Park Service
WASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2009 (ENS) - Jonathan Jarvis, President Barack Obama's choice for director of the National Park Service, an agency of the Interior Department, is winning support from environmental groups just a few days after the President nominated him for the post on Friday.

President of the National Parks Conservation Association Tom Kiernan said, "He is well-versed in the threats to our natural and cultural treasures, and the leadership, collaboration, and cooperation needed to restore them. Jarvis fully understands the detrimental effect on the park system of long-standing federal funding shortfalls, the importance of science-based decisions, and the threats posed by climate change, chronic air pollution, inappropriate development, and the inability of the Park Service to acquire priority lands from willing sellers within park boundaries."

"He appreciates the role of national parks as living classrooms for visitors and schoolchildren, and embraces the opportunity to enlist Americans from all walks of life in the restoration of their shared heritage in time for the 2016 centennial of the Park Service," said Kiernan.

From a different perspective, National Trust for Historic Preservation president Richard Moe also expressed support for Jarvis, by calling attention to lagging funding for cultural resource management and maintenance of historic structures at America's national parks.

"Historic structures at our national parks include everything from majestic lodges to Civil War forts to Japanese confinement sites to Independence Hall," Moe said. "Funding increases will help address the backlog in maintenance projects, but we also need to ensure that National Park Service staff understand and appreciate the value of the historic resources they manage."

"As a longtime Park Service employee with a background in cultural and historic resource management, I know that Jon Jarvis understands these challenges, and we look forward to working with him on finding solutions to them," Moe said.

Jonathan Jarvis (Photo courtesy NPS)

But Jarvis has annoyed U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein of California and the lessee of a Northern California oyster farm with a controversial 2007 National Park Service study, "Drakes Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary" that emphasized the negative environmental effects of the oyster operation.

A report from the National Research Council in May 2009 found that, contrary to the National Park Service study, there is "a lack of strong scientific evidence that the present level of oyster farming operations by Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has major adverse effects on the ecosystem of Drakes Estero, a body of water north of San Francisco within Point Reyes National Seashore, which is owned by the National Park Service."

The National Park Service report in some instances "selectively presented, overinterpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on DBOC operations by exaggerating the negative and overlooking potentially beneficial effects," the National Research Council found.

In a May 5 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Senator Feinstein wrote, "For several years, I have been concerned about the National Park Service's apparent efforts to shut down a family-owned oyster operation in Drakes Estero by casting it as harmful to the environment."

"I find it troubling and unacceptable that the National Park Service exaggerated the effects of the oyster population on the Estero's ecosystem," Feinstein wrote, asking the interior secretary to "to negotiate a solution to the oyster farming issue."

Jarvis, although apologetic for the errors made in the first version of the Drakes Estero study, said subsequent corrections by the Point Reyes National Seashore were consistent the National Research Council's conclusions. But according to the NRC, even the latest version of the park's study, "never achieved a rigorous and balanced synthesis of the mariculture impacts."

The NRC report has not placated wilderness advocates who want to see the oyster operation removed after its lease expires in 2012. "The NAS report states that due to limited studies there is no definitive proof one way or the other that the oyster farm is causing substantial harm to the ecology of the Estero, though site-specific negative impacts have been documented," said Fred Smith, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

Smith maintains that when the lease expires in 2012, federal legislation requires reversion of the site to wilderness.

"New federal legislation would be required in order for the oyster company to stay past 2012," Smith writes in a column on the EAC website. "If Drakes Estero's wilderness designation were somehow to be reversed through federal legislation, it would be the first time of which we are aware that Congress overturned a designated wilderness for commercial profit in a national park."

Jarvis is no stranger to public land use controversy. He has been an employee for the National Park Service for over 30 years. He is currently serving as the regional director for the Pacific West Region, where he is responsible for all 54 National Park System units and programs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands of Guam, Saipan and American Samoa. Jarvis oversees 3,000 employees with a $350 million annual budget.

Prior to this, Jarvis was the superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park in Ashford, Washington. He has also been the superintendent of Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho where his position required close coordination with local ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management, rural communities surrounding the National Monument and the Department of Energy.

He also served as the superintendent of Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve in Copper Center, Alaska, which involved mining, aircraft, subsistence hunting and fishing rights, native villages as well as rural communities.

Earlier, Jarvis was chief of natural and cultural resources at North Cascades National Park for over five years, where he was the chief biologist of the 684,000 acre complex of two recreation areas and one national park.

From 1997 to 1998, Jarvis served as the president of the George Wright Society, a professional organization that sponsors a biennial conference on science and management of protected lands around the world. He has published and lectured on the role of science in parks at conferences and workshops across the United States.

Mitigating and adapting to climate change is a high priority for Jarvis in his work with the National Park Service.

In April, Jarvis testified before a congressional subcommittee that climate change "challenges the very foundation of the National Park System and our ability to leave America's natural and cultural heritage unimpaired for future generations."

He told the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, "Our national park units can serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, a place where we can monitor and document ecosystem change without many of the stressors that are found on other public lands."

Regional Director Jon Jarvis speaks at the grand opening of the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. October 10, 2008. (Photo by Bacher Family)

Jarvis recounted the effects of climate change already appearing in the Pacific West Region he heads.

"Parks are already experiencing some dramatic impacts that may be resulting from climate change," he said. "Warming temperatures may be accelerating melting of mountain glaciers in national parks such as Glacier and North Cascades while perennial snowfields throughout Alaska are disappearing."

"In Bandelier and Rocky Mountain National Parks, higher temperatures and drought have brought high mortality to pine forests as infestations of bark and pine beetles have expanded to higher elevations and new ranges that may also be occurring because of climate change," Jarvis told the lawmakers.

"Fire frequency and intensity may also be related to climate change," he said. "NPS data indicates that fire ignitions are occurring both earlier and later in the season now and the average duration of time that a wildfire burns has increased from less than 10 days to more than a month."

"Coastal parks are extremely vulnerable to climate change," Jarvis warned. "These ecosystems are predicted to change as sea level, ocean acidity, and water temperatures rise," Jarvis told the subcommittee. "Shorelines and park boundaries will change as sea level rises resulting in a net loss where parks cannot migrate inland."

"At Everglades National Park, rising seas may overwhelm the mangrove communities that filter out saltwater and maintain the freshwater wetlands. Indeed, changes have already been observed as coral bleaching and disease caused by increased sea surface temperatures led to the loss of more than 50 percent of reef-building corals in the Virgin Islands park units since 2005," he said.

In summary, Jarvis said, "To succeed in its mission in the face of climate change, the Department of the Interior and National Park Service must lead by example in minimizing our carbon footprint and promoting sustainable operational practices. We must take responsibility for understanding how climate change will impact the national parks and take appropriate steps to protect these national treasures."

"An unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation with other agencies and partners will be required to acquire needed scientific information, protect resources, and effectively expand the teaching of the benefits and necessity of natural and cultural resource conservation across the nation and the world."

The National Park Service manages 58 national parks and 333 other units, including national monuments, historical parks, battlefields, national lakeshores, seashores and parkways, wilderness areas and other recreational and cultural sites, covering 84.6 million acres.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.

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