Book Review – R. Arnberger

A Review of:

A Time for Concern

National Parks Our Living Treasure

By Dr. Gil Lusk

 Over the short history of the current Administration, the efforts to dismantle national environmental protections, disregard and disparage science-based resource management, deny climate change impacts and solutions, creating leaderless government agencies threatened by political retaliation and manipulation of mission and case law most especially on our nation’s Public Lands is a Call to Crisis. This crisis has roots in a decades-long slippage in our commitment to caring for our national lands and most especially our National Park System.

It is because of this that this book is an important one to read, to reflect on the message, and turn your concern about our Public Lands and the National Park System into action. The book starts with a recounting of the author’s experiences and well-respected career working in a variety of parks and positions. It is important to understand and appreciate this experience because it gives Gil the background and credibility to express concerns and offer solutions to the crisis our national parks now face. Those of us who dedicated our careers and our lives to national parks and the important idea they represent can recognize some common themes in Gil’s experience that provides him the credibility to make the judgments he has and to offer some thoughtful guidance that might lead to effective solutions.

Gil’s experience was wide and varied. Different parks, different geographical regions, different duties all contributed to a wealth of experience and exposure to new ideas and approaches. Gil recognizes that managing parks and representing the idea of what parks represent in our changing society is always an experiment. Working to protect parks requires constant adaptation and reflection, and comfort with ambiguity in order to make risky principled decisions. Also, Gil realizes that success is frequently a long term process and is built upon the shoulders of those who came before and those still to come.

Unfortunately, our Nation must now face an uncomfortable reality about our national parks and the agency invested with caring for them for future generations of Americans. There is an imperative need for the vitality of the National Park Service to be restored and replenished. Our natural and cultural legacy protected in these places is in grave danger of being lost because of underfunding, deliberate weakening of mission, and drastic personnel cuts. It is clear it is no longer possible for the National Park Service to independently correct major issues such as funding and resource deterioration, especially in the present national political climate. Nor is it possible for the National Park Service to independently restore its unique sense of purpose and mission through internal mechanics or reorganizations. It is clear that a national effort to restore the strength of the System that transcends the present capacity of the National Park Service must be engaged.

Gil began to recognize the signs of this creeping and sad reality clear back in the 1990s when all of us working at the time also felt the agency was quickly sliding to mediocrity. In this book, Gil presents his Considered Opinions a collection of thoughtful essays, penned in the 1990s prescient in their exposure of what the problems were then and what the solutions might be. What makes these Considered Opinions frightening today is the realization of how much ground has been lost to date and how profound the problem is. Since Gil wrote these essays there has been little success made to correct the problems. It is disheartening to realize that the same problems have only deepened, and the possible solutions have clearly exceeded the capacity of the National Park Service to find them and put them into place.

However, having exposed what many of the problems are, it is important for the reader to recognize that this book is more than a pessimistic recitation of “problems” and repeated “newspaper headlines”. It is a thoughtful “roadmap” that can lead to a revitalization of the National Park Service and its mission to protect and educate about our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. The job before us is greater than one thoughtful book and one offered “roadmap”. Other thoughtful approaches and opinions must be gathered and formed into some kind of focused legacy restoration endeavor that over the coming decades can assure our national park system is not only healthy but is managed well by an agency equipped for the job of passing it unencumbered to future generations.

Gil reflects upon a prophetic statement made by President Gerald Ford during the establishment of Valley Forge National Historical Park that gives food for thought and to me forms the real core of Gil’s book: “The paths of history are littered with visions that failed because their proponents were not people of action and endurance.” It is time to restore the vision. It is time to display endurance. It is time for action. What is at risk is not only a system of national parks but a singular American idea that has spread across the globe.

Rob Arnberger

National Park Service Retired (1969-2003)