3-6-16 NPT: Jarvis skirted ethics and lied

This is not an ordinary book review. The only reason I know about this book is because I read in the news that National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis had been disciplined for writing it, so this review will also discuss that context.

As readers of National Parks Traveler know, the book was the subject of an Office of Inspector General investigation that found Mr. Jarvis had intentionally skirted the Interior Department’s Ethics Office to write it, and that the director lied to Interior Secretary Jewell about some of the details.

*     *     *     *     *

Many National Parks Traveler readers made this point in their comments on Traveler’s story about the OIG investigation, saying Director Jarvis’s ethics lapse is “evidence of a culture of arrogance and abuse of power.” Readers have provided a long list of investigations and complaints that show a pattern of “gross mismanagement” and “cover-ups” under Director Jarvis, and have pointed out that “Violating agency policy and then justifying it to the Inspector General as ‘risk taking’ demonstrates he neither understands nor appreciates the burden of leadership responsibility.”

National Parks Traveler

Fireside Read: Guidebook To American Values And Our National Parks

 

By Sarah Rolph on March 6th, 2016

This is not an ordinary book review. The only reason I know about this book is because I read in the news that National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis had been disciplined for writing it, so this review will also discuss that context.

As readers of National Parks Traveler know, the book was the subject of an Office of Inspector General investigation that found Mr. Jarvis had intentionally skirted the Interior Department’s Ethics Office to write it, and that the director lied to Interior Secretary Jewell about some of the details.

The IG report tells us that Interior Department officials are concerned that the book looks like a government publication, which it is not. Indeed it does look like one, with a huge NPS arrowhead logo on the front cover containing the book’s title and the name of its author (Jonathan B. Jarvis), and a bison that overlaps with the arrowhead; the effect is of the NPS logo come to life.

The IG report tells us that some of the DOI officials interviewed were concerned that the use of Mr. Jarvis’s job title in the book is inappropriate, creating the appearance of government endorsement.

The report says, “Two areas in the book reference Jarvis’ government title: his biography in the back, which highlights various positions that he has held at NPS, and the book’s preface, written by writer and producer Dayton Duncan.”

In fact, there is another place Director Jarvis’s title is used, and used very prominently: the blurb on the back cover. The purpose of the blurb is, of course, to explain to people who are considering purchasing the book what the book is about. Here’s the blurb, in its entirety:

As it celebrates its centennial, the National Park Service now manages more than 400 special places. In these pages, Jonathan Jarvis, the 18th director of the National Park Service, adds a new chapter in the evolution of the national park idea. National parks, he asserts, are expressions of our values. What unites this increasingly diverse system of natural wonderlands and historic sites, in an increasingly diverse nation, are the values we share in common–and Jarvis provides an impressive list of parks and the values they illuminate. –Dayton Duncan

According to the IG report, “Jarvis stated that he purposely tried to downplay his government position in the book by limiting the use of his title and using a photo of himself not wearing his NPS uniform.”

This is disingenuous at best. Director Jarvis’s position is not downplayed, it is a central feature of the book’s narrative. That’s clear from what he said to the IG: “Jarvis said that the book ‘wasn’t about’ him; it was about what he was trying to accomplish in his tenure as Director.” But that is a distinction without a difference.

This is not just a book about American values, or a book about the relationship between those values and the national parks; it is very clearly a book about Director Jarvis’s vision of those two things—a very active vision, in which he himself “adds a new chapter in the evolution of the national park idea.”

The spotlight on Director Jarvis goes beyond the blurb and the preface. The book’s Epilogue — which, like the blurb, is not mentioned in the IG report — is not only written by Director Jarvis, it is written in the first person, about his experiences in the NPS. It begins: “As a young ranger during the winter of 1976-1977, I spent many a cold, windy day in the marble chamber of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. On the coldest days, hours would pass without a single visitor, so I was alone with Mr. Jefferson. His writings, carved into the porticos, became familiar verse….”

There is a very real sense in which this is a book “about” Director Jarvis. That alone seems unbecoming.

The values discussed in the book are not in themselves controversial. They include such universal values as Integrity, Honesty, Respect, Conservation, Restoration, and Science. What’s painful here is that Director Jarvis’s career reflects a marked lack of adherence to such values.

Many National Parks Traveler readers made this point in their comments on Traveler’s story about the OIG investigation, saying Director Jarvis’s ethics lapse is “evidence of a culture of arrogance and abuse of power.” Readers have provided a long list of investigations and complaints that show a pattern of “gross mismanagement” and “cover-ups” under Director Jarvis, and have pointed out that “Violating agency policy and then justifying it to the Inspector General as ‘risk taking’ demonstrates he neither understands nor appreciates the burden of leadership responsibility.”

My own experience with Director Jarvis supports this perception. For almost a decade, I watched as Mr. Jarvis, first as Western Regional Director and then as National Park Service director, supported Point Reyes National Seashore in leveling serious false charges against a third-generation Point Reyes rancher who restored the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Farm only to have it snatched from the community and destroyed to create an artificial “wilderness.” There is a grotesque contrast between the actions taken against Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the values Director Jarvis claims he embraces: Enterprise, Entrepreneurship, Hard Work, Ingenuity, Science, and Working Lands.

To represent the value “Working Lands,” Director Jarvis profiles Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Montana. The passage reads in part: “From the family farm, forest, and ranch, Americans have formed a working-class of people tied to the lands that encompass the green pastures of the Shenandoah, to the Great Plains of the Midwest, and the fertile valleys of California. At times romanticized, Americans today are still working their lands as a family garden, or a manicured lawn, or as multigenerational farmers and ranchers. The National Park Service keeps this value alive through a variety of sites.”

Grant-Kohrs Ranch is a historic site only. It commemorates the cattle ranching of the past. Does Mr. Jarvis really think that Working Land that is no longer working “keeps this value alive”? How does Mr. Jarvis square his claim to admire Enterprise and Entrepreneurship with his agency’s ruthless and entirely unprincipled fight against a family farm that exemplified those virtues? How can Mr. Jarvis claim to believe in Science as a value when his agency has been caught red-handed committing scientific fraud?

The Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks, by Jonathan B. Jarvis is, as Mr. Jarvis suspected, a book that should never have been published.

Sarah Rolph has closely followed the case of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and its fight against the National Park Service to remain in business at the seashore. She is writing a book about its last steward, Kevin Lunny. Along with other Drakes Bay supporters, Sarah created and continues to maintain the advocacy website http://savedrakesbay.com/core/

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1 Comment

  1. Tioga

     /  March 6, 2016

    Thanks, Jane, for keeping me in the loop on these communications. Glad to see you continue to be plugged to the ongoing NPS/oyster saga (and tragedy).

    Best regards,

    Bob La Belle

    Reply

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