The Politicizing of the Park Service
Administering lands that contain 80 percent of the country’s oil shale and 40 percent of its coal reserves along with extensive deposits of minerals, oil, and gas, Interior has become one of the more sensitive—and political—departments in government. The statutes that govern utilization of federal holdings are often quite general, giving an Interior secretary wide discretionary authority. There is no law against building additional facilities in the parks, making features more accessible, or turning over entrance stations to the concessioners—a Watt suggestion. On August 29 Jerry Ford “returned home” to Yellowstone, where he had served as a park ranger during the summer of 1936. The parks were in financial trouble in 1976 partly because there are so many of them. It was Representative Phil Burton of California who demonstrated the political rewards that can be gained from park legislation. Serving from 1964 through 1972, George Hartzog might be termed the last director of the “old” Park Service.