Former Grand Teton superintendent sees need for more civic engagement

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, left, and Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott speak with reporters Wednesday about efforts to complete a deal for the federal government to acquire Wyoming state lands within the park, were the press conference was held. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate)

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, left, and Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott speak with reporters in summer 2013 about efforts to complete a deal for the federal government to acquire Wyoming state lands within the park, were the press conference was held.

A bipartisan budget deal approved last week in Congress provides $2.6 billion for the National Park Service, ensuring that parks will have funds to remain open at least through September.

That’s welcome news to residents in gateway communities around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But federal lawmakers have a long way to go in regaining the confidence of one former park superintendent.

Mary Gibson Scott retired in November after nearly a decade as the chief administrator for Grand Teton National Park.

In a wide-ranging interview last year given shortly after she retired, Scott singled out the chaos brought on by federal budget battles as a major challenge during her tenure, calling federal budget dysfunction an ongoing threat to the health of national parks across the country.

“One of the biggest challenges is not having a budget in advance of the fiscal year,” she said. “This governing by crisis has got to stop. It’s not how government is supposed to work.”

Scott said the disruptive results of budget conflicts like across-the-board spending cuts under Sequestration and last fall’s two-week partial federal shutdown were partly the result of “people not holding their elected representatives accountable.”

Scott said she spoke to people whose plans were disrupted by budget cuts last year, and asked if they had contacted their representatives.

“‘No, they won’t listen. They never listen,’ they told me. Well, that’s where government is breaking down,” she said.

Last week’s budget deal essentially restores Park Service funding to 2012 levels, a move that many park advocates said is better than the outlook under sequestration, but still not back to 2010 budget levels before two subsequent years of cuts.

Those concerned about the federal debt point out that every agency must learn to do more with less, and agency heads should look for creative solutions to funding shortages.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell did just that this week, as she attended the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City, where she decried Washington gridlock on budget issues, according to the Associated Press.

Jewell asked outdoor gear manufacturers to help fund Interior programs that put 100,000 young people to work each year on federal public lands.

Youth involvement in Grand Teton was an area of focus for Scott. Grand Teton in 2011 launched NPS Academy, a program that introduces college students to a range of Park Service career paths. The program has since been rolled out to other parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park.

Grand Teton’s Pura Vida program also began during Scott’s tenure, connecting Latino youth with the park through a range of outdoor work projects. Both programs are made possible through substantial local support.

That kind of financial support for Grand Teton exists in part because it is “not a park that’s in the middle of nowhere,” Scott said. “It has an engaged, influential community that can be incredibly generous.”

Community financial support helped build the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, fund seasonal rangers to manage traffic around wildlife and “do all kinds of things the Park Service would never be able to do alone,” she said.

But that wealth and influence has, at times, resulted in some local residents engaging in what Scott described as intimidating tactics aimed at trying to suppress public comment on key issues.

“We need to make sure that all voices are heard,” she said. “Grand Teton is not a county park and it’s not a state park. It’s a national park, so all Americans have a say in what occurs here.”

One of the most contentious issues in Grand Teton remains the practice of seasonal hunts inside the park aimed at curbing elk populations.

The program is authorized in Grand Teton’s establishing legislation, Scott said, and the park superintendent lacks the authority to change that.

“It’s an extremely distasteful program to have to support in a national park, and we’re the only national park that has something like that,” she said.

Park staff do not like working to support the hunt, preferring to manage elk numbers through natural processes, she said, adding that supplemental feeding of elk along park borders makes the problem worse.

Increased numbers of gray wolves and grizzly bears around Jackson Hole could help play a growing role in naturally reducing in elk numbers.

But some local residents will have to come to terms with seeing wolves and bears moving through the landscape, as well as occasional conflicts with those animals, she said.

Whether it’s conflicts with carnivores, issues like elk hunting in the park or continuing budget problems, future Grand Teton superintendents will always look to voters and elected officials for informed engagement, Scott said.

“Jefferson said that democracy is reliant on a well-educated electorate,” she said. “And people sent to state houses and Capitol Hill need to be held accountable. So I’m concerned about the lack of civic awareness at times by people who are not real educated about how their government should work.”

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or ruffin@yellowstonegate.com.

4 thoughts on “Former Grand Teton superintendent sees need for more civic engagement

  1. Shame on the perpetrators who did this. I wish the volunteers on the ground to continue the stamina and strength! I love you for it! CONTINUE TO PROTECT AND HELP …. TO ALL ANIMAL LOVERS <3

  2. I find it disturbing that she is so resentful of the elk hunt, but supplies no reasoning other than it is “distasteful”. I had assumed that the NPS was supposed to be basing their actions on science and reasoning with evidence. I wonder what other topics she has affected without any evidence or science.

  3. Retired Superintendent Scott said “Jefferson said that democracy is reliant on a well-educated electorate,” she said. “And people sent to state houses and Capitol Hill need to be held accountable. So I’m concerned about the lack of civic awareness at times by people who are not real educated about how their government should work.” Apparently Ms. Scott believes federal employees are exempt from the accountability she describes above. Superintendent Scott’s nine years of reckless spending, self promoting campaigns and egregious management would not pass anyone’s litmus test for respectful and reasonable oversight of public property.

    Superintendent Scott directed the installation of more new asphalt, the greatest expansion of industrial, residential and urban sprawl, and the largest wholesale destruction of the park’s ecosystem than most of the prior superintendent’s combined. Knowing she was developing, building and expanding at an unsustainable rate she looked bold face into the cameras of Wyoming Public Television and boasted that she would reduce the gas house gas emissions in the park by 20% overall and reduce green house gas emissions at the Moose campus by 50% by 2012, needless to say time proved the Superintendent to be a prevaricator.

    When asked to cut expenditures by five percent Superintendent Scott elected to punish the American public by foolishly closing many of the most popular summer park locations rather than shrinking the obese administrative budget. While other national park superintendent’s left trails, bike paths and pullouts open to the public during the government shut down Superintendent Scott mirrored the bully mentality demonstrated at our National Mall and directed Grand Teton National Park rangers to fine, ticket and/or arrest anyone attempting to access their park.

    American’s believe their government and government employees should work for their benefit and protect their assets, unfortunately Superintendent Scott never understood how government should work.

    Timothy C. Mayo

  4. Elk hunting was part of the enabling legislation likely because it is part of the park’s cultural history. If the elk population is healthy enough to support hunting, then why not? Without some predation, either by humans or other animals, elk would eat themselves out of house and home and die a miserable death of starvation or disease. Natural resource managers, which park superintendents are, need to remember that people are part of the landscape, always has been. The extent of human use and modern impacts to the park just need to be limited