Park Service retirees: Repeal Bush-era concealed weapons rule change

Late in 2008, the Bush Administration rushed through a regulatory change that would allow concealed-carry firearms to be possessed in national parks and national wildlife refuges in accordance with state permit requirements. The rule went into effect on Jan. 9.

The previous common-sense rule had been in effect for national parks since the early 1900s, in one form or another. The rule did not prohibit guns, but simply required them to be unloaded, cased and not immediately accessible.

Here is what was wrong with the Bush Administration rule-making process:

• The 2008 rulemaking, carried out by the Department of the Interior (DOI), was completed with no environmental impact analysis, and judged to be “categorically excluded” from the National Environmental Policy Act and other relevant considerations. The process used was inconsistent with similar rulemaking processes conducted by the National Park Service and DOI in dozens of previous instances.

• The rulemaking was carried out against the advice of the then-Directors of the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); against the advice of all seven living former NPS directors and against the advice of three NPS employee groups (Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR), Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR).

• The rule was implemented even though 73 percent (over 100,000) of the 140,000 public comments received during the rulemaking opposed the proposed rule.

• A survey of NPS and USFWS managers and staff resource specialists in the fall of 2008 concluded that there could be significant negative impacts from the rule to visitor safety, employee safety, natural resources (especially wildlife) and cultural/archeological resources. This report was presented to the Department of the Interior and was ignored.

On Jan. 6, CNPSR and the National Parks Conservation Association filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking injunction against the Bush Administration implementation of the parks gun rule.

What happens next?
Last week, Interior Secretary Salazar announced that his department would conduct a “90-day environmental review” of the impacts of the “gun rule.” Secretary Salazar is to be commended for taking this action, although what the specific action will entail is still unclear.

By calling for an environmental review on the rule, DOI is now admitting that there could be negative environmental impacts to the rule and is in effect agreeing that such impacts should have been considered during the 2008 rulemaking process and that the public should have been made aware of such potential impacts at the time the proposed rule was published. Moreover, by agreeing that there may be environmental impacts to the rule, this makes the case for the plaintiffs in the suit against DOI much stronger.

Secretary Salazar should immediately take the next logical step which would be to suspend the implementation of the Jan. 9 rule and agree to either restore the former long-standing rule or to engage in completely new rulemaking, assuring that the appropriate consultations and environmental analyses are completed and made available to the public prior to requesting comment. Doing so would be consistent with the Obama Administration’s pledge to use science in decision-making, make such actions “transparent” and involve the public in important decisions affecting them. It could also have the effect of eliminating an expensive litigation on the issue.

The 700 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 21,000 years of stewardship of America’ most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members now strive to apply their credibility and integrity as they speak out for national park solutions that uphold law and apply sound science. The Coalition counts among its members: former national park directors and deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, rangers and other career professionals who devoted an average of nearly 30 years each to protecting and interpreting America’s national parks on behalf of the public. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site.

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