Two leaders of the National Park Service provide a front-row seat to the disastrous impact of partisan politics over the past fifty years—and offer a bold vision for the parks’ future.
The US National Parks, what environmentalist and historian Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea,” are under siege. Since 1972, partisan political appointees in the Department of the Interior have offered two conflicting views of the National Park Service (NPS): one vision emphasizes preservation and science-based decision-making, and another prioritizes economic benefits and privatization. These politically driven shifts represent a pernicious, existential threat to the very future of our parks.
For the past fifty years, brothers Jonathan B. and T. Destry Jarvis have worked both within and outside NPS as leaders and advocates. National Parks Forever interweaves their two voices to show how our parks must be protected from those who would open them to economic exploitation, while still allowing generations to explore and learn in them. Their history also details how Congress and administration appointees have used budget and staffing cuts to sabotage NPS’s ability to manage the parks and even threatened their existence. Drawing on their experience, Jarvis and Jarvis make a bold and compelling proposal: that it is time for NPS to be removed from the Department of the Interior and made an independent agency, similar to the Smithsonian Institution, giving NPS leaders the ability to manage park resources and plan our parks’ protection, priorities, and future.
About the Author
Jonathan B. Jarvis was the eighteenth director of the National Park Service, serving from 2009 to 2017. He served for forty years with the NPS as ranger, biologist, and park superintendent in eight national parks.
T. Destry Jarvis has had leadership roles at the National Parks Conservation Association, Student Conservation Association, National Park Service, and National Recreation & Parks Association. Currently, he is vice president of US/ICOMOS, the US National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites, better known as the World Heritage Program.
“An earnest plea to move the National Park Service out of the highly politicized Department of the Interior and make it an independent agency.”
— Kirkus Reviews
"There’s an argument that can be made, one backed by evidence, that the past fifty years have seen the most egregious attempts to subvert the mission of the National Park Service to preserve and protect natural resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. That argument is clearly laid out in National Parks Forever. . . . A rich collection of institutional knowledge from within the machinations of government and from within the National Park Service."
— National Parks Traveler
“In careers spanning half a century, both Jon and Destry Jarvis personally witnessed how the National Park Service became a partisan battleground for competing political ideologies, with policies ricocheting back and forth every time a new administration came to power. Filled with detailed firsthand accounts and insightful analysis, National Parks Forever not only chronicles the sorrowful result, but also points to a way to rescue ‘America’s best idea’—and make it even better.”
— Dayton Duncan, writer/producer, "The National Parks: America’s Best Idea"
“The history retold by these two brothers, each outstanding in their lifelong dedication to Parks, is compelling and instructive, as well as a very good read. But their lessons learned and call for independence must be enacted if the parks are to survive. I advised NPS leadership for eight years; I witnessed that a major priority is to ensure that the full history of Americans is preserved in the places where that history unfolded. If NPS remains a political football, we will lose not only magnificent landscapes but the hundreds of parks that tell the true stories of America’s past. At this time when our history has become violently politicized, we must depoliticize the one federal agency that knows how to memorialize the truth for future generations.”
— Margaret J. Wheatley, author of "Leadership and the New Science" and former member of National Parks Advisory Board
"Advice to writers is to write what you know, and few know more about America’s recent national park history than the brothers Jarvis...Jon brings the perspective of a veteran National Park Service insider, and Destry’s decades of lobbying and political work on park issues from outside the park agency complements Jon’s and makes for a most insightful combination of perspectives."