Director designate Jon Jarvis testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources yesterday morning. The text of his opening statement follows.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, and Members of this Committee. I am truly honored that President Obama and Secretary Salazar have demonstrated their confidence in me by nominating me to lead the National Park Service (NPS). If confirmed, I pledge to work closely with the Secretary, with Members of Congress, with our many partners, and with the public, in the stewardship and enjoyment of our national parks.
My father was in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression and he, like so many other young men of the time, connected deeply with the forests and streams of this great nation and instilled that passion in me and my brother as kids. We were raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, backed up against national forest land where we hunted, fished and roamed. I knew from that time I wanted to pursue a career related to the protection and enjoyment of the outdoors.
I graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1975 with a degree in Biology and immediately took a road trip across the country, camping in many of our great national parks, like Yellowstone, Glacier, and Olympic. From that trip forward, I was hooked on the National parks.
In 1976, I was hired by the NPS to staff the Bicentennial Information Center here in Washington, helping to host the millions who came to celebrate their nation’s birthday.
I spent the following winter with President Jefferson in his Memorial. Often alone there for hours, with the wind howling across the Tidal Basin, I absorbed his writings inscribed on the wall including excerpts from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
From that time to this moment that I sit before this Committee, I have devoted a career to the National Park System which I believe embodies these principles: The cultural parks of our country are the places where civic engagements, often confrontational, occasionally bloody, have shaped who we are as a people: Selma to Montgomery, Brown versus Board of Education, Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp, the Statue of Liberty, and Flight 93. These are parks where we learn not only of the people who left their marks on our future, but through this intimate contact, we learn how to take the next generation to a higher and better place.
The natural parks of our country, in addition to their intrinsic beauty, stand as testimony to this nation’s willingness to impose self restraint. For example, President Abraham Lincoln set aside Yosemite during our civil war because perhaps he knew our country would need such places for healing. The 391 units of the National Park System are a collective expression of who we are as a people, where our values were forged in the hottest fires. They are an aggregate of what we Americans value most about ourselves. They also deliver messages to future generations about the foundation experiences that have made America a symbol for the rest of the world. And of course our great parks are places we pursue happiness, as a respite from a fast paced and congested world.
In my thirty-three years with the NPS, I have met thousands of visitors on the trail. They smile, they offer greetings, and most are not looking at their Blackberries. I have served as a field park ranger in the most classic sense: delivering interpretive talks, working the information desk, conducting search and rescues, riding horse patrol, and ski patrol. I have fought fires, trapped bears, forded glacial rivers, rappelled off cliffs, made arrests, and helped thousands of visitors have a great experience in their parks.
In my first 26 years of service in the NPS, I was an interpretive ranger, a protection ranger, a biologist and Superintendent in seven parks in seven states. For the last seven, I have served as the Regional Director for 54 national park units in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands of Guam, Saipan and American Samoa. My wife and I have moved nine times and lived in rural west Texas, the Snake River Plain of Idaho and if confirmed, I will be the first Director to have ever served in bush Alaska. In each place, I have always worked hard to become a contributing member of the local community and have encouraged my staff to do the same.
Gateway communities and parks have an important relationship that needs to be grown through mutual respect and cooperation, particularly when tourism is an essential part of the economy. I do not need to tell you of the challenges before us: the economy, climate change, connecting urban kids to nature, the concerns over obesity, and a concern about a loss of cultural literacy. I believe that the National Park Service has a role and a responsibility in each of these.
As Regional Director in the Pacific West, I set high standards for the parks to achieve environmental and financial sustainability. We instituted programs to reach out and connect to the urban youth of the Los Angeles basin and the central valley of California. We studied and learned that we can attract the public to the parks for their health benefits and have pioneered cooperative efforts with partners in the health and fitness community. We facilitated good science and began to interpret the changes we could link to climate change. And we worked through our community assistance programs to help gateway communities to achieve both preservation and economic goals. In each case, the extraordinary employees of the National Park System responded to these goals with energy and enthusiasm.
Throughout my life long connection to national parks, a constant source of inspiration has always been the extraordinary employees of the National Park Service. They formed my second family along many paths of my career. It is with all of them in mind that I find the personal confidence to take on the daunting task of leading the agency in these very challenging and complex times. The employees of the National Park Service do great work every day across the nation, whether preserving places, cultures, flora, fauna and vast natural ecosystems or giving flight to the imaginations of millions of park visitors exploring a given park. At times the men and women of the National Park Service are asked to do difficult, dangerous and nearly impossible work. I am proud to be one of them.
Wallace Stegner said: National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Never in its 200 years has this nation needed the National Park System more. It stands as a collective memory of where we have been, what sacrifices we have made to get here and who we mean to be. By investing in the preservation, interpretation and restoration of these symbolic places, we offer hope and optimism to the each generation of Americans. If confirmed, my pledge to you and to the American people is that I will bring all my energies to be the very best steward of America’s best places and America’s best idea.