Interview: Ellis Richard of Park Rangers for Our Lands

This past Monday, April 29th, a new organization, Park Rangers for Our Lands, came into the public sphere. These are all hard working, Park loving, trail tromping veterans who have a big heart for the lands that they’ve poured their lives into – and they need everyone’s help to keep the parks safe.

James Kennedy: How long have you been working with the National Parks?
Ellis Richard: I have a little over 30 years in my National Parks career. I started back in 1972, and I’ve work pretty much continuously since then. I started in a little park in San Diego called Cabrillo National Monument. I’ve worked in the Grand Canyon for 12 years; the Grand Tetons for four and a half; a little time up in Vancouver, Washington; some time in St Louis, MO which is about as urban as my job has been; and my latest job was at the end of the Rocky Mountains at Guadalupe Mountains National Park and that goes into West Texas.

JK: When did the idea for Park Rangers for our Lands first come about?
ER: All the members of the organization are all former rangers or current, and most of them have worked with the parks for about as long as I have. All of us have long careers in the National Park Service. Many of them continue to live in Western Colorado where we’re very concerned about the gas issue there.

It really started at dinner a while back with a friend of mine who also worked with the Grand Canyon. He was talking a bit about some of the issues surrounding the parks – and I was very concerned about what I heard. A while after that I took a vacation with my wife and daughter for spring break up near Western Colorado. We wanted to show our daughter Mesa Verde, and to see the Arches in Utah as well. When we stayed with friends along the way we talked about the issues with oil and gas extraction. That was a few weeks ago, and then we got the ball rolling from there to bring up the issue of the drilling around these parks. Mesa Verde and Dinosaur National Park.

We’re very concerned about this issue, and right now we are trying to raise as much awareness as possible so people can understand and know about the issue. We only went public this past Monday.

JK: Do you have any stories of drilling or extraction that’s happening around the parks that are technically legal, but could still have an impact on the parks that we should know about?
ER: Well what we’re working on is technically legal. The land we’re concerned about – like around Dinosaur – is vital to the environment. We’re trying to work with the Bureau of Land Management to not lease out that land. It would disrupt habit for the wildlife and the night sky. Noise will increase, and just so many more impacts, and we don’t need to have these impacts.

I think the energy industry has lots of land to drill from that they just haven’t gotten to yet. We’re not asking them to take our word for it and not lease, but to take our word and have a more balanced look at the resources around the national parks. If they did that analysis they would see there’s no reason for them to lease those lands out just to get more oil and gas. They are within their rights to lease those lands, but we’re hoping they choose not to.

JK: The website says on your testimonial page that “it boils down to ensuring that we connect our past to our future.” What are some ways that the average Joe can help with that?
ER: Well there’s no such thing as the average Joe now, haha, not with all the resources we all have. But if everyone could pay attention to their local Bureaus of Land Management, and go to hearings, then they will be better educated.

I think the best thing we can do is to go out to the national parks, and even the lands around them. Once there, just try and imagine what it would be like if they were to be leased for drilling. We can always write congressmen and senators, but our group is more focused on meeting with people who can spread the word – so we haven’t really pressed the writing of letters yet.

The main thing to remember is that these are legacy areas. These landscapes have incredible heritage and national values for our country. A lot of the West has had a lot that adds up to what the lands means to the people. The National Parks are a big part of who we are, and we wouldn’t have that if the lands around the parks are leased out for drilling. It just wont be the same.

None of us believe that there can’t be extraction on public lands, but there’s work that needs to be done. We need to find out where it’s best to drill, and also where it shouldn’t be done. We just can’t risk the values that are in important National Parks.

JK: What can we expect in the future?
ER: Well that’s hard to say. We’re working on this issue right now, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m going to Denver this next week to talk to the people there, and as long as we’re alive and kicking we’ll always want to protect the National Parks from our vantage points even though we might not work for them anymore. What comes next? Hard to say, but I’m sure something will.

You can learn more about Park Rangers for Our Lands by following the link, or by emailing them at info@parkrangers.org. Also be sure to check with your local Parks to see what you can do to help.

Parks at risk
Arches National Park
Dinosaur National Monument
Mesa Verde National Park

By James Kennedy

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