The following material is from Natural Resource Year in Review--1996, published by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, in May 1997 (publication D-1182)
New methods

Resources benefit from new evaluation process

by Abigail Miller
Deputy Associate Director,
Natural Resource Stewardship and Science;
Washington, D.C.

Drop capital letter A new look for the National Park Service line-item construction program suggests that resource managers should pay more attention to construction projects as potential natural resource management solutions. This program was reengineered in 1995 and 1996, partly in response to congressional expressions of concern that included cost overruns and a finding that "the priority system [used by the National Park Service] is undecipherable."

Cabins at Sequoia National Park are slated for removal under the new construction project evaluation process. Expected to cost $100 million, projects of this magnitude will require specific direction from Congress in the future. William Tweed.In the past, the National Park Service relied on the collective wisdom of its senior managers in an informal process to set construction priorities. In 1996, we adopted a new system that uses a formal process and a project assessment team to rate and rank projects. Called choosing by advantages, the decision-making process focuses on the importance of individual contributions, or specific advantages, of each project, rather than the importance of broad, abstract categories.

Open to the elements and subject to vandalism, this fossilized sequoia tree stump at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado, will be protected in the future through construction of a shelter structure. ŠJeff Selleck.Last July, the results of reengineering the priority-setting process were implemented for the first time and numerous projects with benefits to natural resources were evaluated. Most of these were projects to reduce or eliminate water pollution, and sewage treatment projects were the most common. Upgrades of such plants at Yellowstone and Glacier Bay national parks that would eliminate discharges to sensitive waters, and had good information about the discharges and the threats they pose, scored relatively high in the "eliminates threats" category. Projects to remove septic systems that were leaking near wetlands or significant water resources at Cape Cod National Seashore and Acadia National Park also scored well. Two high-scoring projects at Mammoth Cave and Wind Cave national parks dealt with preventing polluted waters from entering cave systems. Many additional projects that would benefit natural resource preservation in other ways also scored well.

We learned some lessons here. First, if construction can provide solutions to natural resource problems, resource personnel should work closely with their facility manager as they design projects. Second, the definition of what constitutes a "construction" project is broader than many believe. If a project costs more than $500,000 and less than $20 million, it may be eligible for construction funding and it could be a resource rehabilitation project. Third, projects that have resource benefits of any kind will receive more credit if objective data are included in the package. Fourth, the system is explicitly open to resource protection projects and will give them a fair evaluation. Finally, the new process adds value to parks by favoring those projects that contribute to resource protection, high quality visitor experience, or improved park operations, including operating in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.

Other articles in the "New Horizons" chapter:

New program prescribed for wildfire management

Katmai takes on a dirty job and does it right

Collaborative decision making in the Pacific Northwest

Canada thistle control by insects

Building public support for natural resource management

Taking advantage of the Information Superhighway

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