Paul Daniel Smith, an ex-National Park Service official, was recently named deputy director of the National Park Service (NPS).
On the NPS website, the press release announcing Smith’s new role quotes U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who believes “no one [is] better equipped to help lead our efforts to ensure that the National Park Service is on firm footing to preserve and protect the most spectacular places in the United States for future generations.” Smith is not undeserving of this praise, considering he has a long history of leadership for the NPS, so it would be advantageous to see him in action as deputy director before criticizing him.
However, in 2005, Smith assisted Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder in obtaining a lovely view of the Potomac River—by defoliating the 1.3 acres of the C&O Canal National Historical Park right behind his mansion. This action did not go unnoticed; two years later, an investigation report conducted by the Department of the Interior denounced Smith’s actions. Unfortunately, no charges were brought against Smith or any other officials involved. He was ultimately reprimanded by the NPS, and deservingly so.
Although Smith does deserve to face the consequences of this catastrophic mistake, it is only fair to place a significant portion of blame on Snyder as well. After all, the investigative report did reveal that Snyder spent countless meetings and approximately three years begging, bribing, and blatantly coercing Smith into cutting the vegetation.
From what the investigation has gathered, all we can know for certain is that criticisms against this destruction of the environment are absolutely justifiable. Nonetheless, after years of faithful commitment to the NPS, it would be ludicrous to write off Smith altogether.
In an ideal world, Smith would use this opportunity as a chance to right his wrongs and prove to the environmental-minded that he can be trusted in a position of power. Being open to the idea that people can improve and learn from their wrongs is key in creating a positive atmosphere that will inevitably spark progressive environmental change.