In a nearly packed Shannon Hall Monday night, Director of the National Parks Service Jonathan Jarvis took the stage as part of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies’ Jordahl Public Lands lecture to address the NPS centennial and recent sexual harassment allegations surrounding park employees.
As NPS director, Jarvis is responsible for more than 22,000 employees, a $3 billion budget and more than 400 national parks. This year being the NPS’ 100th anniversary, Jarvis and the NPS have focused their park mission on maximizing stewardship, expanding education, ensuring employee welfare and engaging new generations.
The goal of the centennial, Jarvis said, is to create the next generation of NPS visitors, supporters and advocates that look like America. He emphasized that the park system is patriotic, embodying both nature and national monuments. Jarvis hopes that he can make American youth into contributing citizens by introducing them to the NPS.
“I know that I can take any young person regardless of their age, their socioeconomic status or experience and take them under those giant trees of the Sequoia National park, to view the waterfalls in Yosemite or to the rim of the Grand Canyon and watch their eyes light up,” Jarvis said.
Through working with youth in various outreach programs, Jarvis is gearing up for what he referred to as the “intergenerational hand-off” of the NPS.
“This next generation is very excited … I’ve been with thousands of young people that are just really cool and really excited and really interested in getting involved,” Jarvis said.
On a heavier note, however, Jarvis addressed a scandal that has concerned NPS employees and visitors alike. In the wake of sexual harassment allegations flooding in from employees at the Grand Canyon, and more recently Yosemite and Yellowstone, Jarvis noted the actions the NPS plans to take in order to address the situation.
This hostile work environment, according to Jarvis, is unacceptable as a part of the NPS’ culture.
“I am incredibly disappointed that actions like this have happened inside of an organization that values public service to both the American public and international visitors and to the resources that are entrusted to us by you,” Jarvis said.
He called the victims who have spoken up courageous, praising them for giving the NPS the opportunity to directly address the situation, however long it may take.
“The park service is addressing this very aggressively and will be for years to come,” Jarvis said, adding that the NPS has reached out to other organizations who have faced similar misconduct claims.
The NPS has a four-fold plan Jarvis hopes will help them move forward. It includes a survey of employees to help victims report incidents of harassment, employee training, installing networks of support and garnering greater preventative effort from NPS leaders.
In a male-dominated field, Jarvis noted that the internal culture within which women have to work has never been addressed. He believes that through outreach efforts, particularly a survey, victims of sexual harassment will feel empowered and supported.
Confident the NPS can raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding sexual harassment, Jarvis hopes for a bright future for the NPS, which will lose 10 percent of its workforce in the near future to retirement. This provides an opportunity for the younger generation to step up, Jarvis said.
“In 20 years, I hope that the conservation movement, advocacy organization, land management agencies look like America and have been embraced by all Americans; that they find themselves they define who they are in their lives through experiences in our national parks.”