Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pet peeve of the day: conflating agencies


Image result for smokey bear Resist! National Park Service

Does anyone outside the various agencies, both state and federal, that deal with the environment, cultural heritage, recreation, wildlife, whatever, have any clue that those agencies are not all the same? The most recent irritant in my world is a meme that's kicking around on the Intertubes, a little gem that's being screenprinted on tee-shirts with the dubious claim that all profits from sales will go to benefit the National Park Service. Given that I've seen quite a few variations on it all making that same claim, I somehow doubt any money is going to anyone other than the person peddling the shirts. I am especially dubious given the sheer number of vendors peddling Smokey Resist! shirts -- when I did a Google Image search, there must have been two dozen variations, none of which were being marketed by any nonprofit actually associated with either NPS or the Forest Service.

In any case, the shirt features  Smokey Bear exhorting people to RESIST! Smokey is standing next to the National Park Service arrowhead. One problem, people. Smokey is a U.S. Forest Service employee. He also lends his services to Natural Resources departments in various states. He's not NPS. He's never been NPS. You want to get Smokey collectibles? You go to a U.S. Forest Visitor Center, not a National Park. You want to talk with someone tasked with wearing the Smokey suit for parades or other public appearances? You're not going to find an NPS employee wearing fur. It's going to be someone from a state DNR or the U.S. Forest Service. But try telling the general public that. If it involves protecting the environment, it's automatically the Park Service doing it. 

Of course, the Smokey shirt isn't the only place this irritant pops up. I joined a Facebook group that supposedly is focused on the National Parks. People post photos of the different NPS sites they've visited, share tips on nifty stuff to see, and describe especially nice experiences they've had. Only one problem: I swear half the stuff that gets posted has nothing to do with the National Park Service. Lots of cool photos -- waterfalls in various locations, gorgeous scenic vistas, and so on -- from state parks, county parks, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management sites, Indian reservations, and National Wildlife Refuges. This would not be a bad thing if people identified the sites as such. You know, threw in a sentence or two saying something like "If you visit Mordor National Park, be sure to check out the orc village just outside the gates," but most people don't. Instead they'll gush about visiting Grand Canyon National Park and seeing Havasupai Falls (outside the park boundary on the Havasupai reservation) or seeing Cochise Stronghold (Coronado National Forest) when they visited Chiricahua National Monument.

I don't know why this annoys me. Back when I did field work, I'd occasionally run into local residents who were sure I worked for the state DNR even after I introduced myself as a National Park Service historian, or who somehow thought the National Park unit we were standing in was actually a state park. Either that, or they thought I was Forest Service for some reason. The average citizen is really, really bad at telling government agencies apart -- and for sure Rick Perry isn't the only person on the planet who doesn't know what the various agencies actually do.

Actually, the thing that floored me the most back in my NPS days wasn't the confusion over just which agency employed me. It was the totally baffled look some people would give me as they asked, "Why would the Park Service have historians?" I could halfway understand that question when I was chatting with hikers in the middle of nowhere at Buffalo National River, but when we were standing in a place labeled as National Historic Site? The stupid, it burned.

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