Outdoor Recreation Planning & Coordination

Article excerpt

In November 1994, the National Park Service (NPS) issued a draft document entitled "Restructuring Plan for the National Park Service" PS Plan). Conspicuously absent from the NPS Plan was any expressed reference to Public Law 88-29, the Outdoor Recreation Coordination Act of 1963, as amended (the Act). 16 U.S.C.A. 460/-460/-2. This Act directs the Secretary of the Interior "to take prompt and coordinated action to the extent practicable...to conserve, develop, and utilize" outdoor recreation resources. The Act further finds it desirable that this coordinated action involve 'all levels of government and private interests" in effecting this national policy. Under the Act, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to perform a number of enumerated functions and activities, including:

(1) preparing and maintaining "a continuing inventory and evaluation of outdoor recreation needs and resources of the United States."

(2) preparing "a system for classification of outdoor recreation resources to assist in the effective and beneficial use and management of such resources.

(3) Formulating and maintaining "a comprehensive nationwide outdoor recreation plan, taking into consideration the plans of the various Federal agencies, States, and their political subdivisions."

While the Secretary of the Interior clearly has administrative discretion regarding the manner in which to effect this national policy and implement the law, it certainly is not within the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, to decide whether or not to perform these functions. Given the expressed language of the Act, Congress clearly intended that the Secretary shall develop a comprehensive nationwide outdoor recreation planning process based upon intergovernmental cooperation among the various Federal agencies, states, and their political subdivisions. Further, the Act clearly mandates that Secretary of the Interior provide an administrative framework for outdoor recreation resources coordination which provides the following:

The plan shall set forth the needs and demands of the public for outdoor recreation and the current and foreseeable availability in the future of outdoor recreation resources and meet those needs. The plan shall identify critical outdoor recreation problems, recommend solutions, and recommend desirable actions to be taken at each level of government and by private interests.

The Secretary shall transmit the initial plan, which shall be prepared a soon as practicable within five years on and after May 28, 1963, to the President for transmittal to the Congress. Future revisions of the plan shall be similarly transmitted at succeeding five-year intervals. When a plan or revision is transmitted to the Congress, the Secretary shall transmit copies to the Governors of the several States.

In 1981, Secretary of the Interior James Watt, abolished the Heritage, Conservation, and Recreation Service (HCRS), formerly the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR). At that time, responsibility for administering the duties and activities required by P.L. 88-29 were transferred to the National Park Service (NPS).

In addition, to the legal requirement to prepare a comprehensive nationwide outdoor recreation plan, the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, has had, since 1981, the following non-discretionary legal duty to provide technical assistance and cooperate with the states and private interests to achieve the purposes of the Act:

Provide technical assistance and advice to and cooperate with States, political subdivisions, and private interests, including nonprofit organizations, with respect to outdoor recreation.

Once again, the discretion of the Secretary, through NPS, to perform these statutory obligations in outdoor recreation coordination does not include subsuming the Act's expressed legal mandates under the "streamlining" rubric of an NPS "Restructuring Plan. …