NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks

After an investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General Office, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis was officially “reprimanded” for intentionally skirting ethics rules while publishing his recent book, the “Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks.”  He will not be allowed to oversee the NPS Ethics Office and must take ethics training once a month for the rest of his career.

Jarvis can be an intimidating fella, always having a command of both the material and the room. He “bleeds green and grey,” and his sense of purpose is a reason why he has served as director throughout the Obama administration. According to the Inspector General’s report, his place in time as director of the NPS during its celebratory centennial year of 2016 is a primary motivation for purposely avoiding ethics consultation and rules.

NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks
Photo: National Park Service / CC BY 2.0

To understand Jarvis’ NPS historical perspective and key to success is to also understand the immoral and unethical “good old boy” network within the NPS that lacks gender, racial, and economic diversity or equity. Here is a powerful core moral and ethical issue that Jarvis has benefited from and failed to address during his tenure as director.

Here’s how it works.

Back in the late ’90s, I worked alongside Jon at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. I was a thorn in his side, we had many philosophical conversations, some regarding the tragedy of the commons related to visitation and carrying capacity and others related to the power and importance of the Washington Monument strategy of budgeting. Our talks were often regarding the economic and racial diversity problem within the NPS workforce and the resultant moral and ethical implications. He is a thoughtful, well-educated man who knew he was violating ethics rules when writing and publishing his book.

One day, he excitedly came into my office and told me that John Reynolds, western regional director at the time, had asked him to apply for the superintendency at Mount Rainier, a position that Jarvis was eventually selected for by Reynolds and that set Jarvis up for the senior executive service. Eventually, Reynolds retired to a position with the National Park Foundation, and Jarvis filled Reynolds’ former position as director of the western region.

NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis Guidebook to American Values and Our National ParksDuring Jarvis’ tenure as regional director, I worked in the Office of the Superintendent at Yosemite and was supervised by Mike Reynolds, John’s son. Before Mike, I was supervised by his childhood friend, Chip Jenkins. These very competent fellas were later promoted by the director to leadership positions within the park service. Chip is now the deputy regional director for the western region. Mike was the midwest regional director and currently serves as the NPS associate director, Workforce, Relevancy and Inclusion Management with oversight over diversity initiatives.

In its 100-year history, the NPS has had two female and two minority directors, with one being both female and a minority. In total, fifteen of eighteen were white males like Jarvis.

Within the NPS is a culture of “paying your dues” that favors those who are wealthy and networked. Straight out of college, you must volunteer, intern, and/or successfully compete for a multi-year series of low-paying seasonal and temporary positions, oftentimes without housing or health benefits. After this period of “networking,” you just may be lucky enough for those contacts to help you compete for a permanent position, oftentimes starting at even lower wages than the seasonal position you just left — but hey, you now have benefits and possible upward mobility.  

Whether seasonal, temporary, or permanent, the end result of this indoctrination process is that in most cases one must come from an economic background of resource to become an employee of the NPS, which results in a mostly white, male workforce.

According to the most recent official NPS statistics provided for 2014, 62 percent of the NPS workforce were male, and 82 percent of the workforce was white, resulting in both income and position disparities within the organization: White males encumber the vast majority of high-paying managerial positions while women and minorities are largely relegated to lower-graded administrative and maintenance positions.

NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks
Image: HispanicAccessHAF / CC BY 3.0

I have not yet read the “Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks,” and from the description it is not very deep: It’s only 60 pages in length, describes 50 values, includes a forward by an Emmy Award-winning documentarian, and contains “dozens of photos.” I do not believe the salient ethical and moral issue that will define Jarvis’ tenure Jarvis is this minor book deal.

Rather, the ethical and moral issue that will define both Jarvis’ tenure and that of President Obama, who appointed him, is the failure to address the “good ol’ boy” network in order to better ensure that the American people have a national park system that is composed of the faces that represent them.



  1. OMG!!! I was striving to articulate these very feelings – especially pondering what this ethical lapse might say about Mr. Jarvis’ failure to make the Service more inclusive to millions of Americans of non-white ethnicity. You captured it perfectly! Thank you! And FYI, there is a VAST network of non-white Americans who love our national parks passionately and have been working to expose our peers to them, because we understand that the future of our beloved park system depends upon the extent to which the growing ethnic groups know, love and support them with their votes. I hope this exposure will change the tepid reception from the NPS under the current director’s tenure, as we have only a small window to bring together our very diverse public in support of our national parks this centennial year.

  2. What was the ethical lapse? Using his office for private gain in getting the book published and misusing government resources in getting the book published? If the story reports it I missed it. As to the broader issue of diversifying support for and access to parks, there are laws to address that which Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Director Jarvis, and the National Park Service must implement.

  3. Boy does this story distort what the Jarvis directorship of the National Park System has been.

    More than any other Director, he has emphasized outreach to minority populations and to tell untold stories in the National Parks. He actually has received a lot of criticism from those who say he is neglecting the traditional mission of the NP Service. Unlike previous minority out reach efforts using the existing laws Mr. Garcia refers to, Jarvis focused his deputies and associate Directors on making “partnership” with minority organizations, rather than the traditional conservationist partners of the NPS that are as white as the park service. His primary strategic plan for parks, the “Call To Action” is overwhelmingly on such outreach and partnership (also criticized for not being traditional), and parks and park managers are being judged by their zeal in carrying it out. The Position you note he gave to Your colleague Mike Reynolds in fact was especially enhanced to push to free up the impediments that long disincentivised minority employment. Jarvis’ recommendations encouraged President to create new national park units or sign bills that particularly focused on expanding this story SO THAT minority Americans can see that the National Park System is theirs. And although the author dismisses the possibility that Jarvis’ 60 pp book could state values meaningfully, the author has no trouble in a short article stating his, as Jesus had no problem in Matthew 5 – 11 stating His. In fact, if there was one thing Jarvis focused on in his Term and for the Park Service Centennial, it has been to open the parks to all. This is a pretty lazy article, one feels must have been motivated not by the topic, but by something when the author says he was the “thorn” in Jarvis’ side.

    • It’s an ironic shame even something as noble as preservation of large vast areas of our beautiful country and parklands are not immune to the wrethched and perverse single minded actions, whatever they may be, and of whomever they may be, wether park service worker or writer of an article or blog. Every one has an agenda and frankly I for one am tired of non-transparent and dubious people who prey on the ignorance of others.


  4. This article is this guy’s opinion, which he is entitled to, but fails to support his accusations against the Director. I have never worked for a director more focused on minority outreach, telling untold stories & supporting new park units that represent a variety of civil right resources & stories and I’ve been with the NPS for 38 years! The Centennial and Call to Action are focused on outreach to the youth of all backgrounds to engage with their national parks. I also don’t understand the writer’s connection with beginning one’s career as a seasonal employee and a “good old boy network”. It is more of the “bleed green” network because those that are willing to “pay their dues” and work hard usually are the ones that do eventually get on permanent and move up in the organization. That has nothing to do with race, gender or socio-economic status. Yes, we do need to reach out and inspire our youth to be stewards of our national parks whether as a visitor, volunteer, advocate or employee and this Director has directed us to get out there and do just that! As a park superintendent, I have heard that message loud & clear and gladly so.

  5. Been around the NPS for almost 30 years, but not born into the system. Author is correct NPS needs to focus on economic and racial diversity …author is WAY off base to suggest that Jon Jarvis, and more importantly Mike Reynolds, are anything less than the best folks we have moving forward to improve diversity and inclusion (or any number of other thorny problems). Fact: Director Jarvis did not and could not unilaterally approve Mike Reynolds or Chip Jenkins promotions from when they were the author’s supervisor. Equally importantly, NPS would be discriminating against them through non-selection if they were the best qualified candidates for their positions. Is discrimination against these two fine career servants acceptable because they are white males? Not in my book.

    Shame on us when we allow gossip and unchecked facts to tarnish others’ reputations. McCarthyism anyone? Concur with Ms. Harriet that there seems a hidden axe to grind somewhere.

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