Jarvis knows the park service's problems are epic. Its maintenance backlog is $8 billion, for one, and it is seeking more money from Congress to fill potholes, improve ranger living quarters, and build more visitor centers and campgrounds.
But that pales in comparison with the worries posed by global warming, which Jarvis calls "the greatest challenge ever to face national parks."
Boosting the agency's $2.5 billion annual budget would help bolster scientific research and education efforts about the issue, he says. But more money itself will not fix the threats to parks posed by changed park habitats.
Jarvis says parks could sequester carbon, serve as sanctuaries for species facing extinction, and bring to public attention the ways global warming is transforming the environment. For instance, the expected melting of all the glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana within three decades isn't merely about the loss of postcard-perfect photos; it has implications for fresh water used by humans and wildlife miles downstream, he says.
His first priority, Jarvis says, is to ensure that peer-reviewed science plays a foundational role in management decisions, especially in confronting climate change.
He has enlisted a special science adviser, Gary Machlis, to provide a science-based analysis whenever dealing with the tug of war between protecting and tapping park resources. Mr. Machlis's instructions are to resolidify park service ties with the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
That's not too surprising, given Jarvis's background: He is the first park service director to be trained as a biologist.
That's a symbolic and important distinction, says Denis Galvin, a retired park service policy veteran who has known 10 different directors. It's one reason Jarvis has worn his "greenness" on his sleeve – even at times when public display of environmental sensibility was frowned upon in Washington.