New Head of NPS Once Helped NFL Owner Cut Trees on Protected Land

Paul Daniel Smith was reprimanded for pressuring subordinates to let Daniel Snyder sidestep agency rules.

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The new acting director of the National Park Service is a 31-year veteran of the agency who once received a reprimand after an investigation found that he misused his authority by permitting the billionaire owner of an NFL team to cut down trees that were blocking the view from his house.

On Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke named Paul Daniel Smith the new head of the NPS. He replaces Michael Reynolds, who will take over as superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

“Dan has a strong record of leadership in the National Park Service both in Washington and on the front lines as a superintendent of a park that tells the stories of some of the most consequential moments in American history,” Zinke said in a statement. “I can think of no one better equipped to help lead our efforts to ensure that the National Park Service is on firm footing to preserve and protect the most spectacular places in the United States for future generations.”

In 2006, an investigation concluded that Smith “inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures” in order to allow Daniel Snyder, the owner of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, to cut down more than 130 trees on an environmental easement held by the agency. Snyder had previously attempted to offer the park service $25,000 to cut down the trees as “mitigation” for violating the terms of the easement, but the agency had refused the money.

dan snyder trees
Snyder’s property and the clear-cut in questionCourtesy of NPS

Smith, then special assistant to NPS Director Fran Mainella, claimed that he had involved himself with the process at her instruction; Mainella “adamantly denied” ever making such a request, and told investigators at the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General that she first heard of the issue with Snyder when she read about it in The Washington Post. The office’s report concluded that Smith had “contradicted himself in two separate interviews,” but noted that the U.S. attorney for Washington had declined to prosecute him for making false statements to investigators.

In a settlement, Snyder agreed to replant the cleared land, purchase additional land for a “forest bank,” and post a $45,000 bond to cover maintenance costs. He also paid a $1,000 fine to Montgomery County, where the land is located.

Smith would go on to serve as the superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park. The ranger who blew the whistle on him didn’t fare as well in his career. In a retaliation complaint against the federal government, Robert Danno said the National Park Service stripped him of his position as chief ranger of C & O Canal, falsely accused him of stealing $5,400 in collectible badges and tools (he was acquitted in federal court), and reassigned him to Fort Hunt Park in Virginia, where he processed picnic permits for the park’s four tables. Danno, a former chief ranger for Bryce Canyon, was eventually reassigned to C & O Canal—as the park’s concession manager. He settled his complaint with the federal government in 2013 for unspecified terms. 

President Donald Trump has not yet nominated a permanent NPS director to replace Jonathan Jarvis, who departed in January 2017.

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