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Official Who Allowed Tree Cutting By NFL Owner Is Named National Parks Director

Paul Daniel Smith, once reprimanded by the National Park Service, is its new acting director.
National Park Service
Paul Daniel Smith, once reprimanded by the National Park Service, is its new acting director.

The new acting director of the National Park Service is a former parks official who was reprimanded 12 years ago for pressuring employees to allow the owner of Washington's NFL team to cut down trees for a better view of the Potomac River.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke announcedthe promotion of Paul Daniel Smith on Wednesday.

From 2004 to 2015, Smith was superintendent of Colonial National Historical 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. "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."

Smith had previously retired from the park service after 31 years, until he was namedits deputy director two weeks ago.

It was in his role as a special assistant to the park service director that he made headlines over a decade ago.

A 2006 investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general found that Smith "inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures" on behalf of Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins. Snyder subsequently cut down more than 130 trees on federally protected land between his house and the C&O Canal.

The report said that in the 30 years since the service acquired the easements along the canal, it had been consistent in its response to landowner requests for tree-cutting — until it deviated from its policies and granted permission to Snyder to cut down native trees and cut vegetation beyond the allowable limit.

Investigators could not corroborate Smith's account of the events that led to the decision to allow the tree-cutting and said that he contradicted himself in separate interviews.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute Smith for providing false statements to investigators, citing lack of prosecutorial merit, according to the report.

Smith defended his actions to The Washington Post in 2006. "It was a legitimate request by a landowner who had a legitimate issue with the Park Service," he said.

The AP notes that the park service has been without a permanent director since January 2017, when Jon Jarvis retired. President Trump has not nominated a permanent director, and outgoing acting Director Michael Reynolds was time-limited by federal rules. Reynolds has been named the superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.