Human Impacts in the National Parks

People lived in places destined to become national parks long before cartographers began mapping their boundaries in the 19th Century. In some cases, oral histories and traditions place people in these locations since time immemorial. Their lives intertwined inexorably with the environment. They drew nourishment from fishing, hunting, farming and food gathering, and found spiritual meaning in the sun, moon, animals, plants, and changing seasons around them.

In modern times, many lands once used for homesteading, ranching, logging, mining and commercial fishing now make up our national parks. Some of these uses scarred the landscape, while others left barely a footprint. In each case, the National Park Service strives to understand and interpret the past while managing for the present and future.

GIS helps us understand the complex and related ways that we use the landscape.  The National Park Service uses GIS technology to explain these relationships. In American Samoa, GIS mapping helped outline the different uses of the land, protecting the rainforest and showing residents where they could grow food. In Alaska, GIS helped resolve an important court case regarding mining claims. The technology also helped create the first map designed to better understand and manage subsistence hunting on the Alaska Peninsula. And the federal government relies on GIS software as a tool to combine traditional knowledge from elders about fishing into management plans.

The National Park Service seeks to understand and respect enduring human values for parks. People use these special places for everything from religious ceremonies and recreation to sport and subsistence hunting and fishing. GIS reveals and documents our relationship with parks, and helps us all become better stewards of the land.

Janet Cohen, Anrthopologist
National Park Service, Alaska Region


Allison Graves, National Park of American Samoa
Mapping Subsistence Agriculture in the National Park of American Samoa

Collaboration between the National Park Service and several Samoan villages lets farmers grow traditional crops such as bananas, breadfruit and taro within a federally managed preserve. The National Park of American Samoa is unique in that the federal government does not own the land but leases it from several villages for a period of 50 years. The lease agreement protects the integrity of the rainforest, archeological and cultural resources, and the traditional way of life, called fa’asamoa. The NPS manages lands and reefs in the park while villages keep their subsistence farming rights. This cooperation extended to the use of GIS technology to map and classify 232 acres within the 9,355-acre park for subsistence farming. This lets villagers continue to farm land they have cultivated within the last 15 years, using traditional tools and methods. ArcGIS software developed by ESRI integrated data from global positioning systems, field observations and sketches, and remotely sensed imagery, such as aerial photographs. GIS maps served as an important tool to protect America’s southernmost rainforest and traditional subsistence farming in the park.

 Rory West Jr. shown taking a GPS Position with a PLGR along the edge of a taro field on Ta'u Island.

 2002 aerial photograph showing coconut trees and banana trees adjacent to a freshly planted taro field, Ofu Island.

Samoan Crops from upper left: taro, breadfruit, bananas, coconuts.

 NPSA land delineation shown above the village of Vatia, Tutuila Island, American Samoa.

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Joni Piercy, Alaska Support Office
Subsistence Hunting in Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve

For thousands of years, Alaska natives have relied on fish, wildlife, and other natural resources to provide food, shelter, clothing, transportation, handicrafts and trade. Today, many Alaska native and non-native people continue to depend on the land for their  survival and livelihood. The federal government has managed subsistence hunting and trapping on its lands since 1990 and at fisheries on Alaskan rivers since 1999. That year, the federal government created the first GIS hunt map on the Alaska Peninsula for the Anaikchak National Monument and Preserve. The monument, midway down the road-less peninsula, is home to a fascinating 2,000-foot-deep volcanic feature known as a caldera, which formed from the collapse of a 7,000-foot-high mountain. The NPS and other federal agencies understand the importance of subsistence hunting for those who depend on it and have used GIS mapping to show where people can fish, hunt and trap inside the monument, within federal guidelines.

  The "Gates" from Surprise Lake

Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve; Federal Public Lands Under Subsistence Hunting Regulations.

Salmon is a valuable subsistence resource and accounts for nearly 50% of the subsistence foods used by residents of communities near the Aniakchak NMPr.

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Bob Strobe, Alaska Support Office
Kantishna Hills Mining Court Cases, Denali National Preserve

GIS is helping the National Park Service pay a fair price for privately held mining claims inside the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The expansion of McKinley National Park to the newly created Denali preserve in 1980 included an area of placer and lode mining claims for gold and other minerals. The NPS has been buying these claims whenever possible for preservation, sometimes ending up in court over the issue of paying fair market value. In these disputes, the park has used GIS maps based on data collected from aerial photographs and other technology to show the extent of mining on the upper reaches of Caribou Creek in the preserve. GIS maps helped show that one plaintiff had mined more gold than stated in court. As a result, a judge valued the mining claims at about $1 million instead of the $8 million sought by the plaintiff, a savings of $7 million to the government.

Kantishna Hills Mining Court Case Exhibit

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