Lake Roosevelt
Administrative History
NPS Logo

An Uphill Struggle: Natural Resources Management
[Coulee Dam Recreational Area] is not a national park or a national monument since the preservation of superlative natural scenery, the conservation of outstanding plant and animal life, or the safeguarding of nationally important historic or scientific objects are not factors. Therefore policies of development and use which govern National Park Service areas do not necessarily apply on this area.

-- Claude E. Greider, LARO Superintendent, 1946

When Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LARO) was created in 1946, National Park Service management focused on its recreational and industrial resources. The natural resources of primary interest were the visual, aesthetic aspects of the scenery and the fishery, which at that time was very poor. The 1965 Master Plan for LARO stated summarily that "There are no ecological or wildlife problems and hunting is permitted according to state regulations." [2] At that time, natural resources management Servicewide involved direct manipulation of natural elements, including nurturing favored species and reducing problem species such as predators. Research, when it was funded, was generally seen as a tool for solving immediate management problems. Resource problems were often ignored until they reached a crisis point, and they were hardly ever viewed in an ecosystem context. [3]

Over the following decades, the trend within the Park Service has been to progressively minimize management interference and to allow natural ecosystem processes to operate freely. The Leopold Report of 1962 recommended that management of natural resources be based on scientific research and that the Park Service should maintain or recreate the biotic associations within each park to the conditions that existed when Euroamericans first visited the area. These recommendations greatly affected subsequent Park Service natural resources management policy and operations. Scientific research began to get more funding, mostly because of increased environmental awareness. The passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 led to policy revisions. [4]

The creation of Lake Roosevelt had many effects on the natural resources of the area. Home ground, grazing land, and migratory resting areas were eliminated for some 350 species of wildlife, and fluctuating lake levels prevented vegetation from establishing along the shoreline. Resource consumption, such as grazing and hunting, has been allowed within the national recreation area (NRA) boundaries. [5]

Even so, the first interbureau agreement draft of 1941 and the Tri-Party Agreement of 1946 gave the Park Service the responsibility of conserving and protecting the scenic, scientific, and aesthetic values of the area, along with the "flowers, shrubs and trees, historic or archeological remains." LARO staff were further charged with preventing water and air pollution and protecting health, plants, fish, and wildlife. The Park Service had to coordinate its efforts with a variety of agencies, including the Washington Pollution Control Commission, Washington Department of Health, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. LARO also consulted with other agencies as necessary, such as the U.S. Forest Service. LARO's status as a national park unit, subject to the purposes and mission of the Park Service, became official in 1970, when Congress defined national recreation areas as part of the National Park System. [6]

The issue of the role and function of the National Park Service, particularly as it relates to the management of fish and wildlife resources, continues to surface, much to my concern. It has been my observation in the one year I have been the Superintendent of Coulee Dam National Recreation Area that we have not done a good job of informing interested publics about who we are and what our mission is.

-- Gerry Tays, LARO Superintendent, 1994

Park Service science and natural resources management received a boost from a 1979 National Parks and Conservation Association report that emphasized external threats. The 1980 State of the Parks report called for a comprehensive inventory of natural resources, monitoring programs, park plans for managing natural resources, and increased staffing and training in science and natural resources management. Resource Management Plans (RMPs) have been required since the 1960s. These plans define a strategy and program for stewardship of a park's natural and cultural resources, and they are used as budget documents with prioritized projects. LARO developed a Natural Resources Management Plan, probably its first, in 1973, with help from other federal and state agencies. RMPs were again prepared in 1982, 1988, and 1997. [8]

During the 1970s, natural resources management at LARO was performed by rangers as a collateral duty and did not receive much emphasis. Likewise, funding for natural resources management in the 1980s covered personnel costs for rangers and little else. Funding for necessary projects was obtained by dropping maintenance projects, using reprogrammed salary lapses, or drawing from the park base. Most of the responsibility for monitoring natural resources continued to rest with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), with the exception of visitor health and safety, early warning programs, and Park Service compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act for its own projects. Gordon Boyd, LARO's Chief Ranger, commented in 1986, "I strongly support the Service's efforts to increase our [natural] resource management capabilities. It can only pay long range dividends." [9]

LARO's staffing has reflected the increasing emphasis on natural resources management. Until 1990, the Visitor and Resource Protection Division took care of all natural resources management programs at LARO as a collateral duty of rangers and interpreters. Newly arrived Chief Ranger Darrell Cook realized that the park needed a more professional resource management program with staff with subject-matter expertise, and he knew funding was available for established programs. He created a natural resource specialist position by converting a vacant park ranger position, and Karen Taylor-Goodrich filled this position in 1990 as a Park Service natural resources management trainee. In 1992, she became the manager of LARO's natural and cultural resource programs, and two years later a separate Resources Management Division was established to handle these resource programs. Funding and staff shortages, however, have continued to limit the program. According to a 1994 report, the park had less than one-third the staffing it needed for the natural resource program. Servicewide, the initiative to increase resource management programs occurred simultaneously with the push for government downsizing, and this hurt the resource management thrust. The program currently depends on partial funding from outside entities to support special resource management projects. Recently, the scope of the Chief of Resource Management position was broadened to include planning functions. The park still has a Natural Resource Specialist. [10]

The Park Service's 1991 symposium in Vail, Colorado, recommended that the primary responsibility of the Park Service should be protecting park resources from internal and external threats. In line with this recommendation, LARO's objectives for natural resources management as defined in the 1997 RMP include preserving, protecting, and managing natural resources through planning, inventorying, monitoring, and implementation of plans; maintaining or restoring a semblance of indigenous flora and fauna and natural communities in natural or undeveloped zones of the NRA; mitigating or preventing resource-damaging activities inside or outside the NRA; incorporating resource protection in all development planning documents such as environmental assessments; working with other resource managers in the area; developing a Geographic Information System; and balancing visitor use with resource protection. [11]

LARO's current Natural Resources Specialist, Scott Hebner, exchanges information with his counterparts in the neighboring tribes. He acknowledges that the tribes have developed a more sophisticated approach to natural resources management than the recreation area has because they are responsible for much larger geographic areas and have more funding and staffing. They have more of a multiple-use philosophy than the Park Service in some ways, but they also state that they try to consider the impacts of their actions on seven generations into the future. [12]

To aid in scientific research, the Park Service established a number of special university-based research offices in the 1970s. These are known as Cooperative Park Studies Units. In 1992, LARO resource management staff worked with the unit at the University of Washington to complete resource databases on flora, fauna, soils, air, water, and geographic information and planned to develop long-term monitoring projects to protect the park's resources. In the late 1990s, park staff identified a number of inventories that were needed to help manage LARO's natural resources, including data on vegetation, soils, geology, and paleontological resources. Much baseline research and surveys are still needed. Special Congressional funding for level one biological inventories of vertebrates and vascular plants may become available soon as part of the Servicewide Natural Resources Initiative. This is an effort to bring all park units up to a certain standard for inventorying and monitoring natural resources. [13]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 22-Apr-2003