1.4 Park Management
1.4.1 The Laws Generally Governing Park Management
The most important statutory directive for the National Park Service is
provided by interrelated provisions of the NPS Organic Act of 1916, and
the NPS General Authorities Act of 1970, including amendments to the latter
law enacted in 1978.
The key management-related provision of the Organic Act is:
[The National Park Service] shall promote and regulate the use of the
Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter
specified . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental
purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose
is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and
the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in
such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the
enjoyment of future generations. (16 USC 1)
Congress supplemented and clarified these provisions through enactment
of the General Authorities Act in 1970, and again through enactment of
a 1978 amendment to that law (the "Redwood Amendment," contained
in a bill expanding Redwood National Park, which added the last two sentences
in the following provision). The key part of that act, as amended, is:
Congress declares that the national park system, which began with establishment
of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative
natural, historic, and recreation areas in every major region of the
United States, its territories and island possessions; that these areas,
though distinct in character, are united through their inter?related
purposes and resources into one national park system as cumulative expressions
of a single national heritage; that, individually and collectively,
these areas derive increased national dignity and recognition of their
superlative environmental quality through their inclusion jointly with
each other in one national park system preserved and managed for the
benefit and inspiration of all the people of the United States; and
that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the
System and to clarify the authorities applicable to the system. Congress
further reaffirms, declares, and directs that the promotion and regulation
of the various areas of the National Park System, as defined in section
1c of this title, shall be consistent with and founded in the purpose
established by section 1 of this title [the Organic Act provision quoted
above], to the common benefit of all the people of the United States.
The authorization of activities shall be construed and the protection,
management, and administration of these areas shall be conducted in
light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System
and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes
for which these various areas have been established, except as may have
been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress. (16
This section 1.4 of Management Policies represents the agency's interpretation
of these key statutory provisions.
1.4.2 "Impairment" and "Derogation": One Standard
Congress intended the language of the Redwood amendment to the General
Authorities Act to reiterate the provisions of the Organic Act, not create
a substantively different management standard. The House committee report
described the Redwood amendment as a "declaration by Congress"
that the promotion and regulation of the national park system is to be
consistent with the Organic Act. The Senate committee report stated that
under the Redwood amendment, "The Secretary has an absolute duty,
which is not to be compromised, to fulfill the mandate of the 1916 Act
to take whatever actions and seek whatever relief as will safeguard the
units of the national park system." So, although the Organic Act
and the General Authorities Act, as amended by the Redwood amendment,
use different wording ("unimpaired" and "derogation")
to describe what the National Park Service must avoid, they define a single
standard for the management of the national park system - not two different
standards. For simplicity, Management Policies uses "impairment,"
not both statutory phrases, to refer to that single standard.
1.4.3 The NPS Obligation to Conserve and Provide for Enjoyment of
Park Resources and Values
The "fundamental purpose" of the national park system, established
by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended,
begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. This mandate
is independent of the separate prohibition on impairment, and so applies
all the time, with respect to all park resources and values, even when
there is no risk that any park resources or values may be impaired. NPS
managers must always seek ways to avoid, or to minimize to the greatest
degree practicable, adverse impacts on park resources and values. However,
the laws do give the Service the management discretion to allow impacts
to park resources and values when necessary and appropriate to fulfill
the purposes of a park, so long as the impact does not constitute impairment
of the affected resources and values.
The fundamental purpose of all parks also includes providing for the
enjoyment of park resources and values by the people of the United States.
The "enjoyment" that is contemplated by the statute is broad;
it is the enjoyment of all the people of the United States, not just those
who visit parks, and so includes enjoyment both by people who directly
experience parks and by those who appreciate them from afar. It also includes
deriving benefit (including scientific knowledge) and inspiration from
parks, as well as other forms of enjoyment.
Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the
national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources
and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict
between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of
them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently
interpreted the Organic Act, in decisions that variously describe it as
making "resource protection the primary goal" or "resource
protection the overarching concern," or as establishing a "primary
mission of resource conservation," a "conservation mandate,"
"an overriding preservation mandate," "an overarching goal
of resource protection," or "but a single purpose, namely, conservation."
.4.4 The Prohibition on Impairment of Park Resources and Values
While Congress has given the Service the management discretion to allow
certain impacts within parks, that discretion is limited by the statutory
requirement (enforceable by the federal courts) that the Park Service
must leave park resources and values unimpaired, unless a particular law
directly and specifically provides otherwise. This, the cornerstone of
the Organic Act, establishes the primary responsibility of the National
Park Service. It ensures that park resources and values will continue
to exist in a condition that will allow the American people to have present
and future opportunities for enjoyment of them.
The impairment of park resources and values may not be allowed by the
Service unless directly and specifically provided for by legislation or
by the proclamation establishing the park. The relevant legislation or
proclamation must provide explicitly (not by implication or inference)
for the activity, in terms that keep the Service from having the authority
to manage the activity so as to avoid the impairment.
1.4.5 What Constitutes Impairment of Park Resources and Values
The impairment that is prohibited by the Organic Act and the General Authorities
Act is an impact that, in the professional judgment of the responsible
NPS manager, would harm the integrity of park resources or values, including
the opportunities that otherwise would be present for the enjoyment of
those resources or values. Whether an impact meets this definition depends
on the particular resources and values that would be affected; the severity,
duration, and timing of the impact; the direct and indirect effects of
the impact; and the cumulative effects of the impact in question and other
An impact to any park resource or value may constitute an impairment.
An impact would be more likely to constitute an impairment to the extent
that it affects a resource or value whose conservation is:
An impact would be less likely to constitute an impairment to the extent
that it is an unavoidable result, which cannot reasonably be further mitigated,
of an action necessary to preserve or restore the integrity of park resources
- Necessary to fulfill specific purposes identified in the establishing
legislation or proclamation of the park;
- Key to the natural or cultural integrity of the park or to opportunities
for enjoyment of the park; or
- Identified as a goal in the park's general management plan or other
relevant NPS planning documents.
Impairment may occur from visitor activities; NPS activities in the course
of managing a park; or activities undertaken by concessioners, contractors,
and others operating in the park.
1.4.6 What Constitutes Park Resources and Values
The "park resources and values" that are subject to the no-impairment
standard include: the park's scenery, natural and historic objects, and
wildlife, and the processes and conditions that sustain them, including,
to the extent present in the park: the ecological, biological, and physical
processes that created the park and continue to act upon it; scenic features;
natural visibility, both in daytime and at night; natural landscapes;
natural soundscapes and smells; water and air resources; soils; geological
resources; paleontological resources; archeological resources; cultural
landscapes; ethnographic resources; historic and prehistoric sites, structures,
and objects; museum collections; and native plants and animals; opportunities
to experience enjoyment of the above resources, to the extent that can
be done without impairing any of them; the park's role in contributing
to the national dignity, the high public value and integrity, and the
superlative environmental quality of the national park system, and the
benefit and inspiration provided to the American people by the national
park system; and any additional attributes encompassed by the specific
values and purposes for which it was established.
1.4.7 Decision-making Requirements to Avoid Impairments
Before approving a proposed action that could lead to an impairment of
park resources and values, an NPS decision-maker must consider the impacts
of the proposed action and determine, in writing, that the activity will
not lead to an impairment of park resources and values. If there would
be an impairment, the action may not be approved.
In making a determination of whether there would be an impairment, a
National Park Service decision-maker must use his or her professional
judgment. The decision-maker must consider any environmental assessments
or environmental impact statements required by the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA); relevant scientific studies, and other sources
of information; and public comments.
When an NPS decision-maker becomes aware that an ongoing activity might
have led or might be leading to an impairment of park resources or values,
he or she must investigate and determine if there is, or will be, an impairment.
Whenever practicable, such an investigation and determination will be
made as part of an appropriate park planning process undertaken for other
purposes. If it determined that there is, or will be, such an impairment,
the Director must take appropriate action, to the extent possible within
the Service's authorities and available resources, to eliminate the impairment.
The action must eliminate the impairment as soon as reasonably possible,
taking into consideration the nature, duration, magnitude, and other characteristics
of the impacts to park resources and values, as well as the requirements
of NEPA, the Administrative Procedure Act, and other applicable law.