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Cover to America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
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Table of Contents


The Early Years,

Defining The System,

The New Deal Years,

The Poverty Years,

Questions of
Resource Management

The Ecological Revolution,

Transformation and

A System Threatened,

Summaries of
Lengthy Documents

About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 5:
Questions of Resource Management: 1957 - 1963
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By Stanley A. Cain, The University of Michigan
Presented at the Sixth Biennial Wilderness Conference
Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, 20-21 March 1959

I do not know of another conference than this, the Sixth Biennial Wilderness Conference, that has addressed itself to the question of the meaning of wilderness to science. It seems to me that this is an appropriate and important theme, and I am complimented by your invitation to me to make some remarks on wilderness areas as islands for ecological field studies.

I have been caught, as many of you have, in what seems to some to be an untenable position when I have stated that the wilderness must be protected because of its value for scientific research, being unable in a given situation to point to any significant research that has already been done in the wilderness tract under question. One wins no adherents to the side of protection by only being able to say that someday someone will want to study something in the wilderness, that it might be important to do so, and that it would be a shameful loss were the wilderness no longer in existence. I believe this, but it does not provide a stout verbal cudgel. However, before saying more about wilderness as a natural ecological laboratory, I want to use my license as an invited speaker to make two or three preliminary points.

First, I would not in defense of the wilderness try to compete with the dollar values of the market place. The columns of marching pines that shoulder the mountainside in sunset silhouette do not add up like the columns of dollars for boardfeet of lumber. The leaping trout in the white-water stream can not compete with the sale price of kilowatts of hydro-power or the tons of sugar beets and bales of cotton that could be grown on lands irrigated by water impounded where the white water once flowed.

One believes in wilderness, or he doesn't. In your guts you know its value, or you don't. You can add up all of the expenditures of the people for out-door recreation focused on wildlands—for arms and tackle, for gasoline and meals, for cameras, licenses, boats, and fancy clothing—and they amount to billions of dollars; yet the economic argument has never saved a single wilderness nor justified the saving of one. This is true for the simple reason that the economic argument cuts both ways. If your appraisal of the wilderness is made on an economic basis, all that has to be shown is that the dollar value of timber is greater, or that of minerals, or that of impounded water, and the wilderness value has been superseded. To put forward the argument of the economic value of the wilderness for appropriate kinds of recreation is to put the wilderness on the block, to be sold to the highest bidder.

I have tried to make it clear that I don't believe that it is wise or necessary, or that the public requires, that the wilderness be given economic justification. I am not saying that it is unimportant that perhaps one percent of the gross national product is attributable to expenditures related to wildland recreation. I am saying, rather, that the wilderness, broadly interpreted, would be valuable and its preservation justified even if its use contributed nothing to the gross national product.

Another point that sometimes embarrasses defenders of the wilderness is the fact that relatively few persons actually penetrate it on foot, by packtrain, or canoe—the vast majority seeing it only as it can from speeding automobiles or from points of tourist concentration.

I remember vividly at the hearings that were held by a Michigan legislative Committee and by the Conservation Commission last fall on a proposal to mine copper in the Porcupine Mountains State Park how some proponents of development spoke scathingly of the small number of users of the relatively vast wilderness parts of the Park. In connection with this sometimes bitter public debate it was said that scarcely anyone went into the undeveloped wilderness other than a few "odd-balls" and some outdoor writers for newspapers and magazines who were paid to do so, and that, if developed, a million tourists could be put in the woods and they wouldn't see one another. This would be approximately true if one tourist hid behind each tree.

Such an argument misses the point, in my opinion, just as truly as does the economic argument. Counting noses is a game we can't win at, and it is essentially irrelevant in any case. No one would expect attendance at the Corcoran Art Gallery or the Library of Congress to compete with that at the Rosebowl or with the Saturday night TV viewers of Gunsmoke.

Persons who defend wilderness areas from development and commercial exploitation are confronted with our pluralistic society which has many value systems. In addition to economic values, which have their proper and important place in any society, and to our inclination to evaluate many things according to size or numbers, I speak now of a quite different sort of value.

If we believe, as Robert Angell has said, that "serenity is a vanishing quality of life," and that "the world presses in upon us, insistent, confusing, often tragic," and if we believe, as many of us do, that a sojourn in the wilderness has restorative powers for our moral and social equanimity, then what other reason do we need to give for the establishment, scrupulous protection, and proper use of such wilderness as remains? If holding such a view is aristocratic snobbery, it is not that of money, family, or position, nor that of utility and progress, but is that of taste, of quality of sensitivity, and of reverence for nature. Could it not be that we weaken our position and do a disservice to such a value if we do not put it forward, stoutly and frankly in competition with the commoner uses of and benefits from the land?

I have made a value judgement concerning wilderness areas which is, concisely, that there are areas of landscape that are of higher usefulness to man when left alone than when they are exploited for the goods and services that have dollar value. So far I have not dealt with the wilderness as a scientist would, sticking to demonstrable fact, but have taken a value position as a humanist would. And yet this is not just my position, nor that only of us here for the Sixth Biennial Wilderness Conference, but it is also that of a large number of persons who have similar tacit standards as to what "ought" to be in wilderness preservation and use. These include the thousands who expressed opposition to development of state parks in the Porcupine Mountains case I referred to earlier, the tens of thousands who said "no" to an earlier proposal to flood Echo Canyon, and the hundreds of thousands of persons who would get fighting mad if Yellowstone or Yosemite were to be commercially exploited.

Rather than producing a lengthy polemic on wilderness preservation, the value of the wilderness for inducement of serenity, or to deny the validity of an indirect economic defense of the wilderness, I come at last to my specific subject: the value of the wilderness as an ecological laboratory. I am not going to claim that natural areas should be preserved because natural scientists need reservations where they can carry out their observations of and experiments with nature without disturbance. Nor am I going to claim that research in the wilderness is likely to produce results that will shatter the boundaries of ignorance and contribute to the revolution of natural history. I would not expect another Charles Darwin to emerge from the dripping Olympics or the prickly desert at Joshua Tree, nor a [James] Dana from Grand Canyon, or a Margaret Mead from Mesa Verde. My point is rather that the wilderness needs being studied, in breadth and depth, for the usefulness the resulting knowledge will have in enhancement of the enjoyment of the public which visits, loves, and cherishes the wilderness.

I believe that interest in and appreciation of nature lies at the heart of the general public's appraisal and valuation of the wilderness—each man to his own degree and with wonder at nature according to his own capacity. If this is true then some degree of interest in nature is the most prevalent motive of persons visiting national parks and other wildland areas. It suggests also that the most important function of agencies administering wild lands is that of interpretation.

The American public has amply demonstrated that it wants the wilderness left alone, even if it doesn't actually get into it in any numbers. The wilderness has real experience to offer, even at a distance. In any National Park, for one person who actually penetrates the wilderness there are hundreds who learn something about it on guided nature hikes, and thousands who have vicarious experiences at museums, information centers, and by listening to campfire talks. There are also the unknown numbers who get some, and often great, pleasure from magazine articles and books, from nature lectures and Disney films. This is the tremendously large public receptive to natural history information about the Nation's wilderness areas. These are the people who read, for example, Arizona Highways, attend Audubon lectures, and follow the outdoor and travel pages of newspapers and magazines.

I believe that there is a vast reservoir of opportunity for nature interpretation that is incompletely developed despite the fine work already done by Park Naturalists. I think that this is true because there is no adequate program of research designed to feed into the interpretation program the necessary and appropriate facts.

I am thinking especially of the National Park Service because of its responsibility for our most spectacular and precious remaining examples of wilderness, and because it is only the National Park Service that has legal responsibility for the protection of the entire environment and all that lives in it. Of course roads, camps, and other facilities are necessary for public use while the land and the people are protected, but the obligation of the Park Service can't stop there. Housekeeping is necessary, but it still is only housekeeping. I believe that the central function is that of interpretation. I believe this because I believe that interest in natural features of the parks is the principal attraction of them for the public.

I don't mean that we are a nation of ostensible nature lovers, and we are certainly much less open about it than, for example, the British with their Snail-Watching Society and the Friends of the Trees. But I do think that many a foolish seeming action of a tourist with a bear is not so much dumbness as it is fascination and perhaps naive curiosity about the animal. There is, for example, pretty good evidence that many a hunter is less interested in the chase and the kill than he is likely to admit casually, and is deep down more interested in his woodlore and his knowledge of the habits of animals and of terrain and weather, and his sense of relatedness with nature.

So I come again to the point that the National Park Service, and other federal and state agencies, are missing a bet in the lack of an adequate natural history research program that would regularly feed into their interpretation programs the basic information which they now do without or get only by happy chance.

As I have said, I will speak mainly of the National Park Service, although my point is more general. But I am speaking also to the National Park Service. After having accepted your invitation to speak here, and having thought some about what I would say (mostly a sort of incubation rather than a concentrated consideration), I discarded the idea of describing in detail some research that has been carried on in the wilderness areas, or that could be were circumstances propitious, and I decided to take this opportunity to promote the Service's activity in basic ecological and related research.

If such an effort at promotion were to have an effect (and I tried it some years ago without producing any effect), I needed to know the attitudes of those who make policy for the Service. The result was that I telephoned Mr. Ronald F. Lee, who is Chief of the Division of Interpretation, and found him so interested that a week ago today I flew to Washington to talk with him and his associates, including Eivind Scoyen, Associate Director of the Service. I needed to know how much interest, if any, existed in basic natural history research. I needed to know also whether outside pressure and cooperation would be welcomed. I am most happy to report that there is in the Service at the Washington level a real interest in basic research and a warm receptivity to suggestions, cooperation, and even pressure from the outside. I conclude, therefore, that it is possible for those of us who may be interested to be of real help to them.

I think the best summary of the scope of activities classified as research, as well as the limitations of the program, is to be found in the Annual Reports. I will, therefore, read the statement on research in the Annual Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1957.

"In the National Park Service, research is one of the important means which enable it better to meet its responsibilities. Historical research is done largely by its own historians. In other fields it is accomplished in various ways. Service employees contribute importantly to it, but it leans heavily also on the cooperation of other Federal agencies, State agencies, and publicly and privately supported institutions of higher learning.

"During calendar 1956, 160 research projects were performed by regular and seasonal members of the Service, collaborators and co-operating groups and individuals. Of these, 148 dealt directly with the areas administered by the National Park Service, four were in the category of investigations of proposed areas, and eight were general research projects. Graduate students and staff members of 23 colleges and universities, and four private individuals participated in these projects. Five Federal agencies, seven State agencies, and three professional societies also performed research or assisted field personnel in research projects.

"Natural science research during the year dealt with such matters as siltation at Mammoth Cave National Park; the ecology of Florida Bay, in Everglades; hydrothermal phenomena at Yellowstone; and the ecology of high mountain meadows and other fragile environments in several National Parks. The Coastal Studies Institute of Louisiana State University and the Office of Naval Research cooperated in detailed research on the geology, botany, archeology, and history of Cape Hatteras National Seashore; North Carolina State College is doing further research there in biology. Seven major geological research projects were in progress in Death Valley National Monument alone.

"Texas A. & M. College and the Texas Fish and Game Commission are participating in a 5-year study of Big Bend National Park ecology. Biological and geological studies are under way in Virgin Islands National Park, the University of Kansas and Princeton University cooperating.

"Historical research included studies of the appearance and use of Independence Hall at various periods; of details of colonial life and land ownership at Jamestown; of the locations of specific features at Fort McHenry, a necessary basis on which to prepare development plans; and a study of the historic structures remaining at Harpers Ferry.

"Archeological methods were employed at such historic places as Fort Frederica and Port Union National Monuments, at Jamestown, at Independence and Cumberland Gap Historical Parks, and, on a minor scale, at a number of other areas. Important archeological research was continued by the University of Colorado at Mesa Verde, by the University of Southern California at Death Valley, by the University of California at Yosemite, and by the Bishop Museum of Honolulu at the proposed City of Refuge National Historical Park. Washington University, St. Louis, cooperated in the effort to find the original site of Arkansas Post. Service archeologists excavated at the site of Fort Clatsop, in Oregon.

"Under cooperative agreements, 16 universities and colleges and the Smithsonian Institution performed river-basin archeological salvage. In addition, the University of Utah, the School of American Research, and the Museum of Northern Arizona undertook such salvage in the Upper Colorado Basin. The Smithsonian, working at 11 reservoir sites with funds supplied by the Service, recorded more than 200 new archeological sites, excavated 19, and processed more than 179,000 excavated specimens."

The Annual Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1958, adds that historical research has been inaugurated at Harpers Ferry and Fort McHenry, and that the archeological salvage program for basins about to be inundated has been extended to the Glen Canyon and Navajo Indian Reservoir areas. A program of Alpine Wilderness research was initiated, a project on the biology of the United States Virgin Islands, and that a research conference in Everglades outlined needed studies. The Division of Interpretation was given specific responsibilities for developing the biological research program by stepping up Service-conducted investigations and encouraging cooperative research by qualified scientists and established research institutions.

At intervals in the past Service biologists have made significant basic studies. Of this type I will recall to you Adolf Murie's Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone. 1940, and The Wolves of Mount McKinley, 1944, which were bulletins in the Service's now quiescent Fauna Series. The study by Coleman C. Newman, forester in the Branch of Park Forest and Wildlife Management, of the Roosevelt Elk of Olympic National Park. is an example of a recent Service-staff investigation that deals with basic biology. As an outstanding example of cooperative effort between the National Park Service and several other agencies, I would mention Carl B. Koford's Wildlife Monograph, Prairie Dogs, Whitefaces, and Blue Grama. 1958. The Service facilitated Koford's study by appointing him a Collaborator, giving him access to Service studies and maps, and by active assistance of Park personnel. Service personnel in the Division of Interpretation have in many cases contributed fundamental knowledge to the fauna and flora of the parks where they have been stationed, as in the case of Arthur Stupka, Chief Naturalist of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and they and their Park Superintendents have in many cases aided materially the research of independent scientists. They often have been graduate students gathering data for their Master's and Doctor's dissertations. A recent example here is that of Grant W. Sharpe whose PhD thesis was A taxonomical-ecological study of the vegetation by habitats in eight forest types of the Olympic rain forest. Olympic National Park. Washington.

Such a review of research activities carried out or facilitated by the National Park Service is, of course, not complete, yet I do not believe that it misrepresents the situation. I must conclude that the National Park Service does not have a program of basic ecological research. We come to the inevitable conjunction, what is done is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to approach at all closely the fundamental need of the Service itself.

The first difficulty, as I see, it, is that the research activities of the Service are directed toward immediate pressing problems. It is largely a matter of trouble-shooting. I will illustrate this point by reference to the program of Ecological Research in the National Park Service on Alpine and other Wilderness Environments. The following statement was used in justifying the appropriation of funds (described as modest) for the initiation of the ecological studies.

"Increased visitor use of alpine and other wilderness areas in the parks present special problems of a related nature. The alpine meadows, which if once destroyed are irreplaceable, are particularly vulnerable to disturbances caused by man, and the unique wilderness values in the 'back country' of these parks generally require special attention. Studies on the ecology and the fundamental requirements for protecting these features are urgently needed."

Research contracts were executed with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research of the University of Colorado for studies at Rocky Mountains National Park; with the Jackson Hole Biological Research Station of the University of Wyoming for studies at Grand Teton National Park, and with Dr. Carl Sharsmith of San Jose State College for studies at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. In addition to Dr. Sharsmith, project supervisors and investigators include doctors John W. Marr, L. Floyd Clarke, Charles C. Laing, and Beatrice Willard, all accomplished field ecologists. The purpose of this program, which may be extended to Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and Glacier National Parks, is:

"To determine the visitor impact on park vegetation by studying sections of the park which have been receiving extensive visitor use and by comparing these sections with portions of the same type which have received a minimum of visitor use. This would permit investigations of alpine meadows and other wilderness areas to determine the ecological status of fragile plant communities and to ascertain the basic requirements for their protection and perpetuation."

This is ecological research directed at trouble-shooting. It is programmed, and it will yield scientific information about alpine communities, but it is directed toward the needs of management, not toward the needs of the interpretation program.

I have no quarrel with such research. It is necessary and it follows an established park policy of management that was first enunciated in 1939 by Ira N. Gabrielson and approved by the Director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior, that "No management measure or other interference with biotic relationships shall be undertaken prior to a properly conducted investigation." I now turn to a suggestion of what, in my opinion, would be the ingredients of a National Park Service program of ecological research.

It would be presumptuous of me to state in detail or with finality what a basic ecological research program should include. I will do no more than discuss briefly some of the matters which could be given attention and for which research would yield information directly usable in the interpretation programs of the parks. That such investigations might have general interest and constitute contributions to basic knowledge or the advancement of scientific understanding or theory would be no more than a fortunate by-product from the point of view I am stressing.

I believe that every National Park should have a continuing program in faunistics and floristics, with suitable museum and herbarium vouchers for the species claimed to be present in the area. Such knowledge would be built up over time and would run the complete systematic gamut, including, for example, small mammals as well as large, molluscs as well [as] fish, mosses and lichens as well as trees and conspicuous flowers. Such knowledge is basic to everything else.

Inasmuch as the thousands of species of plants and animals do not occur in an area as a sort of chance agglomeration, one of the most satisfactory ways of organizing biotic information is by the communities which are formed. The research program should include investigation of the natural plant-animal communities that occur in each area, starting with the major cover types and progressing to the lesser and often very interesting communities of special habitats such as hot springs and serpentine rock outcrops. Using modern techniques for the study of vegetation, information should be gathered as to the composition and structure of all communities. How are the component species organized in layers and other synusiae? What are the dominants? What are the indicator species which are of high fidelity to a given community and ecological situation? Having gained information on the morphology of communities, investigation should then be directed to their ecology. What is their pattern with respect to altitude, slope and exposure, to microclimate, and to the conditions of the substratum? What are the important actions, reactions, and coactions in each community?

It seems to me that people are interested in biogeography. There may even be some excitement in knowing that a certain plant or animal is endemic and lives naturally no where else in the world, or that where it is found in the given area it is disjunct, perhaps hundreds of miles from its main range. Most species will be found to be intraneous and well within their full range, but many species are extraneous at the place under consideration and characteristically range northward or southward, eastward or westward, toward the coast or the mountains, etc. These irregularities of occurrence bring up matters of historical biogeography. Where are the ancestors of the endemics, and where are their relatives now? How did the disjuncts get to where we now find them? What are the relations of fossils found in the area to the kinds of plants and animals now occupying it? What are the forces of migration? Of evolution? Of extinction?

Life histories should be studied, not only of species causing management problems but of those which are interesting for any reason. How is the life cycle carried out? Through what stages, and with what relation to the environment? What are the diurnal and annual aspects of the life activity?

These matters, so briefly suggested, are basic. They ask the question: What is there? They ask what the conspicuous community arrangements are, and they go to the point of especially interesting life cycles and biogeographic features. Every interpretation program should be backed up by an abundance of information about such natural history matters. Such studies may not be on the frontier of scientific advancement, but they are eminently respectable and very practical in the National Park situation.

I'll speak now of several biological studies that can be made in any wildland area and which can produce information having appeal to the public that probably goes beyond that of names for species and knowledge of communities. In each case the examples should be local, that is, they should deal with plants and animals in the area where the interpretation effort is being made. There are such matters as the following.

What about rare or vanishing species? Why are they rare? Why are they in danger of extinction? What actions are necessary to protect them and to give them a chance to recover reasonable numbers? Why worry about extinction any way?

What are the regional prey-predator relations? Food chains and pyramids of numbers? And related to this in some ways, what is the nature of territories, ranges, and home ranges? Why must some wilderness areas be as large as they are? What is the concept of carrying capacity of land for given species? And what is the relationship to population size and density? And to habitat deterioration? What are population cycles? What causes them? How do they relate to prey-predator relations, and to producer and consumer relations? What are epidemics and infestations? What are some of the problems in a National Park in disease and pest control, and in the control of other populations when the balance of nature has been upset by reduction of predators or there are influential changes occurring outside the Park and beyond the Service's management?

What is the nature of community dynamics? What is succession? What is the nature of equilibrium in nature? What is a climax, and what are the climaxes of a given region?

Why do species of a genus have the patterns of occurrence that they do? Why are the most closely related species of a genus allopatric in their areas and only less closely related ones sympatric? What is the nature of some of the barriers to hybridization? What are dines? What is the subspecies as interpreted by mammalogists and ornithologists?

And so we might continue to ask questions the answers to which would be sought by National Park Service scientists were there a formal, continuing, and sufficiently massive program of ecological and systematic research.

Many persons will sit patiently and look at a few dozen Kodachrome slides of spring wildflowers or of nesting birds or of scenery, and have a good time, too, if the photography is good, but wouldn't they have a more exciting time if the intellectual content of the presentation were not static and, as is sometimes the case, at the "what-is-it" or "where-is-it" level? I suppose the point can be summed up succinctly by my saying:

Emphasize ideas, not things.

National Park Service Archives, Harpers Ferry, Box N16, Management Biology 1948-1962. Reprinted with permission of Mrs. Stanley Cain.

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