On-line Book
Cover to America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
Cover Page


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
National Park Service Arrowhead


Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park

Written 1960, General Release 1963



To avoid misunderstanding, the definition of wilderness as used in this report has been taken from The National Park Wilderness (Stagner, 1957). It can be summed up thus: A wilderness is a large, undeveloped, wild area extending beyond roads and developments for permanent occupancy, in which one can experience solitude, quiet, beauty, a sense of adventure, and feelings of remoteness from modern civilization, including mechanized transportation—and in which the drama of natural forces is permitted to unfold without interference except for such management practices as may be required to counteract major destructive influences.


The value of wilderness for scientific research used to be largely ignored, or at least not mentioned in reports such as this one. But the dates and titles of hundreds of research publications show that for many years the national parks have been recognized by scientists from all over the world as areas uniquely qualified for basic research, by virtue of their unmodified wilderness characteristics. A landmark along the route toward the growing appreciation of wilderness as a scientific resource was reached with the publication, in 1960, of "The Meaning of Wilderness to Science," a book on which the National Park Service collaborated with distinguished representatives of other conservation and research organizations and institutions.

Since that time, a growing awareness of the unique contributions that unmodified park environments can make to basic research has been reflected in increasingly adequate budgets in support of research programs in the parks. This trend is adding a new dimension to the concept of wilderness protection, and the responsibilities of the National Park Service in that connection.


The ultimate aim of conservation is to leave our earth as rich and productive as we found it. William Dean Howells said, "A nation is great not because it mines coals, cuts timber or builds railways, but rather because it has learned how to produce, build and grow without destroying the bases of its future existence" (The Conservation Foundation, 1958).

The National Park System wilderness is a culmination of processes and events that have been unfolding since the beginning of time. It presents the story of the evolution of the American land, and of the development of life upon it. It is a never-ending story that will continue to unfold, for the inspiration and general welfare of mankind and the advancement of science, so long as the integrity of these "islands of nature" is maintained.

In 1956 an international symposium of scientists emphasized how profoundly man has changed the face of the earth. Man's influence in this respect was compared in magnitude to a major geological-ecological force (W.L. Thomas, Jr., 1956). In 1961 a conference in Switzerland of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, bringing together ecologists from 12 countries, concluded that the national parks of the world offer the principal future hope of preserving some scattered fragments of primeval nature for fundamental scientific research. The large primeval parks of the National Park System of the United States were declared to be preeminent in this respect, and of international significance and value. This idea has been reiterated at other international forums.

As our society continues to increase in complexity and in population, such an understanding of natural, balanced environments will become increasingly essential for developing ways of living harmoniously, rather than destructively, on our Nation's lands, which are not increasing in area.

Science needs these environments as a point of reference and as a yardstick with which to measure man's success or failure in the countless land-management programs that he carries out in the rest of his environment.

Gaining worldwide recognition and acceptance is the belief that National Parks, preserved as natural ecological entities, can supply man with a more complete understanding of the natural laws that may govern his future—and possibly his ultimate survival—in lands and environments everywhere.


"The Nation's most treasured wilderness lands are set apart and dedicated as National Parks and Monuments." By these words are we reminded, in The National Park Wilderness, of our responsibilities.

The custodians of a library are obligated to preserve the qualities and atmosphere of a library. In like degree, are we as one of the acknowledged national custodians of wilderness, obligated to preserve and manage the back country—as back country—for the enjoyment, education, physical and spiritual refreshment of our people, for basic scientific research, for an understanding of the natural laws that govern man's existence. Recognition of this obligation is the basis for the present report.


Every day there are 7,000 more people in the United States than there were the day before; every morning, in California alone, there are 1,600 more people having breakfast (Life. October 19, 1962, p. 69). Recreation and land use planners are faced with the fact that a U.S. population of 100 million in 1920 grew to 180 million in 1960, is expected to reach 230 million in 1975, and 350 million by the year 2000.

Along with this anticipated quadrupling of the population in a period of about a century, there has already taken place an average increase in travel per person from 1500 miles in 1920 to 4700 miles in 1960. During this 40-year period, leisure time increased by nearly 40 percent, while use of state and national parks showed a more than sixfold increase, jumping from 50 million to over 331 million visits per year (Department of the Interior, "Fact Sheet," 1961). The rate of leisure-time increase can be expected to accelerate under the influence of automation.

Visitor use of the wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks has nearly doubled since 1950. The current and anticipated population growth in the State of California over the next 20 years precludes any thought that there will be a slackening off in the numbers of persons who visit the National Park wilderness of the Sierra.


The gradual deterioration of Sierra meadows through overgrazing has been of serious concern as far back as 1940, when the first report was written concerning this problem in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Increasing visitor use has made serious inroads on the fish population of many of the high lakes and streams. Most of the fish habitat in the parks is limited by various physical factors. In earlier times of light fishing pressure it was a fisherman's paradise, but its accessibility threatens to bring its own doom. In several places this has already occurred. As county and state roads push ever closer to the exterior boundaries of the parks, mass invasions of visitors will extend the heavy fishing pressure almost the entire length of the fertile zone of fish habitat.

In 1958, over three tons of litter were removed from just one of the more popular back-country areas. In 1960, a full-scale Service-sponsored program was launched to begin initial cleanup work; and at season's end over 20 tons had been hauled out (Briggle, 1960).

The litter problem will always necessitate a program for backcountry cleanup in much the same manner as litter is removed from front-country campgrounds, though it is hoped that wilderness users will show a greater sense of social responsibility in this regard than do the more predominantly urban users of park highways and other heavily developed facilities for motorists.

A review of these trends serves as a potent reminder that important areas of the parks that in an earlier day were wilderness or back country, now that they are easily accessible and serve heavy concentrations of visitors, are considered front country. The loss of the primeval wilderness qualities that appealed to an earlier generation of users has been gradual; some pockets of unchanged back country remain today, but they will suffer the same fate unless the trend is controlled soon. This report suggests ways to accomplish such control.


Many deteriorating wilderness situations can be checked by appropriate management measures. But no management plan can be effective if it ignores the practical limitations of the natural environment. Ecologists point out that a basic requirement for intelligent management of any environment used by man, or influenced by him, is a determination of its "carrying capacity" (Fosberg, 1961).

This concept has long been applied with precision to the management of domestic livestock. Likewise, since the thirties, it has been standard procedure to base wildlife management programs on careful studies of the wildlife ranges to determine, and operate within, their carrying capacities. As human use of wilderness ranges begins to approach a saturation point, management has the responsibility of identifying basic factors that limit the carrying capacities of each area, and of tailoring the respective management programs to conform to these natural limitations.

When the present Committee determined from observation the minimum distance required for wilderness-type privacy between high country campsites, it was, in effect, determining the camper-carrying capacities of these areas. Similar carrying-capacity determinations and judgments were called for in preparing other phases of the management plan. Precedents and techniques for measuring wilderness carrying capacities are few; but present use trends clearly indicate the need for further application and refinement of known techniques, and the development of new ones.


Oldtime use of wilderness was completely free of restrictions. Wilderness explorers could hunt and fish without limit, cut down trees at will, camp, make fires and graze their stock anywhere. The tradition of personal freedom in wilderness dies hard, and one of the foremost endeavors of the National Park Service is to respect and preserve the personal freedom of the wilderness user to the fullest extent possible within the framework of each area's carrying capacity.

But when human populations expand they become subject to the biological limitations that govern other dense populations: The greater the number of individuals the greater the loss of individual freedom of action. An illustration of this in the daily lives of all of us is afforded the congestion, delays, and complicated regulations on today's crowded highways.

Wilderness users may with justice complain that they seek wilderness to escape the regimentation of daily life. But the time is past, for example, when a Boy Scout can use his axe to cut fresh pine branches for his bed in the old tradition. Today we have no choice but to agree with Snyder (1961) when he suggests that, ". . . when we speak loosely of an 'untouched' wilderness we must actually be reconciled and receptive to an area managed in a degree relative to the number of people who enter it."

The Committee recognizes a major responsibility to preserve all possible freedom in wilderness, but feels that the answer to complaints over present day restrictions is not "bureaucracy" but "Born too late."


Briggle, William J. 1960. "Back Country Cleanup." 10pp. Manuscript.

Conservation Foundation. 1958. Concepts of Conservation. A Guide to Discussion. 48pp.

Department of the Interior. 1961. White House Regional Conferences. Outdoor Recreation Opportunities for Urban Dwellers. Dept. of the Interior. 6 pp. plus "Fact Sheet" Appendix.

Fosberg, F. R. 1961. The Island Ecosystem. UNESCO Symposium on Man's Place in the Island Ecosystem. 11 pp. Mimeographed.

Life. 1962. The Call of California. Time Inc. Vol. 53, Oct. 19, p. 69.

Snyder, Arnold P. 1961. How Wild the Wilderness. American Forests. Vol. 67, May, 34-35, 62-63, illus.

Stagner, Howard R. 1957. The National Park Wilderness. National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 37 pp., 18 illus.

Thomas, W.L., Jr. (editor). 1956. Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, xxxvii +1193 pp.

National Park Service, Washington, D.C.—Report available in the office of the Chief of Resources Management, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 3-9, 104-106.

NEXT>Wildlife Management in the National Parks, 1962


Last Modified: October 25, 2000 10:00:00 am PST

National Park Service's ParkNet Home