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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 6:
The Ecological Revolution: 1964 - 1969
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The Ecological Revolution

Adoption of the Leopold report's recommendations as well as continued pressure to diversify the system to include recreation as well as preservation strained a National Park Service already undergoing change and growth from Mission 66. In the next six years these two issues would demand continual adjustment and reinterpretation. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall signaled the new tone with his 1964 letter on national park management. In it the secretary reaffirmed the Leopold report as a guideline and differentiated the management prescriptions for natural, historic, and recreational areas. The latter was a tacit admission of the growing complexity of the agency's mission.

That complexity would increase over the next several years. A web of legislation further diversified the contents and duties of the system as well as the strictures it would be required to follow. First came the Wilderness Act of 1964 over the resistance of the Park Service. The agency had long argued that its application to parks was redundant because they were already managed for roadless preservation. In fact, the Wilderness Act, where implemented, added a legal buffer against the possibility of further projects like Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park.

The following year saw the addition of two more laws of profound importance. First came the landmark Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which established a fund for acquisition of new recreation lands either within or adjacent to existing park units or as new parks themselves. A portion of the money to be provided to the fund would come from fees charged at existing parks. Congress also chose that year to further define the always delicate policy of private enterprise in the parks with the Concession Policies Act of 1965. Although Mather's ideas of monopoly concessions with first rights of contract renewal were maintained, the new law reiterated the stipulation that concession operations be of minimum area and extent necessary and specified that the government could force a movement of such operations to another location upon payment of compensatory funds.

In 1966 the complicated duties of the National Park Service with regard to historical sites and structures would be magnified by passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. This authorized the Secretary of the Interior to create and maintain a national register of historic districts, sites, and structures and to establish programs of matching grants to states and to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Park Service became the coordinating agency for these activities and its director the executive director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

In 1967 the Clean Air Act (summarized in the Appendix) laid another layer of protection on the parks but also demanded management compliance. Identified as areas of desired maximum air purity, the parks' airsheds would presumably be more tightly constrained in production of pollutants. The parks themselves would fall under this legislation however, necessitating additional planning in the incipient fire program.

The following year, 1968, saw a flurry of important legislation and policy statements continuing the rapid evolution of the park system and its management program. Two laws, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails System Act, further diversified the units managed by the Park Service. The rivers act in particular has added extensively to the system and created long, sinuous areas with complicated management problems.

Secretary Udall's 1964 prescription for separate administrative policies for areas of natural, historic, and recreation protection became reality in 1968. Three handbooks specifying general policy purposes and specific prescriptions for common problems, and containing appendixes of related legislation and agency orders, sought to cope with the confusing myriad of duties and responsibilities the agency faced.

While this flurry of legislative and policy maneuvering occupied Washington, D.C., the parks continued to adjust to the Leopold report and its attendant infusion of scientists and natural resource programs. At Sequoia National Park decades of vigorous protection of giant sequoias from fire had halted reproduction of the species. Acting on the advice of one of Stanley Cain's students, the park administration experimented with controlled burns in 1964. The success of those trial burns led in 1968 to a policy for their continuation in the forest ecosystems of the park. This adoption of systematic provision of fire in a forest marked a substantive turning point in resource protection in the parks.

The final law of this busy period was perhaps the farthest reaching of all. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) forms the basic national charter for environmental protection. It ordered federal agencies to carry out their duties in such a way as to avoid or minimize environmental degradation. It required those agencies to conduct planning with studies of potential environmental impact for all development projects. The planning procedure, further, was to be open for public input. This latter provision was to have extraordinary results as conservation organizations in particular became powerful players at the required hearings. NEPA rounded out a short period during which the duties and ground rules of the NPS evolved with dizzying speed especially for old-time employees, hired at a time when the parks were distant, serene enclaves of natural landscape architecture.


Secretary Udall's Letter on National Park Management, 1964

Wilderness Act, 1964

Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, 1965

Concession Policies Act, 1965

National Historic Preservation Act, 1966

Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 1968

National Trails System Act, 1968

Administrative Policies for Recreation Areas, 1968

Administrative Policies for Historic Areas, 1968

Administrative Policies for Natural Areas, 1968

Plan for Use of Fire in Ecosystem Management, 1968

National Environmental Policy Act, 1969


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

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