Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Nine:
New Directions and a Second Century

IN EARLY 1973, the management of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks found itself attempting to overcome a growing list of difficult planning and resource problems. The new Master Plan for the parks, completed in early 1971, identified many of these issues, including visitor congestion in developed areas; aging and inadequate facilities; understaffed resources management, research, and interpretive programs; and a lack of broad-based planning in and around the parks. Issues not specifically mentioned in the plan, but directly threatening the two parks in the same year included the ongoing Forest Service effort to develop Mineral King, increasing heavy use of adjacent Forest Service lands, enormous growth in backcountry travel, and the rapid population increase of both California in general and Tulare and Fresno counties in particular. For these problems the National Park Service had no bold solutions. The Master Plan, as mentioned, did not call for any major facility removals from congested areas like Giant Forest. Instead, the plan conservatively suggested a highway bypass around the Giant Forest area, a bus system, and relocation of the Giant Forest Lodge to a nearby site with fewer sequoias. [1] About Mineral King the agency had almost nothing to say. With the top of the federal executive branch committed to the project, neither the Department of Interior nor the National Park Service was in a position to object. Some other problems had proven more amenable to change, however. The experimental limiting of backcountry use along the Rae Lakes Loop had worked out well during the summer of 1972; and as the new year began, park managers seriously discussed extending backcountry entry quotas to the remainder of the two parks. The staffing shortfalls identified in the master plan also showed promise of improvement. In many ways, calls for additional programs and additional staffing were easier for the parks to present than initiatives which threatened existing facilities or uses, or challenged incompatible uses on adjacent lands.

The last two decades of the first century at Sequoia and Kings Canyon would see rapidly intensifying debate over proper use and management of the two parks. For the first time, the public would be invited to join the planning process, a change that would have large consequences because of the enormous shift in public awareness of environmental issues. During the period, this same shift would become apparent in the Park Service itself, as a new generation of science-trained and environmentally-aware personnel entered management levels within the agency. This new generation of park managers would take the recommendations of the 1963 Leopold Report to heart and seriously attempt their full implementation. In the process, the veracity and attainability of the Leopold goals would themselves ultimately fall into question. The final chapter of the parks' first hundred years would also see vastly exacerbated threats from outside the parks' boundaries—threats of a magnitude never before faced by Sierran parks' managers. And against all these changes, the haunting legacy of tradition—traditional uses and traditional attitudes—would prove to be a formidable obstacle. As Sequoia and Kings Canyon moved toward their second century, questions of management philosophy and technique, questions of public and personal values, and questions of human/land interaction loomed larger than ever.

Inside the front cover of the 1971 Master Plan could be found a note informing readers that the document was "based on plans presented at the Public Discussions held in conjunction with the Wilderness hearings in 1966." This simple note, quite unlike anything that had previously appeared in NPS planning documents for the parks, marked the opening wedge of a new era. In 1969 Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an elaborate statute that resulted in revolutionary changes in the federal planning process. NEPA required that the environmental consequences of all major federal actions be evaluated, and those consequences mitigated to the greatest degree possible; the statute also required public input as a part of the evaluation and consideration process. Henceforth the resolution of any park management question which affected the natural or human environment would require some form of public disclosure and participation. One of the unintended consequences of NEPA and the formalization of the planning procedure would be to minimize the delays and confusion of personnel changes. During the 1970s, Sequoia and Kings Canyon would have no less than five superintendents, but a combination of NEPA regulations and a stable upper-level management team kept the planning procedure on a relatively steady course.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap9.htm — 12-Jul-2004