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Nat'l Rec. Areas

New Nat'l Parks


Wildlife Management in the National Parks

The goal of park management in the United States

Item 1 in the report just quoted specifies that "a prior definition of the purposes and objectives of each park is assumed." In other words. the goal must first be defined.

As a primary goal, we would recommend that the biotic associations within each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man. A national park should represent a vignette of primitive America.

The implications of this seemingly simple aspiration are stupendous. Many of our national parks -- in fact most of them -- went through periods of indiscriminate logging, burning, livestock grazing, hunting and predator control. Then they entered the park system and shifted abruptly to a regime of equally unnatural protection from lightning fires, from insect outbreaks, absence of natural controls of ungulates, and in some areas elimination of normal fluctuations in water levels. Exotic vertebrates, insects, plants, and plant diseases have inadvertently been introduced. And of course lastly there is the factor of human use -- of roads and trampling and camp grounds and pack stock. The resultant biotic associations in many of our parks are artifacts, pure and simple. They represent a complex ecologic history but they do not necessarily represent primitive America.

Restoring the primitive scene is not done easily nor can it be done completely. Some species are extinct. Given time, an eastern hardwood forest can be regrown to maturity but the chestnut will be missing and so will the roar of pigeon wings. The colorful drapanid finches are not to be heard again in the lowland forests of Hawaii, nor will the jack-hammer of the ivory-bill ring in southern swamps. The wolf and grizzly bear cannot readily be reintroduced into ranching communities, and the factor of human use of the parks is subject only to regulation, not elimination. Exotic plants, animals, and diseases are here to stay. All these limitations we fully realize. Yet, if the goal cannot be fully achieved it can be approached. A reasonable illusion of primitive America could be recreated, using the utmost in skill, judgment, and ecologic sensitivity. This in our opinion should be the objective of every national park and monument.

To illustrate the goal more specifically, let us cite some cases. A visitor entering Grand Teton National Park from the south drives across Antelope Flats. But there are no antelope. No one seems to be asking the question -- why aren't (they) there? If the mountain men who gathered here in rendezvous fed their squaws on antelope, a 20th century tourist at least should be able to see a band of these animals. Finding out what aspect of the range needs rectifying, and doing so, would appear to be a primary function of park management.

When the forty-niners poured over the Sierra Nevada into California, those that kept diaries spoke almost to a man of the wide-spaced columns of mature trees that grew on the lower western slope in gigantic magnificence. The ground was a grass parkland, in springtime carpeted with wildflowers. Deer and bears were abundant. Today much of the west slope is a dog-hair thicket of young pines, white fir, incense cedar, and mature brush -- a direct function of overprotection from natural ground fires. Within the four national parks -- Lassen, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon -- the thickets are even more impenetrable than elsewhere. Not only is this accumulation of fuel dangerous to the giant sequoias and other mature trees but the animal life is meager, wildflowers are sparse, and to some at least the vegetative tangle is depressing, not uplifting. Is it possible that the primitive open forest could be restored, at least on a local scale? And if so, how? We cannot offer an answer. But we are posing a question to which there should be an answer of immense concern to the National Park Service.

The scarcity of bighorn sheep in the Sierra Nevada represents another type of management problem. Though they have been effectively protected for nearly half a century, there are fewer than 400 bighorns in the Sierra. Two-thirds of them are found in summer along the crest which lies within the eastern border of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Obviously, there is some shortcoming of habitat that precludes further increase in the population. The high country is still recovering slowly from the devastation of early domestic sheep grazing so graphically described by John Muir. But the present limitation may not be in the high summer range at all but rather along the eastern slope of the Sierra where the bighorns winter on lands in the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. These areas are grazed in summer by domestic livestock and large numbers of mule deer, and it is possible that such competitive use is adversely affecting the bighorns. It would seem to us that the National Park Service might well take the lead in studying this problem and in formulating cooperative management plans with other agencies even though the management problem lies outside the park boundary. The goal, after all, is to restore the Sierra bighorn. If restoration is achieved in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon region, there might follow a program of reintroduction and restoration of bighorns in Yosemite and Lassen National Parks, and Lava Beds National Monument, within which areas this magnificent native animal is presently extinct.

We hope that these examples clarify what we mean by the goal of park management.


Last Modified: Wed, Dec 29 1999 07:08:48 am PDT

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