National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks


It is of the utmost importance that a research program in the natural sciences be inaugurated in the National Park Service and integrated smoothly into the continuing functions and activities of the Service in such a way as to insure that the results of such a program will be utilized in the decision-making process of operational management. A research program will provide the parameters and guidelines for operation. Its role in the National Park Service should not be simply an advisory function. It should be a line responsibility in the National Park Service organization.

The research organization within the National Park Service should be distinct from administration and the operational management organization. Management criteria for a research program are not identical with those for operational functions; they differ at headquarters as well as in the field. Research contract review and negotiation are not the same as with construction contracts. Research field personnel cannot fulfill their assignments effectively under the same personnel management policies as are most satisfactory for maintenance personnel.

In the final analysis the success of a research program in the National Park Service will depend upon the capabilities of the individuals who have the responsibility for planning, managing and executing this activity. In order to bring the necessary scientific knowledge and judgment to bear upon the research problems confronting the Park Service, and in order that the research program may achieve rapport with the scientific community at large, the scientific personnel must be of the highest professional quality.

As a line responsibility in the administration of the National Park Service, the research program in natural science will involve a heavy administrative burden. Not only will the development, review, and management of a research program require considerable imaginative and administrative effort but, in order to focus research conclusions upon general park management problems, considerable time and effort will be required on administrative procedures and coordination.

Following the principle that scientific personnel directly involved in research responsibilities should not be distracted with administrative and operational matters, it is suggested that the research program be established under an Assistant Director for Research in the Natural Sciences who will be responsible for the administration of the research programs and for other activities directly related to the research program functions. It is further recommended that a Chief Scientist be appointed to direct the natural history research activities and the natural history research staff. The Chief Scientist would report immediately to the Assistant Director.

The Assistant Director to whom the responsibility for the research program is assigned, should be a scientist, thoroughly conversant with the general concepts of the problems to be encountered. He should have experience in working with other scientists and with research programs, and be knowledgeable in administrative techniques involved in reviewing, developing, and managing scientific programs. He must, particularly, recognize and be sympathetic with the importance of freedom of action which scientific investigation requires.

The Committee recommends that a nucleus of highly competent scientists be assembled in the headquarters of the National Park Service primarily to develop a research program in natural history, and to determine the exact extent and nature of the research problems confronting the parks with an assessment of priorities to be pursued. This nucleus should comprise at least 10 individuals including the present staff. Increases in staff, together with field personnel, should be based on the conclusions of this central group, and be determined by it.

Since the research problems of the National Park Service will involve complex biological and physical situations, emphasis should be placed on selecting scientists for the directing staff who have broad competence in their fields rather than merely specialists in particular areas or problems. Specialists, where necessary, may be sought when the problems of the parks are further defined.

Since the research program will directly relate to operational management policies of the national parks, the research program in natural history in the National Park Service should be mission-oriented; that is, it should be concerned with the problems involved in the preservation of the natural features of a park, their restoration, where necessary and possible; and the development of sound information for the interpretation of the parks to the interested public. The scientific investigators must, however, be free to pursue experiments which are in their judgment the most promising within the defined areas of the mission.

The National Park Service should not attempt to include on its natural history staff competence for every type of problem requiring mission-oriented research. Problems, specialized in nature, the solution for which may be anticipated within a limited period of time (one to five years), lend themselves to contractual arrangements for the needed research.

The permanent research staff in natural history of the National Park Service should be set up with the following criteria in mind:

It should include personnel of high scientific and administrative ability qualified to plan and direct a natural history inventory of the national parks; to assess the nature of the research problems encountered in each park and assign priority to the study and solution of these problems; to develop and direct a Service capability to conduct research on problems of long-term duration, common to multiple areas and involving interdisciplinary study; to review, approve, and coordinate proposed research in national parks by independent investigators; and to negotiate and manage research contracts for mission-oriented projects of specific problems of finite duration in which the best competence available is outside the Service.

It should be clearly realized by the Department of the Interior and by the Park Service that the results of research cannot be predicted nor prejudged. The results may not always be pleasant. They may indicate that a facility should not have been built, that a road should have been routed another way, that visitors into a particular region should not be encouraged in large numbers and without control. It may even indicate that a particular park has deteriorated so far that it can never be returned to its former state. It is the very integrity of these conclusions, however, that this Committee feels must be brought to bear upon the management problems of our national parks.

An important element of research activity is the line of communication between those directing and managing the program in Washington and those executing the research. During the course of the Committee' s investigations, two occasions were discovered in which research reports submitted by field naturalists were either held in the regional office and not forwarded to Washington or were misdirected upon arrival in the Washington office. Examples were noted of research activities conducted by independent researchers in national parks about which the Washington Office was uninformed. Regional offices have negotiated research contracts without authorization by or previous knowledge of the Washington office. In some instances, duplication of research efforts resulted or low-priority projects were supported. In order to prevent such occurrences, communication between research personnel should be direct from field to the Office of the Chief Scientist. Regional offices serve as useful supporting services to field research activities, but the direction of the professional scientific research program should center on the Office of the Chief Scientist.

The National Park Service should immediately seek authority to hire the Chief Scientist and his top scientific staff at the highest possible salary levels (GS15). The Service should also seek authority to hire research personnel under excepted positions where necessary. This authority would greatly reduce the problem of securing adequate research staff and would permit utilization of personnel for relatively short periods of time (one to three years) from universities and other non-governmental organizations.

Policies of rotation of field research personnel should be developed in such a way as to allow the individual sufficient time in a location to accomplish effective research and yet not be excluded from appropriate professional opportunities and advancement. These policies should take into account also the importance that must be placed upon continuing familiarity with developments in the fields of science. Field research personnel should have the important benefit of association and regular contact with those planning and administering the program in Washington and should be encouraged also to participate in scientific gatherings and meetings within their respective disciplines and to exchange their results within the scientific community. Finally, research personnel should be encouraged to improve their capabilities by further study, and should be permitted to take advantage of government assignments or scholarships for such purposes.

Research in natural history conducted by the National Park Service should be of such quality that the results are worthy of publication and provision should be made for prompt publication either in established journals or publications sponsored by the National Park Service. It is in the public interest that the results of research be published. The policy of publication will be an element in attracting to the research staff qualified scientists who will find through this means one method of participating in the scientific community; and the research publications will play an important part in developing the interpretation program of the Service. It should be understood, however, that not all research results will be of a publishable nature, particularly studies conducted on specific operational problems through which a problem is solved but little new knowledge is gained.

Facilities to support research may be required in connection with some of the national parks. Although much field work can be conducted satisfactorily without a nearby laboratory some research projects are made more productive by or actually require a readily accessible field laboratory with supporting living accommodations for the research personnel.

The Committee suggests that in the establishment of a research facility the following criteria are pertinent:

It should be established and controlled by the National Park Service; it should not duplicate facilities conveniently available to independent investigators or the National Park Service personnel elsewhere; it should be located in park areas already zoned for facilities and not in a natural area; it should be as simple and inconspicuous as its purposes permit. Wherever possible, consideration should be given to the desirability of constructing research centers outside the limits of a park. Some of these might be supported, administered and used jointly with other agencies or organizations.

Interpretation of the National Parks is closely associated with the research program in natural history as well as with the operational management. Through its interpretation program the National Park Service presents the natural features of the parks in their historic setting. To do this adequately requires the information developed by the research program and requires also methods and facilities for presenting the data to the public and a staff qualified to serve as interpreters of the information and its significance. During the summer months members of the interpretive staff are fully occupied in that activity; at other times of the year they could assume other duties which might well include, for those individuals interested and qualified, assignment to research duties or participation in field research. The Committee believes that interpretive personnel should be organized separately from the research personnel in natural history but well integrated with it. Although depending on the natural history research staff for information within its competency, the interpretive staff should be well grounded in science and skilled in modern techniques and media of dissemination of information to the public.

Greater use of the parks will involve deeper penetration into the areas adjacent to facilities and access roads. The Committee notes that today only about five per cent of park users penetrate farther than one-half a mile from the facilities and access routes. Heavier use of the national parks indicates a larger and deeper penetration and, if this occurs without impairing the parks, it will have to be done, in large part though not exclusively, on a guided basis. Such guiding should be included with interpretive activities. Therefore, the size of the interpretive staff in some of the parks areas will have to be greatly increased.

The Committee believes that the overall role and importance of research in natural history in the proper preservation, restoration and interpretation of the national parks is a subject which could profitably receive continued attention by the Advisory Board of National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. [1] The Committee believes also that a Scientific Advisory Committee should be established to advise the Assistant Director of Research in the Natural Sciences and the Chief Scientist on such overall policy matters in natural history as may require attention.

In addition, ad hoc scientific advisory committees for individual parks are useful. Such committees would consist of individuals familiar with the particular region and with special competence in the area in which the particular research problems might fall.

Financial support is a limiting factor in determining the extent of any program. The Committee has considered the problem of how much money could justifiably be devoted to supporting research in the national parks. To determine the cost of meeting the research needs of each park and arriving in this way at a sum total was not considered by the Committee to be feasible at this time. An examination, however, of the annual appropriations for comparable bureaus disclosed the following:

The dollars devoted to research and development and scientific information in the Department of the Interior as a whole ranged from 10 to 12 per cent of the total appropriation in the years 1960, 1961 and 1962, for the Department of Agriculture about 3 per cent and for the Department of Commerce from 9.8 to 24 per cent (Table I). The figures for comparable Services or Bureaus within these Departments show the National Park Service was next to the lowest, with less than one per cent of its annual appropriations devoted to research and development. In fact, the percentage for the National Park Service is substantially behind the percentage (2.8%) of the gross national product devoted to research and development and behind that (1.8%) of net sales in private industry. An overall consideration of the figures in Table I suggests that 10% of the annual appropriation should be a reasonable basis for estimating the cost of research and development. This would have meant for the year 1962 an allotment for research and development in the National Park Service of approximately $10,000,000 instead of the $930,000 actually available.

The budget of the 31 national parks in 1962 was $42,754,866. Applying the 10 per cent yardstick the amount of money available for research and development in the 31 national parks alone should have been not less than $4,275,000.

It is essential in future research appropriations and allocations within the National Park Service, which includes archeology, history, interpretation, landscape design and architecture, that natural history research be given support commensurate with the extent of the land in the national parks, the use of these lands, the preservation of national parks in the overall system and the key position of natural history in the preservation, restoration and interpretation of the parks.

The money spent on research and development by the National Park Service in 1962 amounted to one cent per visitor, or 0.6 cent per acre.


From Federal Organization for Scientific Activities
1962, NSP 62-37

All Figures in thousands of dollars


Department of Interior Total Appro.$750,000$837,000 $888,000
R&D Sci. Info.75,00089,000 106,000
Per Cent10%10.5% 12%

Fish & Wildlife Service Total Appro.$65,000$73,000 $83,000
R&D Sci. Info.21,00026,000 32,000
Per Cent32%35% 39%

Bureau of Mines Total Appro.$29,000$46,000 $48,000
R&D Sci. Info.25,00030,000 30,000
Per Cent86%65% 62.5%

U.S. Geological Survey Total Appro.$42,000$46,000 $50,000
R&D Sci. Info.23,00026,000 29,000
Per Cent55%56% 58%

Bureau of Land Management Total Appro.$86,000$94,000 $100,000
R&D Sci. Info.8894 94
Per Cent0.1%0.1% 0.1%

National Park Service Total Appro.$86,000$94,000 $105,000
R&D Sci. Info.726878 930
Per Cent0.85%0.93% 0.89%

Bureau of Reclamation Total Appro.$260,000$286,000 $290,000
R&D Sci. Info.1,5001,900 6,400
Per Cent0.58%0.67% 2.2%


Department of Agriculture Total Appro.$5,684,000$5,361,000 $5,509,000
R&D Sci. Info.133,000178,000 168,000
Per Cent2.3%3.3% 3.1%

Forest Service Total Appro.$210,000$324,000 $230,000
R&D Sci. Info.16,00020,000 25,000
Per Cent7.6%6.2% 11.0%


Department of Commerce Total Appro.$571,000$549,000 $612,000
R&D Sci. Info.56,00080,000 146,000
Per Cent9.8%14.7% 24.0%

National Bureau of Standards Total Appro.$19,300$445,000 $77,000
R&D Sci. Info.17,00034,000 50,000
Per Cent89.0%75.0% 65.0%

Coast & Geodetic Survey Total Appro.$14,000$23,000 $26,000
R&D Sci. Info.100410 932
Per Cent.71%1.78% 3.6%

Weather Bureau Total Appro.$51,000$60,000 $70,000
R&D Sci. Info.5,0007,000 10,000
Per Cent9.8%11.6% 14.5%

1The Advisory Board of National Parks Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments was established under the Historic Sites Act in 1935 (Section 3). Briefly the Act states that an Advisory Board will be established to advise and recommend to the Secretary of the Interior on matters concerning National Parks and the preservation, conservation, and restoration of Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments. The Advisory Board consists of 11 persons representing competence in the fields of history, archeology, architecture and human geography. The term of appointment is at the pleasure of the Secretary of the Interior and by administrative decision has been set so that several positions rotate each year. As of June 1963, the Board was composed of the following individuals:

Harold P. Fabian, Chairman, (Former Director of Utah State Parks)
Stanley A. Cain, Vice Chairman, (Chairman, Department of Conservation, University of Michigan)
E.B. Danson, Jr., Secretary, (Director, Museum of Northern Arizona)
Mrs. N.S. Dryfoos, (Wife of the late Publisher of New York Times)
Dr. Melville B. Grosvenor (President, National Geographic Society)
Dr. John A. Krout, (Director of History, Arizona State University)
Mr. Sigurd F. Olson, (Author)
Mr. Earl H. Reed, (Architect, The American Institute of Architects)
Dr. R.G. Sproul, (President Emeritus, University of California)
Dr. W.E. Stegner, (Director of Creative Writing Institute, Stanford University)
Dr. R.L. Stearns, (Citizens Committee on Modern Courts, Inc.)



Last Modified: Wed, Apr 5 2000 22:08:48 am PDT

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