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


This Committee has stated that in its opinion the National Park Service must manage to some degree the lands which fall within the National Park System. The Committee has stated further that the management of any enterprise cannot be effective unless the objectives of the enterprise are clearly defined and well understood, and plans are devised to accomplish the objectives.

Plans must be based on information of the resources (inventory) of the activity, on its problems, and on its relation with other similar activities; and they must be implemented by adequate and competent personnel, properly organized, motivated, and supported financially.

Research is an essential part of the program outlined above and its use a necessity in each of the steps. These elementary principles apply to the national parks as well as to a business or any other organized activity.

The Committee has based its recommendations on these considerations, as well as on its acquaintance with the parks and their problems and begs leave to submit the following:

1. The objectives or purposes of each national park should be defined.

COMMENT: Each national park was established because of the potential esthetic, educational, scientific and cultural values of its natural history and/or its human history. The features of a park which make the values possible of attainment should be carefully defined to serve as the basis for operational management. They should be preserved and restored, where necessary, and provisions made for their proper enjoyment and use by the people. The objectives should exclude the use of the national parks for amusement or such mass recreation as requires elaborate facilities or extensive and/or artificial modification of the natural features of a park. The Committee endorses, in this respect, the conclusion of the report: "Wildlife Management in the National Parks." Zoning of a national park into, for example, natural undisturbed areas, naturalistic areas, public use areas and Park Service facility areas is suggested.

2. Inventory and mapping of the natural history resources of each park should be made.

COMMENT: Such an inventory should cover the past as well as the present, and include information on topography, geology, climate, water regime, soil types, flora and fauna and natural communities. Mapping, including aerial maps, should cover species distributions, natural communities, land use, archeology and such other mappable features as may be of importance in the park.

An inventory serves as a basis for judging changes, good or bad, in the condition of a park, supplies the information necessary for interpreting the area to the public, and is essential for proper operational management, as well as for further research.

3. A distinction should be made between administration, operational management, and research management.

COMMENT: Research is essential to solve problems of operational management whether the latter concerns preservation, restoration, interpretation or the use of the parks by the public. Administration, the management of research and the management of operations require somewhat different though well recognized administrative procedures. In most situations, the following steps are involved:

1) Identification and definition of the problem or situation;

2) Research, or fact finding, based on observation and/or experimentation;

3) Administrative action which involves decision on a course of action, grounded on the findings and recommendations of research and such other considerations as may be involved; and

4) Operational management, which means the implementation of the decisions by the appropriate operational division.

4. A permanent, independent, and identifiable research unit should be established within the National Park Service to conduct and supervise research in natural history in the national parks, and to serve as consultant on natural history problems for the entire National Park System.

COMMENT: In order to maintain objectivity, the principal research organization should be independent of operational management. It should provide knowledge which would allow predictions of the consequences of alternate lines of action or inaction. Close liaison should be maintained between the research unit and the administrative and operating divisions in order that the results of research may be adequately applied. All branches of the service should participate fully in identifying problems and in preparing programs and budgets for research. The research staff should have complete freedom in the execution of an approved research program, in evaluating the results, in reporting the findings and in making recommendations based on the findings. There should be free communication on research ideas and research accomplishment from anywhere in the National Park Service to and from the top research staff. Provision should be made to enable the research staff to maintain close association with other scientists.

5. The research unit in natural history in the National Park Service should be organized as a line arrangement with an "Assistant Director for Research in the Natural Sciences" reporting to the Director of the National Park Service.

COMMENT: A nucleus of highly competent scientists headed by a Chief Scientist should be assembled in the headquarters of the National Park Service. This nucleus should comprise at least 10 individuals -- including the present staff. The scientific group in Washington should be supported by an appropriate staff of natural history specialists available for field assignments and other research. The committee emphasizes that quality is more important than numbers and that a selective and flexible approach to research problems is likely to be most profitable in the long term. Field research personnel should report directly to the Washington staff, and should be administered by personnel management policies compatible with their responsibilities.

6. Most of the research by the National Park Service should be mission-oriented.

COMMENT: The National Park Service should direct its in-service research mainly toward the problems involved in the preservation and/or restoration of the national parks for the esthetic, educational and scientific values and toward the adequate interpretation of these values. The solution of some of the problems may extend beyond the conventional bounds of natural history and involve, at least temporarily, contributions by, for example, economists, social scientists, and engineers. The problem should be emphasized and assistance for its solution sought wherever competence may be found. When appropriate, mission-oriented research should be carried out on a contract basis with universities or private research organizations.

7. The National Park Service should itself plan and administer its own mission-oriented research program directed toward the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the national parks.

COMMENT: The mission of the Service in the preservation of the total environment is a unique responsibility. The research program necessary to support this objective is of a scope and character different from that of any other institution or land management agency. The Service must therefore accept the responsibility for the planning, administration and conduct of its own research program. While it may, and is encouraged to utilize the specialized services of other agencies and institutions, it cannot abrogate its responsibilities for the direction and execution of its own mission-oriented research program.

8. Research should be designed to anticipate and prevent problems in operational management as well as to meet those which have already developed.

COMMENT: A limited staff which has inadequate support can deal only with immediate "brush fire" problems; that is to say, it can deal only with situations which have already become critical and perhaps irreparable. A research staff adequate in competence and numbers can conduct research from long-term considerations, detect problems before they become critical and offer alternate choices of action for their solution.

9. A research program should be prepared for each park.

COMMENT: A basic goal of management should be to perpetuate and where necessary restore the values which justified the parks' creation and maintenance. A program of research studies needed to provide management with the information required to reach this goal should be established and implemented with the requisite funds and personnel.

10. Consultation with the research unit in natural history of the National Park Service should precede all decisions on management operations involving preservation, restoration, development, protection and interpretation, and the public use of a park.

COMMENT: The Committee discovered or had its attention called to numerous instances in which consultation with qualified scientists would have prevented or modified a development or operation which had harmful effects on a park or required expensive changes to prevent or correct such effects. Operational management is sensible of this need, as judged by frequent unsolicited comments to the Committee, but is handicapped by limited research staff available for consultation or by failures in communication.

11. Research on aquatic life, as well as on that existing on and above the land, should be pursued to assist in determining general policies for the maintenance of natural conditions for their scientific, educational, and cultural values.

COMMENT: The Committee recognizes that serious management problems for the preservation and restoration of aquatic life in the parks exist and that research is needed to arrive at rational decisions on these problems. They arise in part from the use of rotenone or other poisons as a fish management tool, the effects on aquatic life of motorboat traffic, sport fishing, the introduction of exotic forms and their effects on native aquatic life. The so-called "barren" lakes and streams are devoid of game fish but are of considerable scientific interest because of that fact. Each of these raise questions which can be properly settled only through the results of research.

12. Research should include specific attention to significant changes in land use, in other natural resource use, or in other economic activities on areas adjacent to national parks, and likely to affect the parks.

COMMENT: The problems of operating a park to meet objectives given the National Park Service by legislation are closely related to events in areas surrounding each of the parks. Effective, economical administration of each park could be materially aided by timely research of a modest extent on resource use in such surrounding areas. This research could be carried on jointly with the other agencies directly concerned.

13. Research laboratories or centers should be established for a national park when justified by the nature of the park and the importance of the research.

COMMENT: Such research laboratories or centers should not only serve the staff of the National Park Service but also scientists from universities and independent research organizations. Control of such centers should remain with the National Park Service. The location of such centers, and access to them, should be such as will not destroy other values of a park nor interfere with the proper use and enjoyment of a park by the public. Consideration should be given to establishing research centers, whenever possible, outside the limits of a park in some instances supported, administered and used jointly with other agencies or organizations.

14. The results of research undertaken by the National Park Service should be publishable and should be published.

COMMENT: Research in natural history carried out by the National Park Service should be of such quality that the results are worthy of publication and should be published. Although the research conducted by the National Park Service should be directed primarily toward park problems, it is in the public interest that the results be made available through publication, either in established journals or in a series sponsored by the National Park Service. It is recognized that on occasion research may be undertaken the results of which are not of general interest and do not require publication. Such investigations should be exceptions and not the rule. Additional substantial financial support should be furnished the National Service for research in the national parks.

15. Additional substantial financial support should be furnished the National Park Service for research in the national parks.

COMMENT: The Committee could not in the time available and from the data at hand, estimate the total cost of research, based upon the needs of each park. The Committee noted, however, that on the average, approximately 10 per cent of the annual budget was devoted in 1962 to research and development by those government agencies comparable to the National Park Service. The Committee considers this to be a reasonable basis for establishing a research budget and recommends that research in the National Park Service be supported at a level consistent with that of comparable agencies.

The Committee strongly urges that in future research appropriations and allotments within the National Park Service natural history research be given support commensurate with the key position of natural history in the preservation, restoration and interpretation of the parks. The number, variety and extent of the national parks, their unique character and international significance, as well as the complexity of their problems suggest that the allotment of money to research be of the order recommended above.

16. Cooperative planning as a result of research should be fostered with other agencies which administer public and private lands devoted to conservation and to recreation.

COMMENT: Various agencies in the federal government, the states, municipalities, universities, and other private or public organizations administer lands devoted to conservation and to recreation of one type or another. The National Park Service should be fully cognizant of the resources, objectives, and activities of these areas, and cooperate fully with those responsible for their administration, especially as related to natural history research.

17. Universities, private research institutions, and qualified independent investigators should be encouraged to use the national parks in teaching and research.

COMMENT: The national parks are a national and international scientific resource. In some respects, their natural history is unique or nearly so. They are outdoor laboratories of great scientific value and should be made available to independent investigators when the research work does not threaten deterioration of the park or interfere with its appropriate use by the public and when it can be effectively facilitated by the staff of the National Park Service.

18. Consideration should be given to including in the budget of the National Park Service an item for aid to advanced students who wish to conduct research in the national parks.

COMMENT: A program of this character should be considered in part a training program and a practical source of future personnel. Support for field work by advanced students is frequently inadequate, especially in natural history. It is recognized that the supervision of students places responsibilities on park personnel, and that provision for adequate supervision should be a part of any plan of the nature recommended. An expansion of those aspects of the Student Conservation Program concerned with the support of advanced students as Assistant Ranger Naturalists should be considered.

19. A Scientific Advisory Committee for the National Park Service should be established, and Scientific Advisory Committees for individual parks are desirable.

COMMENT: Such Advisory Committees should be working committees concerned with park problems. It should be clearly understood, however, that advisory committees are advisory, not decision-making bodies. The practice of engaging the assistance of ad hoc committees for special park problems should be continued.

20. Action in implementing the recommendations of this Committee's report should be taken promptly.

COMMENT: Time is an essential factor in dealing with forces that threaten the existence of certain indigenous animal and plant species and threaten or otherwise degrade park values, in some instances beyond the possibility of restoration. Among these factors are excessive human use, overgrazing, the invasion of park areas by aggressive exotic flora and fauna and interference with water supply. Studies are urgently needed to provide the basis for prompt action.



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

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