National Parks
The American Experience
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Chapter 7:
Ecology Denied

A park is an artificial unit, not an independent biological unit with natural boundaries (unless it happens to be an island).

George M. Wright et al., 1933

The 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.

Leopold Committee, 1963

That total preservation was an afterthought of the twentieth century was nowhere more apparent than in the national parks. Although "complete conservation" assumed the protection of living landscapes as well as scenic wonders, each attempt to round out the parks as effective biological units proved far from successful. Traditional opponents of scenic preservation, led by resource interests and utilitarian-minded government agencies, still maintained that protection should be on a minimum scale only. To be sure, the reluctance of Congress to provide the parks an ecological as well as a scenic framework no longer could be laid to ignorance of the principles of plant and wildlife conservation. As early as 1933 the National Park Service publicized the need for broader management considerations in its precedent-breaking report, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States. Its authors, George M. Wright, Ben H. Thompson, and Joseph S. Dixon, were experts on wildlife management, natural history, and economic mammalogy, respectively. [1] "Unfortunately," they said, setting the theme of their study, "most of our national parks are mountain-top parks," comprising but "a fringe around a mountain peak," a "patch on one slope of a mountain extending to its crest," or "but portions of one slope." Each reflected the placement of "arbitrary boundaries laid out to protect some scenic feature." Park boundaries, of course, were anything but arbitrary. It was not by accident, but by design that Congress refused to accept or retain parklands with known minerals, timber, and other natural resources. Still, regardless of the reasoning behind the exclusion of such areas, the disruption of living environments which resulted was no less complete. For example, the men concluded emphatically: "It is utterly impossible to protect animals in an area so small that they are within it only a portion of the year." [2]

Yellowstone, despite its great size, already served as a dramatic case in point. While the park appeared to be a wildlife refuge by virtue of its spacious boundaries, these in fact failed to compensate for the region's high altitude, on the average of 8,000 feet. Winter cold and snow still drove most of the large mammals, including the southern elk herd, to the shelter of valleys such as Jackson Hole. Yet not until 1950, following another prolonged and emotion-charged battle, was Grand Teton National Park enlarged along its eastern flank to take in a substantial remnant of the valley and its wildlife habitat.

Although far less spectacular than the Tetons themselves, the addition was crucial to the maintenance of a living landscape. Fauna of the National Parks addressed this growing tendency to distinguish between animate and inanimate scenery. "The realization is coming that perhaps our greatest natural heritage," rather "than just scenic features . . . is nature itself, with all its complexity and its abundance of life." For the first time Americans could admit that "awesome scenery might in fact be sterile without "the intimate details of living things, the plants, the animals that live on them, and the animals that live on those animals." The enduring obstacle to sound ecological management in the national parks was the prior emphasis on setting aside purely scenic wonders. "The preponderance of unfavorable wildlife conditions," the authors continued, "is traceable to the insufficiency of park area as self-contained biological units." In "creating the nation parks a little square has been chalked across the drift of the game, and the game doesn't stay within the square." Indeed "not one park," the report concluded, "is large enough to provide year-round sanctuary for adequate populations of all resident species." [3]

To the example of Yellowstone could be added the Florida Everglades. As we have seen, in 1934 Congress authorized the southern extremity of the region as the first national park expressly designated for wilderness and wildlife protection. But because the reserve failed to include the entire ecosystem, it was vulnerable to outside development from the start. Over the years an ever-greater proportion of the natural flow of fresh water southward to the Everglades was disrupted and diverted to factories, farms, and subdivisions. Similarly, the failure of Congress to protect a complete watershed within Redwood National Park—established in 1968—soon loomed as the major threat to its integrity as well. Often loggers clear-cut the adjacent forests right up to the park boundaries, thus subjecting hundreds of great trees which supposedly had been "saved" to the threat of being undermined by flash floods and mudslides from the logging sites. No longer could Congress claim ignorance about the ecological needs of the region; the redwoods, like Jackson Hole and the Everglades, were simply the latest victims of political and economic reality.

Each new controversy mirrored its predecessors. Throughout the twentieth century, parks that came easily into the fold were still, to the best of knowledge at the time, economically valueless from the standpoint of their natural wealth, if not their potential for outdoor recreation. The Big Bend country of southwest Texas, for example, authorized as a national park in 1935, drew little objection. After all, the region was predominantly rugged, arid, inaccessible, and well removed from the centers of commercial activity in the state. [4]

The exceptions to the rule could still be expected to arouse far greater opposition. The proposed Olympic national park in Washington, with its prized stands of Douglas fir, red cedar, Western hemlock, and Sitka spruce, was a noted example. Preservationists had never been pleased with the reduction of the national monument by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915; accordingly, during the 1930s they mounted a campaign to restore the lost acreage to the monument and designate the whole a national park.

The heated exchange touched off by the plan is still recalled among the protagonists. From the outset preservationists insisted that Olympic National Park protect the unique rain forests of the Olympic peninsula, not merely, in the words of one supporter, "an Alpine area [of] little or no commercial value." [5] The vociferous opposition of the lumber industry and U.S. Forest Service made it inevitable that the bulk of the reserve would be so structured; still, in 1938 preservationists won a partial victory with the inclusion of several broad expanses of rain forest in the new Olympic National Park. [6]

The presence of the tracts, of course, provided a basis for opponents of the park to request reductions. During World War II, for example, the secretary of the interior was asked to open the reserve to logging to bolster the nation's war effort. When Germany and Japan surrendered, the lumber companies merely switched back to decrying the park as a hindrance to the region's economy. Throughout the 1950s they stepped up their campaign against the reserve; occasional challenges during the 1960s served further notice that preservation remained vulnerable to attack whenever and wherever resources in quantity could be found. [7]

The establishment of Kings Canyon National Park, California, lying immediately north of Sequoia National Park, was somewhat less controversial, but no less difficult to effect. As early as 1891 John Muir called for protection of the gorge in Century Magazine. The forty-nine-year delay in creating the reserve was a direct reflection of strong opposition by water-power interests. Only when it became evident that dams sufficient to meet the need for water storage and electricity could be located elsewhere did the protests against the park subside. Congress then agreed access into Kings Canyon should be limited and the region managed to insure the protection of its "wilderness character." [8] As a result, preservationists hailed Kings Canyon National Park as another milestone on the road to total preservation.

The status of Kings Canyon as part of the public domain, nonetheless, aided its protection. The same was true of Olympic National Park. To create each reserve the federal government merely transferred title to the land from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Park Service. [9] Areas such as Jackson Hole, where substantial inholdings of private land made the creation of parks considerably more complex, provided a more accurate assessment of the degree of commitment to preservation on the part of Congress. By 1940 still another decade of controversy lay ahead before Jackson Hole would be linked with Grand Teton National Park. The mere mention of the valley now aroused development-conscious groups throughout the West to a fever pitch. Collectively they viewed John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s philanthropy as the epitome of outside interference and the threat of government by legislative decree. The issue was not merely his purchase of the land in secret, but that he fully intended to take all of it out of production by donating it to the National Park Service.

In 1943 the Jackson Hole controversy came to a head. Acting with the assurance that Rockefeller intended to divest his holdings in the valley within a year, on March 13 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the entire north end of Jackson Hole a national monument. The bulk of the reserve had been carved from the Teton National Forest, which, when combined with the property of the Snake River Land Company, brought the addition to approximately 221,000 acres. [10]

The storm of protest unleashed by Roosevelt's decree echoed throughout the Rocky Mountain West. "It is unthinkable that this hunters' paradise should be molested in any way," Congressman Frank A. Barrett of Wyoming said, leading the attack for dissolution of Jackson Hole National Monument. There followed the standard argument that the only "real" scenery in the region was the mountains themselves. "The addition of farm and ranch lands and sagebrush flats is not going to enhance the beauty of the Tetons." That, of course, was not the point, as Newton B. Drury, director of the Park Service, testified in rebuttal. The national park idea now rest ed on the preservation of animate scenery as well as natural wonders. "Visitors to national parks and monuments take great pleasure and obtain valuable education in viewing many species of strange animals living under natural conditions," Drury explained. Given the proximity of Jackson Hole to Grand Teton National Park, its proper role was not, as Representative Barrett argued, simply to provide that sense of freedom sought by hunters "to pursue and kill the big game that for so many years roamed our western plains." Rather Congress must insure the protection and restoration of all parts "of the wildlife picture" in the valley, including "the largest herd of elk in America." [11]

And yet, as had happened so often in the past, the identification of commercial uses for Jackson Hole, in this instance hunting, ranching, and farming, swayed Congress to the side of development. In December 1944 a bill introduced by Representative Barrett for dissolution of Jackson Hole National Monument easily passed both the House and Senate; only President Roosevelt's veto staved off abolishment of the reserve. [12]

Such a narrow defeat, however, foreshadowed the certainty of Barrett's attempt to revive the proposal. That the bill also failed its second time around could be laid to the length and intensity of the controversy. As both sides tired of the struggle, the prospects for a compromise measurably improved. With the assurance that an agreement would be reached, on December 16, 1949, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., deeded his property in Jackson Hole (its total cost of acquisition was roughly $1.5 million) over to the federal government. It remained for Congress to work out the details of the compromise legislation. With its approval by President Harry S Truman on September 14, 1950, Jackson Hole National Monument was abolished and rededicated as a portion of Grand Teton National Park. [13]

Cosmetically the addition was a great success. What may rightfully be called the "frame" of the Tetons, the sweeping vistas across Jackson Hole, Jackson Lake, and the Snake River, no longer could be marred by billboards, tourist traps, and other forms of visual blight. Those preservationists who still considered the park inadequate listed its failures in terms of total conservation. As one illustration, Congress did not accept the recommendation that Jackson Hole and the Tetons be made contiguous with Yellowstone, their geographic partner. In between lay a wide corridor managed by the U.S. Forest Service, whose philosophy of management usually clashed with the idea of preservation for its own sake. In effect, two agencies were responsible for what was in fact a single ecosystem. Even more revealing, however, was a provision in the park act that provided for sport shooting. To quiet the objections of sportsmen who opposed the addition of Jackson Hole to Grand Teton National Park as an infringement on traditional recreation, periodically a specified number might enter the preserve as "deputized rangers," ostensibly to assist the Park Service in maintaining the elk herd at optimum size. Of course the "deputies" were simply hunters under a less offensive title. Even to claim they would fill the void left by the extinction of natural predators, and cull only the weaker and diseased elk from the herd, was naive at best. [14]

Thanks to the efforts of wildlife conservationists, the southern elk herd no longer was threatened with extinction, but Grand Teton National Park was still not a self-contained biological unit. In this regard the situation in the Florida Everglades was also very frustrating. As set forth with authorization of the park in 1934, the Everglades could not in fact be dedicated as a national park until the state had purchased the land and deeded it to the federal government. Furthermore, congressional opponents of the enabling act, who in 1934 heralded the project as a "snake swamp park," had won an amendment to the legislation prohibiting any financial support from Congress for management of the Everglades until 1939. [15]

There were also setbacks in acquiring the land. To insure the biological integrity of the Everglades, the region had to be purchased promptly and completely. The act of 1934 called for the preservation "of approximately two thousand square miles . . . of Dade, Monroe, and Collier Counties." But not until 1957, fully ten years after dedication of the park, was the process of acquisition anywhere near complete. Even then protection of the region was not assured. Fully 93 percent of the Everglades proper was outside the preserve and earmarked for additional farms, water-storage basins, and flood-control projects. Similarly, the Big Cypress Swamp, another critical aquifer to the northwest, was beyond the park boundaries and thus still subject to intensive development. [16]

Few parks, as a result, were more fitting testimony to the cliche "too little, too late." Many had held from the start that the project should be closer to 2 million acres instead of its current 1.4 million. The title "Everglades" National Park was somewhat misleading. In reality the preserve included only a representative portion of the sawgrass province, and that with the least potential for development. Nearly as much of the park consisted of the mangrove forests, sloughs, and tidelands along the coast. Still, even this far south recharges of fresh water are essential for maintaining the life-cycle of the region. Wood ibis, for example, breed successfully only when high water facilitates the reproduction of large populations of fish close to the nesting sites. In addition, the physical substrata must be replenished periodically to hold back salt-laden intrusions from the sea. [17]

It followed that the placement of new dikes and drainage canals across the watershed north of the park jeopardized the entire preserve. In 1961 that possibility became a reality as a prolonged drought occurred throughout southern Florida. Peter Farb, a naturalist and writer, described his return to the Everglades at the height of the tragedy. "I found no Eden but rather a waterless hell under a blazing sun. Everywhere I saw Everglades drying up, the last drops of water evaporating from water holes, creeks and sloughs." [18]

Drought by itself was not unusual to the region; what turned this particular dry spell into a crisis was the policy of withholding water from the Everglades for agricultural uses, or shunting it seaward to check the mere possibility of floods. In 1962 engineers completed yet another major link in the system of levees south of Lake Okeechobee. For the first time drainage into the park could be shut off completely. Three years later, for example, engineers lowered Lake Okeechobee in anticipation of a normal wet season by flushing more than 280,000 acre feet of water directly into the sea. Yet although the Everglades was starved for water, supplying the region still would have been impossible. A hydrologist, William J. Schneider, summed up the problem: "under the existing canal system" the excess water could not be moved from Lake Okeechobee to the national park "without also pouring it across the farmlands in-between." [19]

Although the farms prospered at the expense of the park, it was pointless to suggest they be destroyed to save it in return. Instead the Park Service took advantage of near-record precipitation in 1966 to work out an interim agreement with the Florida Board of Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for scheduled releases of water into the park from bordering conservation districts. The extent of damage to the region nevertheless continued to haunt preservationists: Would the water be enough, they asked, and in time? And what of the future? Only Congress might seal the agreement and guarantee water to the park, the historian, Wallace Stegner, concluded the following year. "Nobody else can. The most that anyone else can do is slow down the inevitable." [20]

Guaranteed protection of the Everglades depended on unified management of the entire ecosystem south of Lake Okeechobee. Long before realization of the national park, however, any hope of acquiring such a vast area—on the order of three to four times the size of Yellowstone—had vanished. Congress might have condemned the private land, of course; indeed, for a nation now reaching toward outer space, the cost of such a park seemed infinitesimal by comparison. Yet it required little understanding of American culture to perceive that support for technological advancement was on a level all its own. Not until 1961, with authorization of Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts, did the federal government relax its own requirement that national parks outside the public domain be purchased by the states or private philanthropists. Before Congress might agree to extend the power of eminent domain to regions of the magnitude of the Everglades, however, the traditions and values of the United States would have to undergo a truly revolutionary reappraisal.

So far Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior, had come closest to the ideal ecological preserve by virtue of its island status, isolation, and nearly complete ownership by the federal government. But Isle Royale was to remain the classic exception. For a time during the 1960s, it seemed the retention of an entire, integral ecosystem within a single national park in the West might be accomplished in the California coast redwoods. The trees sweep down to the sea in a narrow band from the Oregon border south to Monterey Bay. Prior to white settlement, pure and mixed stands of coast redwood covered approximately two million acres, roughly the equivalent of Yellowstone National Park. In river valleys facing the coast, a combination of rich alluvial soil, ocean rains, and blanketing fog often propels many specimens to heights well above 300 feet (the present record is 367 feet). With age many of the trees also broaden at the base, commonly attaining diameters of between 10 and 15 feet. Inland the giants give way to relatives of moderate size and species of lower moisture-dependence. Yet even here, what a redwood lacks in girth and height is more than compensated for by its color and grace. [21]

During the closing third of the nineteenth century, a similar assessment had been enough to win national park status for its distant counterpart, the Sierra redwood. Loggers knew beforehand, of course, that Sierra redwood was so brittle the trees often shattered when toppled to the ground. Coast redwood, in marked contrast, turned out to be lightweight, pest resistant, and highly durable. In short, its quality as lumber was superior. To forestall the inevitable assault against the species, as early as 1852 a California assemblyman, H. A. Crabb, called for the withdrawal of "all public lands upon which the Redwood is growing." Not surprisingly, the plan went nowhere. In 1879 Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz resurrected a much reduced version of Crabb's proposal, one calling for the protection of a mere 46,000 acres of the trees. But again the effort was to no avail. Not until 1901, with the establishment of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, near Santa Cruz, were several major groves of the great trees spared from the logger's axe. [22]

Meanwhile, aided by weak land laws and the almost total absence of their enforcement, private claimants had defrauded the federal government of nearly 100 percent of the entire redwood region. Now properties once parkland for the taking would have to be repurchased at considerable expense. The state took the first initiative with the creation of Big Basin, in Santa Cruz County. In 1908 a California Congressman, William Kent, and his wife donated another major grove to the federal government. This was a 295-acre expanse beneath Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco. The Kents' only pre-conditions were that the land be managed as a park and named in honor of their friend, John Muir. President Theodore Roosevelt gladly complied with both terms and proclaimed the tract Muir Woods National Monument. [23]

Congress itself still had no intention of repossessing large portions of the redwoods, either for parks or national forests. As with Muir Woods, the initiative for protection of the trees fell largely to private groups and individuals. The Save-the-Redwoods League, organized in 1918, assumed leadership in the private sector. At first league members were committed to "a National Redwood Park." In the face of persistent congressional indifference to the proposal, however, they agreed lands purchased by the group should be donated to California for management as state parks on the order of Big Basin. By 1964 state park holdings of virgin redwood totalled 50,000 acres, thanks to the efforts of the league, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and numerous other philanthropists large and small. In fact, of the $16 million used to establish redwood parks, better than 50 percent had been subscribed by members of the Save-the-Redwoods League. [24]

From north to south, the league gave priority to rounding out five projects—Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, Prairie Creek, Humboldt, and Big Basin state parks. At first the league concentrated on purchasing the low-lying river flats and nearby benchlands, which supported the largest of the trees. As more of the giants were acquired, the focus of protection shifted to forests upslope and upstream. The league admitted to prospective members that these areas contained fewer of the "cathedral-like groves," those "stretching back into the centuries and forging a noble link with the past." But no longer was monumentalism the only perspective at stake. Logging damage adjacent to the monumental groves underscored to the league the futility of trying to save the redwoods without acquiring complete watersheds wherever possible. For example, severe flooding along Bull Creek in Humboldt State Park during the winter of 1955-56 toppled 300 of its largest redwoods and undermined an additional 225. Although preservationists conceded that record rainfall was a major contributing factor, as much of the damage, they maintained, could be laid to the effects of clear-cutting the forest adjacent to the park. With no trees or groundcover to check the rush of water down the slopes, the torrent swept on, gathering force from suspended mud and debris. When the crest finally subsided, better than 15 percent of Humboldt Park's primeval, bottom-land growth lay heaped and tangled along the banks of Bull Creek. [25]

Awareness of the need to provide the redwoods an ecological framework based on the security of major watersheds reawakened serious discussion about a redwood national park. Left to private philanthropy alone the costs of such a project were far too great. Newton B. Drury, former Park Service director, and now secretary of the Save-the-Redwoods League, took stock of the enormity of the task. "It is recognized that even when all the spectacular cathedral-like stands of Redwoods along the river bottoms and the flats have been acquired, the lands surrounding them must be preserved for administrative and protective reasons." Preservationists now faced the challenge of "rounding out complete areas, involving basins and watersheds in their entirety." [26] As justification for this approach, the league recalled the flooding of Bull Creek. "The big lesson from the tragedy," another environmentalist, Russell D. Butcher, stated in pleading for Congress to intervene, is the importance of protecting not only the particular scenic-scientific park features, in this case the unsurpassed stands of coast redwoods, but of bringing under some degree of control the surrounding, ecologically-related lands—the upper slopes of the same watershed." [27]

Mill Creek, within and adjacent to Jedediah Smith and Del Norte Coast state parks, had a financial edge. A national park here required $56 million as opposed to a minimum of nearly three times that amount along Redwood Creek, adjoining Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. [28] In deference to these figures, the Save-the-Redwoods League endorsed the Mill Creek watershed as the best site for national park status. In 1964, however, the Sierra Club, dismayed by the league's conservatism, quoted a study by the National Park Service which concluded that Redwood Creek was indeed the superior location. Despite the report, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, and the National Park Service opted early for Mill Creek as the alternative most likely to receive congressional approval in time to forestall the threat of additional logging damage. [29] Disheartened, the Sierra Club took its case to the public in a series of controversial advertisements. "Mr. President," an example published in 1967 began: "There is one great forest of redwoods left on earth; but the one you are trying to save isn't it. . . . Meanwhile they are cutting down both of them." [30]

The irony of the crisis was the degree to which the preservationists' once popular imagery of the redwoods as "monuments" could now be turned against the advancement of ecological conservation. By far the most common rebuttal to either project took the form of statements to the effect that the best individual trees already had been set aside by the state; protection of the groves as a whole was therefore pointless. In this vein Governor Ronald Reagan of California himself reportedly remarked: "If you've seen one redwood tree, you've seen them all." Such statements implied that Americans in truth looked upon the redwoods much as the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, or other "wonders." Setting aside the phenomenon by itself, or merely a representative sample of it, would be more than adequate. Lumber companies and their workers similarly attacked the park proposal by arguing that the area's cool, damp climate discouraged tourism in the first place. As for protection of the redwoods and their watersheds, that, too, was best left to industry officials. Surely, they concluded, their long-term investments in mills and other capital improvements testified to their commitment to practice sound environmental conservation. [31]

The point of contention was the breadth of that commitment. Where it failed to include the protection of old-growth redwoods, for example, or the avoidance of widespread damage to watersheds prior to the reestablishment of second-growth stands, preservationists remained unconvinced. In either case, once more they found the economic rationales against the national park impossible to overcome effectively. As approved in October 1968, the reserve contained neither the Mill Creek nor Redwood Creek watersheds in their entirety. Instead, Congress used the three existing state parks in the region as a core, then joined them together with narrow bands of land added to their peripheries. Accordingly, conformity of the national park to area watersheds was literally nonexistent. Of the 30,000 acres acquired to link the California parks, moreover, only 10,000 were previously unprotected virgin forest. [32]

The affected lumber companies received $92 million. Congress further authorized the exchange of 14,000 acres of government redwoods—the only such parcel then in federal ownership—for other corporate holdings within the projected park. Finally, Congress restricted cutting trees adjacent to the reserve only to the possible imposition of a ban against logging within a narrow buffer zone no more than 800 feet across. [33]

With this concession, preservationists might well conclude that the real victors in the controversy were the lumber companies. To allow logging so close to the national park defeated the very purpose that had guided the campaign since the tragedy of Bull Creek. It was argued, of course, that no national park in the twentieth century realistically could include everything its supporters might want. Still, the Sierra Club insisted, even higher estimates for the park on Redwood Creek—in the neighborhood of $200 million—were but a fraction of a single moon shot or segment of interstate highway. To the Sierra Club the issue was not whether the United States could afford the redwoods, but whether or not it wanted them preserved intact. "History will think it most strange," a club advertisement bitterly concluded, "that Americans could afford the Moon and $4 billion airplanes, while a patch of primeval redwoods—not too big for a man to walk through in a day—was considered beyond its means." [34]

The failure of the park as established to guarantee even the future of the world's tallest trees only reinforced the skepticism of the Sierra Club and its supporters. In 1963 a team of surveyors enlisted by the National Geographic Society discovered the giants on private land beside Redwood Creek. The following year news of their find inspired a lead article in National Geographic and aroused considerable interest. [35] But although discovery of the big trees influenced establishment of the national park, they were included only by virtue of a narrow corridor of land paralleling both sides of the streambed. Indeed, no portion of the reserve more graphically displayed the degree of gerrymandering involved in laying out the park to the specifications of the lumber industry. On both sides of the "thumb" or "worm," as the strip came to be known, the cutting of redwoods continued unabated. In 1975 park officials predicted the worst. With the advent of the rainy season, it appeared the tall trees would be toppled by runoff and mudslides from the nearby logging sites. The grove was still standing two years later, but neither the president, secretary of the interior, or the courts had yet intervened to stop the loggers. To the contrary, a state official confessed to reporters, odds the trees would survive were still "very low." [36]

With its prized possessions thus jeopardized, Redwood National Park testified to the entrenchment of those shortcomings identified in 1933 by George M. Wright, Ben H. Thompson, and Joseph S. Dixon in their study, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States. In the fate of the "worm" was recent proof of their assessment that few national parks provided for the broader, more intricate needs of biological conservation. Indeed, scientific reports kept drawing the same conclusions. In 1963, for example, a team of distinguished scientists chaired by A. Starker Leopold, a zoologist of the University of California at Berkeley, released its own appraisal of the ecology picture, Wildlife Management in the National Parks. "The major policy change which we would recommend to the National Park Service," the Leopold Committee advised, "is that it recognize the enormous complexity of ecologic communities and the diversity of management procedures required to preserve them." In 1967 yet another statement of the problem appeared, Man and Nature in the National Parks, by F. Fraser Darling and Noel D. Eichhorn. "We start from the point of view that the national park idea is a major and unique contribution to world culture by the United States." Still, they could do little more than uncover new evidence to vindicate their predecessors' findings. "We have the uncomfortable feeling," they wrote, concurring with the Leopold Committee, "that such members of the National Park Service as have a high ecological awareness are not taking a significant part in the formulation of policy." The statement was hardly cause for optimism; still, Darling and Eichhorn were confident park management could be steered in the proper direction. [37]

The future of the national parks, however, was actually in the hands of Congress more than the Park Service. For the reserves to be managed as biological units, Congress first must provide them with enough land. Its reluctance to do so said as much about national priorities in the 1960s as when the park idea was realized. From Jackson Hole to the Everglades to the redwoods, park boundaries were silent but firm testimony to the limitations long imposed on complete conservation in the United States. If studies by groups such as the Leopold Committee merely seemed repetitious of earlier findings, the fault lay elsewhere. Simply, Congress had not yet heeded past insight and rounded out at least a few of the parks to conform to the realities of the environment, not just the dictates of the economy.


National Parks: The American Experience
©1997, University of Nebraska Press
runte1/chap7.htm — 17-Mar-2004