San Juan Island
Administrative History
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Resource Management

Natural Resources


Most people are surprised to learn the annual rainfall levels for the San Juan Islands. Lying in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the islands receive an average annual total of 29 inches. Water shortage is nothing new to the island and it is an issue all development on the island must address. Water shortages occur during the summer months, when visitation is highest. Shortages in 1985 resulted in the UW archaeological field school and the park splitting the cost of buying water for project excavation needs.

English Camp falls within the normal island average for rainfall. However, at American Camp, the southernmost point in the islands, the annual average is only 19 inches. Maintaining a proper water supply at American Camp has been a difficult issue for the park service. It has also been a public relations issue, as development on Cattle Point has pressed the NPS for access to water sources in the American Camp area.

In 1987, the Cape San Juan Water District requested to drill water wells on park property. They proposed the wells would aid in the park's fire management needs. In return for drilling the wells, residential development on Cattle Point would be allowed access to them. Superintendent Hoffman, in consultation with the regional office, declined their request. The water district representatives inquired about going above Hoffman to have their request re-appraised. Hoffman informed them that they had every right to do so, but let them know the regional office had already helped him make the decision and that a congressional delegate would hear the same answer from the park and region.

The park has consistently maintained its position regarding water access at American Camp for Cattle Point development, despite outside attempts to exert pressure through political channels and through public opinion. The NPS position remains that allowing developers access to American Camp water would not solve their problem. Inadequate water supply was one reason that large scale development had not occurred prior to preservation under national park service management. Residential use on Cattle Point combined with increased visitor use would dry up the park. The park's resources simply are not adequate to support anything beyond visitor use and facility needs.

In 1994, Cattle Point Estates requested drilling, testing, and utilization of a number of potential well sites on Mt. Finlayson with a 100-foot protective easement. The park denied the request. In 1996, they repeated the request, this time also requesting access to two capped wells on park property. When the second request was denied, the park received a congressional inquiry from Senator Slade Gorton's office about the denial. The park sent the same response to Gorton's office outlining their reasons. The park received no further communications from the senator's office. [23]


The rabbit populations on the island have been a problem for all residents, not just the park. However, the park has the largest concentration of them at American Camp. Introduced in the 1880s by settlers, the European rabbit was established as a wild animal on the island by 1895. In the 1920s and 30s, the rabbit population soared. The prairie setting of American Camp was prime burrowing land for the animals.

The rabbit population presents a few problems for the park service. The rabbits construct "warrens", and their burrowing and grazing destroy the historic prairie setting that the park aims to preserve. One rabbit in a year can burrow 20 meters and researchers estimated in the mid-1980s that some of American Camp's warrens were over 30 years old. [24] The rabbit's grazing patterns also affects the park's efforts to replant and regenerate native plant species.

Burrowing in general creates a safety hazard, and notices asking visitors to mind their step to avoid broken ankles are posted. On another level, burrowing can cause damage to subsurface cultural resources and structures and may have threatened the Redoubt's structural stability. The rabbits can also entice armed hunters, and hunting is illegal in the park.

Park management has speculated about methods of controlling the creatures and what should and should not be attempted to control them. In the end, nature has come through with its own regulation methods, much to the mystery of those who have studied the rabbit populations throughout the years. In 1980, 1981, and 1983, rabbit birth rates fell off. Females were miscarrying and the birth rate dropped dramatically (commonly referred to as "the crash"). Rabbit levels remained low during the mid-1980s.

Research has been completed by University of Washington professors W. Fredrick Stevens and A.R. Weisbrod, who also completed an interpretive book for sale to the public, titled The Rabbits of San Juan Island National Historical Park. The university conducted studies of the rabbit from 1973 to 1984, through the decline. Then in 1985, Olympic National Park biologist Doug Houston began a ten-year study of the rabbits. Houston annually counted warrens and took a photographic record of vegetation changes through eleven camera points. By 1995, the eleventh year of Houston's studies, the rabbit population was again on the rise, with abandoned warrens being repopulated.

Currently, the park has no plans for the rabbits and continues to monitor population levels. While not back to pre-crash levels, the rabbit population has risen considerably again.


Eighteen species of raptors have been observed on San Juan Island, including Peregrine falcons and marbled murrelets. [25] Bird species commonly seen in the park include wild turkeys and Canada geese. Bald eagles, the only known threatened species to inhabit the park, often draw visitors interested in wildlife viewing. During the 1970s, the park was involved with the Seattle zoo in environmental programs focusing on Bald eagles. During the 1990s, a pair of bald eagles nested right outside the visitor center at American Camp. Monitoring of bald eagle nests and populations continues to be a source of data collection for park staff. The rabbit population and prime hunting grounds on the open prairie will continue to support raptor population within the park.


In 1973, Vincent Gallucci, a biologist with the University of Washington, initiated extensive studies of the twelve species of clams in Garrison Bay. His studies, completed through the University of Washington Friday Harbor Marine Lab, received the support of the Washington State Department of Fisheries. For over twenty years, Gallucci studied the population dynamics of Garrison Bay's intertidal clams.

Gallucci's research also led to the development of an interpretive brochure for park visitors. The brochure offers guidance on clamming, when to watch for red tides, and biological information of the twelve species types.

Research Permits

In 1984, the NPS revised the Code of Federal Regulations to institute a formal permit system for research in parks. For San Juan, this program was very beneficial, since study opportunities abound and monitoring the progress of studies that had been approved often resulted in little information for the park. The system requires filing a request form, which will then be either approved or denied. The permit is issued for a one-year period, at which time the researcher submits a summary of studies completed. To continue research, permits must be renewed annually. By requiring annual reporting, the park's library and resource management data base benefits.

Resource Management Plans

Resource management planning for the park has been problematic. The nature of RMPs requires regular updating and, up until 1996, approval by the regional office. Due to staffing levels and the lack of a resource management specialist position, both updating and getting approval usually did not occur prior to the next scheduled revision. In 1987, Chief Ranger Steve Gobat writes with enthusiasm that for the first time the park had a RMP approved by the regional office prior to it becoming outdated. [26] You can hear the frustration when Frank Hastings writes, reflecting on the process ten years later, that the RMP "was updated again and again", without progressing forward and accomplishing anything that the plan called for. [27]

The first RMP for the park was completed in 1979. The document breaks management needs into the following categories: landscapes, historic structures, non-historic structures, natural scene, and archaeology. For each of these areas, the plan gives the current status and the conditions sought. The plan then lists problems preventing the development of ideal conditions.

The major problems identified in the planning document were issues that had been addressed before in the park's master plan and general management plan. The landscape at American Camp was extremely altered and would need further study to determine how to control rabbit populations and not deplete bald and golden eagle levels. Visitors had no sense of the campsite at American Camp, and this needed to be remedied. In addition, the Redoubt needed to be stabilized and restored. All non-historic elements should be removed from the scene, including utility lines and non-historical structures. To remedy these needs, the plan suggested research, both historical and archaeological, on the structures; recreation of period fences, both around the military camp and Bellevue Farm; and restoration of Officers' and Laundress' Quarters. Natural resource data base studies and monitoring programs were recommended for rabbits, eagles, and other wildlife.

The RMP was reviewed and a new version drafted in 1982. The difference between the two documents is tremendous. The 1979 plan is fairly unreadable, confusing, and not clear in its direction. The 1982 plan offered very specific park proposals and programming for each project. The plan would stay basically in the same format until 1995.

In 1982, the park's natural resource needs were identified as follows:

1. wildfire protection management

2. rabbit management

3. exotic thistle control

4. development of a forest management plan

5. natural resource basic inventory

6. native plant basic inventory

7. stabilize or remove big leaf maple at English Camp

Cultural resource needs identified:

1. restore formal garden at English Camp

2. locate and catalog all artifacts

3. develop an on-site collections facility

4. create a structure rehabilitation program

5. remove a portion of old county road at English Camp

6. research/stabilize masonry ruins

Under the reorganized park service structure, approval authority now comes from the park superintendent. The role of the regional office has been shifted to technical support only. The previous trouble the park had with RMPs being delayed while at the regional office for review and approval should not occur, providing the park with improved capability for project planning and implementation.

Interdisciplinary Planning Team

During 1982 the regional office teamed with park staff and regional scholars who had completed previous scientific studies at the park to develop new resource management objectives. The team, headed by James Agee, identified several areas in resource management planning where the park was deficient and identified six team objectives for improving the park's resource management progam:

Objective 1: define more precisely resource management objectives for the park.

Objective 2: develop a conceptual ecological model for park resources.

Objective 3: conduct a study into factors causing the rabbit decline.

Objective 4: describe and map historic landscape of American Camp and detail new problems/impacts of the rabbit decline.

Objective 5: Rewrite the resource management plan.

Objective 6: Document team process used for the study.

The team was very pointed in saying that the park lacked not only a resource data base but also the expertise to deal with the issues at hand.

The new RMP was available in 1986 and was approved in 1987. The new RMP has basically the same resource management needs and same problems identified in the previous plan. Natural resource planning needs identified included: recreation of the historic setting; creation of a resource database; establish water quality monitoring at Garrison Bay; establish rabbit management; forestry management; fire management; exotic plant control; a management plan for Young Hill trail; and control of vehicle and off-road vehicle access at American Camp. To address these needs, the plan programmed specific park projects: rabbit management, exotic plant control, restoration of historic scene, develop fire access roads, monitor pollution on Garrison Bay, design a Developed Area Tree Management plan (hazard tree), re-evaluate trails at Young Hill, and establish boundary markings.

For cultural resources, needs identified were: lack of protection for prehistoric sources; need for collections management control with an on-site facility; meet NPS-28 by completing an administrative history; and maintain the British Camp name. To address these needs, the plan programmed projects in the following priority: administrative history; archaeological investigations; cemetery protection/management; utilize foundations or ghosting of structures; develop a collections facility; reestablish historic fencing around military sites; create a historic structures preservation guide; rehabilitate historic structures; stabilize the masonry ruin; and maintain the British Camp name. Immediately the next year, the projects were reprioritized, probably due to changes in funding opportunities.

The most important change for the park's resource management program came in 1992 with the addition of a full time resource management position. It cannot be emphasized enough that the duties generated by resource management needs are too numerous to be handled by the Chief Ranger alone. Since the creation of this position, the resource management plan was completely rewritten (1995) and the number of resource management projects identified jumped from less than 20 to over 80.

In 1993, Dr. James Agee of the University of Washington School of Forestry completed a Vegetation Management Plan that provides guidance to restore the natural elements of the park's cultural landscapes. This is a long-term plan and has received the approval of the state's Historic Preservation Office. The plan has provided additional direction for the park's fledgling resource management program, whose development will continue to be a priority for park management. Resource management is an evolving program that requires the small park staff to wear many hats, be it law enforcement, interpretation, or resource management.

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2003