Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 3
Perpetuating Tradition: The National Parks under Stephen T. Mather, 1916-1929

Nature Management

The values and perceptions of National Park Service leaders were reflected in the treatment of nature during Mather's directorship. From the first, the Service did not see itself as a scientific bureau. Its leadership assumed that its unique mandate to leave parks unimpaired did not require special scientific skills and perceptions different from those used in more explicitly utilitarian land management. Biologists were not part of the bureau's emerging leadership circles, and had very little voice in its rank and file. Instead, as Mather claimed in 1917, scientific assistance from other bureaus could be "had for the asking" -and the Service borrowed scientists as well as their resource management strategies. [83] Secretary Lane's 1918 policy letter stated that the "scientific bureaus... offer facilities of the highest worth and authority" for addressing national park problems, and the Service should "utilize [their] hearty cooperation to the utmost." The 1925 Work Letter reaffirmed this policy. [84]

In the same year that the Work Letter appeared, Mather, attempting to prove that the Park Service was avoiding needless duplication of government functions, listed the federal bureaus on whose expertise the Service relied. At least six bureaus, representing the departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, were named as substantial contributors to nat-ural resource management in the parks. The bureaus that the Service, as Mather put it, "calls upon... for help" included the Geological Survey (conducting topographical surveys and gauging streams), the Forest Service (preserving trees along roads approaching parks and protecting "park areas for which no funds are available"), the Bureau of Biological Survey (managing wild animals, including reducing predatory species), the Bureau of Animal Industry (vaccinating Yellowstone's buffalo herds and controlling hoof-and-mouth disease), the Bureau of Entomology (fighting insect infestations in parks), and the Bureau of Fisheries (maintaining hatcheries and stocking park lakes and streams). [85]

It is important to note that while the Park Service was steadily building up its landscape architecture and engineering capability, it was content to borrow scientists from other bureaus to manage national park flora and fauna-a telling reflection of how much greater the Service's interest was in recreational tourism than in fostering innovative strategies in nature preservation. With the Park Service borrowing scientific expertise, its natural resource management programs under Mather were to a large extent imitative rather than innovative.

Moreover, natural resource management was an adjunct to tourism management. The Park Service sought to present to the public an idealized setting of tranquil pastoral scenes with wild animals grazing in beautiful forests and meadows bounded by towering mountain peaks and deep canyons. Mather described the parks as having a kind of primeval glory, "prolific with game" grazing in "undisturbed majesty and serenity." Albright shared this idyllic view of the parks, once commenting on the great public appeal of seeing "large mammals in their natural habitats of mountain forests or meadows." [86] Such suggestions of peace and tranquility did not allow for violent disruptions like raging, destructive forest fires blackening the landscapes, or flesh-eating predators attacking popular wildlife. To Park Service leadership, the vision of a serene, verdant landscape seemed to equate to an unimpaired park. Maintaining such a setting amounted to facade management-preserving the scenic facade of nature, the principal basis for public enjoyment.

As before the Park Service was established, natural resource management focused on husbanding certain flora and fauna: forests, fish, and large grazing mammals, primarily the species that contributed most to public enjoyment of the parks. Indeed, the Park Service conducted a kind of ranching and farming operation to maintain the productivity and presence of favored species. Those species that threatened the favored plants and animals had to be sacrificed-eradicated, or reduced to a point where they would not affect populations of the more desired flora and fauna.

The management of nature in the national parks took into account the benefits to be reaped outside park boundaries as well. For example, both Mather and Albright approved predator control programs partly to protect livestock on lands adjacent to the parks. In the manner of wildlife refuges being established by the Biological Survey, Mather noted in his annual report of 1924 that wildlife moving out of the parks to adjacent lands where they could be hunted provided "one of the important factors wherein the national parks contribute economically to the surrounding territory." [87] Thus, tourists would be drawn into the parks, while hunters would use nearby lands. In this regard, Horace Albright told the 1924 conference of the American Game Protective Association that if state governments were cooperative in game conservation, "there will always be good hunting around several of the big parks." Later, in an article on the parks as wildlife sanctuaries, Albright tellingly observed that although animals in the national parks were referred to as "wildlife," once they left the park they were called "game." [88]

As wildlife moved in and out of the parks, so did poachers, who imperiled some large-mammal populations. By the time the Service began operating, illegal hunting of the parks' wildlife had diminished owing to aggressive protection efforts, especially in parks controlled by the army. Nevertheless, poaching remained a serious concern, and rangers patrolled park boundaries and interior areas, scouting for evidence of illegal hunting. The most difficult poaching problems occurred in the recently created Mt. McKinley National Park. Not until 1921, four years after the park's establishment, did the Service obtain funds to hire a superintendent and an assistant to protect the huge numbers of wildlife. Given the vastness of McKinley and its proximity to a railroad and to mining villages, and with road construction ongoing in the park, the park's wildlife continued to be subjected to poaching, especially in remote areas. [89]


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap3e.htm — 1-Jan-2003