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

Forest Management

Throughout Mather's directorship, the Park Service maintained a steadfast policy of protecting the forests from two major threats, fire and insects, of which fire-the "Forest Fiend," as Mather called it-seemed the greater. For assistance, Mather turned to the Forest Service, which had developed expertise in fire fighting. Moreover, many national parks were adjacent to national forests; thus the two bureaus shared miles of common boundary and recognized fire as a common enemy threatening their different interests and purposes. [134]

Even though the Forest Service had a fundamentally different mandate for land management-providing for the harvest of a variety of resources-the Park Service readily accepted the Forest Service's total-suppression fire policy (this was, after all, a continuation of the army's policy for the parks). When Sequoia superintendent John White proposed the alternative of "light burning" of forest debris and understory as a means of avoiding larger conflagrations, Park Service leaders stayed with tradition and supported full suppression, as practiced in the national forests. [135] In accord with the thinking of the time, and seeking to keep its forests green and beautiful, the Park Service viewed suppression of all park forest fires (it did not differentiate between natural and human-caused fires) as fully compatible with its mandate to preserve the national parks unimpaired. Under Mather's prodding, Congress in 1920 began making annual appropriations for fire control in the parks.

A prime example of fire's threat to adjacent lands administered by both services occurred in the summer of 1926, when major fires broke out in Glacier National Park and in neighboring national forests. For most of the summer the Park Service and the Forest Service fought these fires, at huge expense. [136] The Glacier fire was especially important in that it inspired the Park Service to create an office of forestry-the first formal organizational designation specifically for natural resource management. Forestry management had begun as simply another duty placed under forester Ansel F. Hall, who was chief of the recently created Division of Education as well as the Park Service's "chief naturalist." But in the summer of 1928, Hall hired John Coffman from the Forest Service, and the division's designation was changed to "education and forestry."

Going beyond the customary use of generalist rangers and other available personnel to fight park fires, Hall's and Coffman's positions marked the first use of in-house, professionally trained foresters. In addition, the Park Service in 1927 had joined the Forest Protection Board, an interagency organization that fostered cooperative fire suppression, and on which Coffman served as national park representative. [137] The forestry office was located in Hilgard Hall, on the University of California campus in Berkeley. A den of forestry expertise, Hilgard Hall also housed the Forest Service's California Forest and Range Experiment Station and the university's forestry study programs. [138] Such close proximity to other foresters surely encouraged an even stronger commitment to strict fire suppression in national parks.

Coffman went to work energetically, overseeing fire protection for the Park Service "as thoroughly as a Fire Chief in the U.S. Forest Service," as he later put it. His duties were reflected in the "Forestry Policy," a comprehensive, systemwide statement on national park fire management prepared by Hall and Coffman in the fall of 1928. The new policy called for the Service to prepare fire plans for all parks for the "prevention, detection and suppression" of fires; train firefighting personnel; cooperate with other federal and state agencies with lands near national parks; implement "hazard reduction" (such as the removal of combustible dead trees) in areas with high fire potential; and establish a fire reporting and review process for each fire season and for individual fires. This statement became official Park Service policy in 1931. [139]

The Forest Protection Board also planned to fight forest diseases and insect infestations. Participating on the board, the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry had the primary responsibility for assisting the Park Service and other participating bureaus in disease control. Of particular concern was white pine blister rust, a nonnative fungus. Albright reported in 1929 that the bureau had checked for blister rust in Acadia, Mount Rainier, and Glacier. This disease eradication program would lead to extensive control efforts in the 1930s. [140]

Although the Park Service's new forest policy statement contained no reference to forest diseases, it did have a section on insect control, which received increased attention during Mather's time. By the mid-1920s Congress was appropriating funds for the control of insects in the parks. Principal targets at the time included the lodgepole sawfly and spruce budworm in Yellowstone, the needle miner and bark beetle in Yosemite, and the pine beetle in Crater Lake (where Mather feared the infestation was "utterly beyond control"). To combat such attacks, the Service used chemical sprays and also felled infested trees, peeled off their bark, and burned them. [141] The Park Service relied on the Bureau of Entomology, which trained personnel and frequently supervised the control work. The bureau was, Mather noted, very supportive in combating insect "depredations" that threatened to cause "injury of the scenic beauty." [142]

Significantly, the Service concentrated its insect control effort in scenic areas important to the visiting public, such as along road and trail corridors and in zones of special appeal. Mather reported in 1925 that in Yellowstone spraying had been increased "along the roads and at places of the most scenic importance." Insect control at Crater Lake the following year focused on protecting "a beautiful stand of yellow pine, one of the three finest forests in the park." [143] Indeed, the policy of concentrating on areas important to the public would be reiterated in the Service's 1931 forest policy statement: unless there were extenuating circumstances, "remote areas of no special scenic value and not of high fire hazard, little used or seen by the public and not planned for intensive use within a reasonable period of years, may be omitted from insect control plans." [144]

Like fire, hordes of insects threatened to damage forests over vast tracts of public land, no matter what mandates governed their management. Thus, a February 1928 meeting of the Forest Protection Board, attended by several national park superintendents, stressed multibureau cooperation in insect control. The insect spraying program was, in the words of a Forest Service representative at the meeting, usually carried out "regardless of boundaries" between the parks, forests, and other public lands. Horace Albright agreed to the cooperative effort, stating that the Service's forestry office stood ready to participate. [145]

In protecting forests and other areas of the national parks, the Service faced the problem of livestock grazing, which impacted native flora and fauna in many parks. During the campaign to create the Park Service, Mather had supported grazing in the parks as a means of securing congressional support. Authorizing livestock grazing in all parks but Yellowstone, the Organic Act was followed by Secretary Lane's policy letter of 1918. Diverging from the act's general authorization of livestock grazing, Lane declared that sheep would not be allowed in national parks. The Service was seriously committed to fighting this use, more damaging than cattle grazing; and its fight against sheep would prove more successful than against cattle.

Regarding cattle, the Lane Letter declared they could graze in "isolated regions not frequented by visitors, and where no injury to the natural features of the parks may result from such use." [146] In Sequoia the army had terminated grazing, but the Service revived it in 1917, under pressure from ranchers who-emboldened by the Organic Act's authorization of grazing-claimed they needed park lands to ensure sufficient beef supplies because America's entry into World War I seemed probable. Even after the armistice negated this purported patriotic rationale, the ranchers fought to continue grazing (a pattern that occurred in other parks during the World War II era). Although Mather opposed increased grazing in the parks during World War I, in his public pronouncements he sometimes showed a willingness to compromise, noting after the war that grazing exemplified "the principle of use" of the parks and would be allowed where it did not interfere with tourist use. [147]

In stark contrast, scientific judgments on grazing recognized the extensive impact on the national parks. Charles C. Adams, a well-known biologist with Syracuse University, surveyed several parks and commented on overgrazed conditions in a 1925 article in Scientific Monthly. In Sequoia, for example, Adams reported that areas in the northeast part of the park had possibly "suffered more... than any other overgrazed area" he had seen in a national park or even a national forest. And on Grand Canyon's south rim, the "extreme overgrazing" was so bad in both the park and the adjacent national forest that Adams believed it was impossible to tell by the range condition whether the land was "in the park or in the forest." He added that, partly as a result of earlier livestock grazing, Grand Canyon had already been "greatly modified from a natural wild [area]" before becoming a national park in 1919. [148] Although Mather strongly opposed repeated attempts by ranchers to increase grazing privileges, cattle grazing continued in many national parks and would prove an enduring vexation for the Park Service.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap3h.htm — 1-Jan-2003