Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 4
The Rise and Decline of Ecological Attitudes, 1929—1940

We know that it is impossible to keep any area in the United States in an absolutely primeval condition, but there are reasonable aspects to it and reasonable objectives that we can strive for.—GEORGE M. WRIGHT, 1934

The survey of park wildlife initiated in the summer of 1929 and funded through the personal fortune of biologist George Wright marked the National Park Service's first extended, in-depth scientific research in support of natural resource management. The success of this effort inspired the Park Service to establish a "wildlife division," inaugurating a decade of substantial scientific activity within the Service. During this period, the wildlife biologists under Wright developed new perspectives on natural resources, opening new options for park management. They promoted an ecological awareness in the Service and questioned the utilitarian and recreational focus that dominated the bureau.

Yet in January 1940, little more than a decade after the survey began, the Park Service biologists were transferred to the Interior Department's Bureau of Biological Survey. [1] Although the biologists remained responsible for national park wildlife programs, their administrative separation symbolized the diminishing influence of science in the Service by the late 1930s. The decade of the 1930s thus witnessed a rise—and then a decline—of ecological thinking in the National Park Service. It also saw a vast diversification of Park Service programs, which expanded responsibilities beyond management of mostly large natural areas and drew attention to matters other than nature preservation.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap4.htm — 1-Jan-2003