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


Continuing the emphasis of the Mather administration, fish management under Albright and Cammerer's leadership was primarily intended to enhance sportfishing. In its management of fish, more than of any other natural resource, the Park Service violated known ecological principles. With extensive hatching and stocking continuing in the national parks, the Service shipped fish eggs to nonpark areas in an effort to improve fishing elsewhere in the country. Thus its manipulation of fish populations and distribution extended far beyond national park boundaries. The Yellowstone Lake Hatchery was particularly active, shipping millions of native and nonnative fish eggs to numerous states and even to some foreign countries. [103]

In 1928, five years before Fauna No. 1 appeared, the Park Service had detailed a biologist from the Bureau of Fisheries to be the Service's specialist in "fish culture" and to coordinate with the bureau in raising fish for stocking national park lakes and streams. The specialist was probably David Madsen, who was converted to permanent Park Service employment in April 1935, assigned to the Wildlife Division. Reviewing fish culture activities in the national parks, Madsen observed that in the past "other agencies" had run national park fish programs, often with very little direction from the Service. However, the Park Service had recently decided to use wildlife rangers to do the planting and had hired Madsen, thereby assuming more control over what species were planted, and where. [104]

So deeply entrenched was the tradition of fishing national park rivers and lakes that the wildlife biologists themselves seemed ambivalent and did not seek to discontinue this activity. In Fauna No. 1 the biologists had commented in a section appropriately entitled "Conflicts with Fish Culture" that fishing in parks was an "important exception to general policy." Granting the long-established fish management practices, they conceded that the benefits to park visitors overruled the "disadvantages which are incidentally incurred" by allowing fishing. [105] Madsen, too, recognized that the Park Service's fish management was "entirely inconsistent" with other wildlife policies, and that "indiscriminate introduction" of nonnative fish had adversely altered the natural conditions of park lakes and streams. Yet as a fish culture specialist he appreciated the popularity of fishing in the parks and stated that the sport should be "maintained and in some instances developed to the highest point possible in the interest of the visiting public." [106]

Nevertheless, the biologists were largely responsible for the slight modifications in the Service's fish policy that did occur in the 1930s. Fauna No. 1 contained recommendations to reduce populations of exotic species already present in the parks and to prevent the invasion of additional exotics. The report also advocated setting aside one watershed in each park to ensure "preservation of the aquatic biota in its undisturbed primitive state." No introduction of fish or fish food would be allowed in any of these watersheds, except what naturally occurred; fishing would be permitted, but only if it did not "deplete the existing stock." [107]

In April 1936 Director Cammerer issued the Park Service's first written fish management policies, almost certainly prepared by Madsen. The continuation of fish culture activities in parks was a given in the new policy; in fact, the document's introduction specifically stated that it was a policy for "fish planting and distribution." Still, the policy favored protection of native species, emphasizing the intent to "prohibit the wider distribution" of exotics within park waters. Exotic species were not to be introduced in waters where only native fish existed; and in waters where exotic and native fish both existed, the native species were to be "definitely encouraged." [108]

The new policy left substantial options to park managers, however, thereby reducing chances of significant change from earlier practices. A superintendent was permitted to stock waters previously barren of fish unless he determined that the lake or stream was of "greater value without the presence of fishermen." In waters where exotic species were "best suited to the environment and have proven of higher value for fishing purposes than native species," stocking of exotics could continue if approved by both the park superintendent and the director. Cammerer refined this last point in his 1936 annual report by specifying that native species would be "favored" in waters where such species "are of equal or superior value from the standpoint of fishing." [109]

The new fish management policy thus allowed continued alteration of national park aquatic habitats for the promotion of sportfishing and the enhancement of public enjoyment. The Service continued to plant exotic species in large numbers in waters such as Yellowstone's Madison, Firehole, and Yellowstone rivers in the years following issuance of the permissive 1936 policy. In some locations, as at Mammoth Beaver Ponds in the Yellowstone River drainage, previously fishless lakes were first stocked about the time the policy was declared, and such stocking continued for years afterward. [110] Not even mentioned in the new policy, the shipment of millions of fish eggs (including both native and exotic species) from national parks to nonpark areas continued unchecked throughout this period. Director Cammerer reported in 1937 that twenty million rainbow and Loch Leven trout eggs (both exotic species) were collected near Yellowstone's west boundary, with only one-fifth of them returned to park waters and the rest shipped elsewhere. [111]

Park Service biologist Carl Russell's remarks to the North American Wildlife Federation in March 1937 reflected the continuity in national park fish policy. He asserted that the new policies would mean continued "maintenance of good fishing" and that the Service was "definitely" committed to fishing as a "recreational activity in parks." Similar observations came from other biologists. Victor Cahalane commented in 1939 that the Service deemed fishing to be acceptable because of the "readily replaceable nature of fish resources," and because sportfishing resulted in "recreational benefits far outweighing any possible impairment of natural conditions." Evidencing the ambivalence among the biologists, Cahalane also stated that it was the National Park Service's responsibility to address the contradictions "existing between use of fish resources and of other natural resources within the parks." [112] Nevertheless, the widespread acceptance of angling in national park waters ensured that the contradictions would remain largely unresolved.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap4f.htm — 1-Jan-2003