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

New Deal Impacts on the Park Service

The variety of programs taken on during the New Deal impacted the Service and the national parks in significant ways. Prior to 1933 the Park Service administered a system consisting mostly of large natural areas in the West, along with a few archeological sites in the Southwest and historic sites in the East. During the New Deal the Service's expansionist tendencies led it into enormous new responsibilities in recreation and historic site management. Especially with CCC funds, it extended its activities and influence far beyond national park boundaries, becoming involved in complex planning, intensive development, and preservation work with state and local governments from coast to coast. By the mid-1930s, after all of the Service's CCC operations had been consolidated under Conrad Wirth, some observers were claiming that, given the size of the programs under Wirth, there were in fact two National Park Services: the "regular" Park Service, and "Connie Wirth's Park Service." [153]

The Service's official organizational chart, revised no fewer than eight times during the 1930s, reflected the bureau's growing diversification and professional specialization. The sequence of charts showed an increase from three Washington branches and four "field" professional offices (of landscape architects and engineers, among others) in 1928, to a complex organizational maze of ten "branches" (or their equivalent) and four newly created "regional offices" on the 1938 chart. (The regional offices had been established in 1937, largely at Wirth's instigation, to correspond with the regional organization used by the CCC.) On the 1938 chart, specifically identified functions relating to the Service's growth and expansion during the 1930s included management of historic sites, archeological sites, memorials, parkway rights-of-way, and District of Columbia parks and buildings. In addition, under Assistant Director Wirth's Branch of Recreation, Land Planning, and State Cooperation were the Land Planning Division, the Development Division, and the U.S. Travel Division—the last created in early 1937 to stimulate travel to the national parks. [154]

Additional changes for the Park Service were detailed in a 1936 internal report, which noted that in the previous three years Service expenditures had increased "about fourfold and its personnel about eight [fold]." From 1930 to 1933, total appropriations had amounted to $11,104,000 annually. Over the next three years, total appropriations averaged $51,824,000 annually —a remarkable increase. Similarly, personnel figures rose from a monthly average of 2,022 employees in 1932 to 17,598 in 1936, with about three-fifths of the 1936 employees paid from CCC funds. (In Washington alone, management of the federal buildings and the public parks for which the Service was responsible required about 5,000 employees by 1936.) The overall figures included money and personnel for managing the fifty-six historical and archeological parks brought in by Roosevelt's 1933 reorganization, plus staffing for a number of newly created parks. [155]

The various New Deal emergency relief programs that the Service had so successfully tapped funded most of these staff increases. The 1936 internal report revealed that between July 1, 1933, and June 30, 1936, the Service's emergency relief funds totaled $116,724,000, far greater than the $38,748,000 in regular Park Service appropriations. As stated in the same report, the "biggest single factor" in expansion of the Service's operations was supervision of recreational planning and development. The report indicated that, in state parks, up to 91,000 enrollees living in 457 camps had been directed by as many as 5,499 Park Service employees. The relief programs had not only helped bring the national parks "to new levels of physical development," as the 1936 report put it, but had also fostered "new and important fields of activity" for the bureau—the many and varied Park Service programs of the 1930s. [156]

Within the national parks themselves through 1936, the Service managed as many as 117 CCC camps with 23,400 enrollees, and employed as many as 2,405 "national park landscape architects, engineers, foresters, and other technicians." [157] This last figure alone exceeded the total of Park Service employees in 1932, prior to the beginning of Roosevelt's emergency relief programs, and was a reflection of the heavy emphasis the New Deal placed on forestry and recreational development in the national parks. Much later, in 1951, Chief Landscape Architect William G. Carnes estimated that the Service in the 1930s had employed as many as 400 landscape architects at one time. By comparison, the Service employed a maximum of 27 biologists in the mid-1930s—a tiny fraction of those employed in recreational development. Of the biologists, 23 were funded by CCC money and the remaining four were paid through the Service's regular appropriations. [158]

The total funds and positions accounted for by the Park Service during this period attested to the New Deal's interest in recreational development of national and state parks, and also to its emphasis on large resource surveys and national planning. With these programs the Service's foresters, architects, landscape architects, and engineers increased their influence. And by the mid-1930s, the Park Service claimed that its "preeminence" in the recreational field had reached "new heights," with its mission expanded to aiding the conservation of "parklands everywhere." [159] Although certainly meaningful, the emergence of a scientific perspective in national park management seems diminished, even overwhelmed, by the Park Service's extraordinary expansion and development during the 1930s.

It is significant that when Cammerer's health forced him to step down in 1940 to become regional director in the Park Service's Richmond, Virginia, office, one of Secretary Ickes' top choices to succeed Cammerer was none other than Robert Moses, the "czar" of New York's park, parkway, and recreational development. Ickes thought that the New Yorker would provide "vigorous administration"—in sharp contrast to his disregard for Cammerer's abilities. The secretary's interest in Moses, conveyed to President Roosevelt, certainly suggests a perception of the National Park Service as much more of a recreational tourism organization than one committed to scientific and ecologically attuned land management. Moreover, it was Roosevelt's personal animosity toward Moses, rather than any concerns that his aggressive developmental tendencies might overwhelm the national parks, that seems to have led to the President's rejection of Moses as a possible Park Service director. [160]

The varied programs assumed by the National Park Service during the 1930s did in fact draw criticism. Alarmed over the bureau's developmental bent, Newton Drury, head of the Save the Redwoods League and destined to succeed Cammerer as Park Service director, commented scornfully that the Service was becoming a "Super-Department of Recreation" and a "glorified playground commission." Because of these tendencies, organizations such as the Redwoods League, The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Association believed that the U.S. Forest Service might manage the Kings Canyon area of the Sierra (one of the principal national park proposals during the late 1930s) better than would the Park Service. Such concerns contributed to a delay of congressional authorization of Kings Canyon National Park until 1940 and inspired strong wording in the enabling legislation to protect the new park's wilderness qualities. Aversion to Park Service emphasis on recreational tourism development also caused the Redwoods League to oppose establishment of a national park in the redwoods area of northern California. [161] This opposition helped cause decades of delay, with serious consequences for preservation of the redwoods.

Particularly stinging criticism of changes taking place during the New Deal came from the National Parks Association, which, since its founding in 1919 with Stephen Mather's patronage, had been the public's chief advocate for maintaining high national park standards. The association feared that the traditional large natural parks were threatened by too much development, and that the Park Service was distracted by an overload of new and diverse responsibilities. In a conservative reaction to the sprawl of New Deal programs, the association argued that the National Park Service was run by its "State Park group financed by emergency funds," and that with the new types of parks, the public was increasingly confused about what a true national park was. To the association, the "real impetus" behind the expansion and development of the system was the "recently conceived idea that the Park Service is the only federal agency fitted to administer recreation on federally owned or controlled lands. Some persons even go so far as to assert that its proper function is to stimulate and direct recreational travel throughout the country." [162]

In the spring of 1936, the National Parks Association recommended "purification" as a corrective measure. It urged establishment of a "National Primeval Park System," which would contain only the large natural parks and be managed independently of historic or recreation areas, or of state park assistance programs. The intent of this proposal was to save the "old time" big natural parks from "submergence" in the "welter of miscellaneous reservations" being created. Furthermore, the association proposed limiting future additions to the primeval park system to those areas that had not been seriously impacted by lumbering, mining, settlement, or other adverse human activities. Only the most pristine areas were to be included. [163]

During the 1930s the National Parks Association's highly restrictive approach seems to have had little impact on the Park Service or on the growth of the system. It was, in fact, criticized by individuals within the Service, from Cammerer to George Wright. Cammerer and his staff disliked the primeval parks proposal, believing it would divide the system into first-class and second-class areas. Writing in the American Planning and Civic Annual in 1938, former director Horace Albright, one of the principal proponents of Park Service expansion, attacked the restrictive standards as being so "rigid" that they would "disqualify all of the remaining superlative scenery in the United States." Albright rightfully pointed out that parks like Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, which had been grazed, mined, or settled before establishment, would not have become national parks had such standards been used in the past. He claimed that those who wanted only "unmodified territory" in the parks were actually allied with "other national-park objectors to prevent any more areas from being incorporated into the system." [164]

In a scathing letter to the National Parks Association, Interior secretary Ickes concurred with Albright. Ickes wrote that opposition to legislation that would include cutover areas in the proposed Olympic National Park or allow recreation development downriver from the proposed Kings Canyon National Park "dovetailed perfectly with the opposition of commercial opponents." He charged the Parks Association with being a "stooge" for lumber companies that also opposed the parks. George Wright's disagreement with the association was much more tempered. In a speech to the American Planning and Civic Association shortly before his death, Wright stated that he no longer feared that the system would be loaded with "inferior" parks, a position placing him in disagreement with the Parks Association. He believed that, in any event, the Service itself could adequately defend against "intrusion of trash areas." More important, the failure to act on truly exceptional park proposals would be much more calamitous than allowing substandard areas to "slip in." [165]

It must be noted that criticism by the National Parks Association and others did not focus on any perceived need for ecologically oriented management of natural resources. Both Newton Drury's assertion that the Service was becoming a Super-Department of Recreation and the National Parks Association's proposal for a primeval park system stemmed from apprehension over excessive development and the kinds of parks being created. Once an area was placed under the Service's administration, the specifics of its natural resource management—the treatment of elk, fish, forests, and the like—seem to have been of not much concern. By implication, where no development problems existed the parks were satisfactorily managed. Expressed largely in terms of opposition to various kinds of development, the critics' desire to protect the parks went against the tide of Park Service recreational growth and expansion under the New Deal. In the end, this criticism had little effect.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap4i.htm — 1-Jan-2003