Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 5
The War and Postwar Years, 1940—1963

Wartime and Postwar Pressures

Drury's conservative management fit the times. World War II and the postwar years brought drastic reductions in money, manpower, and park development, and a halt to expansion of the national park system. By August 1940, when Drury assumed the directorship, the New Deal programs were already diminishing, yielding to preparations for war and support for the nation's allies. America's entry into the war in December 1941 led to a reduction of more than fifty percent in the Park Service's basic operating budget and the termination in 1942 of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which the Service had used to great benefit.

Personnel cuts were severe. The Service's staffing budget was reduced, and many employees joined the armed forces or went to work in warrelated agencies and could not be replaced. Just before Pearl Harbor, the Park Service had 5,963 permanent full-time employees. This number dropped to 4,510 by June 30, 1942 (the end of the fiscal year), and plunged to 1,974 by the end of the following June. By June 30 of 1944, the number stabilized at 1,573, about a quarter of the total of prewar employees. These cuts affected individual parks. Sequoia, for example, had lost more than half of its administrative, ranger, and maintenance staff within six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. With a wartime economy, including gas rationing and rubber shortages, the number of park visitors also plummeted, from a high of 19.3 million in fiscal year 1940 to a wartime low of 7.4 million in fiscal 1943. [4]

The Service maintained skeletal staffs in its Washington and regional offices; and, by negotiating with the Bureau of the Budget and with congressional appropriations committees, Drury was able to keep professional engineers and landscape architects in key offices. The Park Service's ability to function effectively was further diminished in August 1942 when its headquarters was moved to Chicago to make office space in Washington available for critical wartime use. Although the transfer restricted his Washington contacts, Drury elected to move with the headquarters to Chicago. Wirth went with him, leaving Associate Director Arthur Demaray as the Service's principal representative in the nation's capital. [5]

During World War II the National Park Service was, in Drury's words, reduced to a "protection and maintenance basis." He later elaborated that, overall, the Service had three primary wartime goals: maintaining a "reasonably well-rounded" organization that could be expanded to meet postwar needs, keeping the parks and monuments "intact," and preventing a "breakdown of the national park concept." [6] Indeed, beyond the severe budget and personnel cuts, the war put unusual demands on the park system. Military rest camps were established in parks such as Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Carlsbad Caverns, while other parks, including Yosemite and Lava Beds, provided hospitalization and rehabilitation facilities. In many instances, the Service converted abandoned CCC camps to such uses. The military held overnight bivouacs in a number of parks and conducted maneuvers in Mt. McKinley and Hawaii national parks, among others. Extended training occurred in numerous parks, including Yosemite, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Isle Royale, and Death Valley. Defense installations were located in Acadia, Olympic, Hawaii, and Glacier Bay, while two small historical units of the system, Cabrillo and Fort Pulaski national monuments, were closed to the public and used for coastal defense. [7]

The war put pressure on specific park resources, with limited amounts of extraction allowed. For example, early in the war Secretary of the Interior Ickes authorized the mining of salt in Death Valley and tungsten in Yosemite. Seeking a balance between patriotic support of the war effort and protection of the parks, Drury maintained that permission for natural resource extraction in the parks must be based on "critical necessity" rather than convenience, with the burden of proof resting on the applicant. [8] Such concerns were raised in the two principal resource extraction issues that confronted the Service during World War II: demands to cut timber and to allow cattle grazing, both promoted as patriotic efforts to support the war.

Of the wartime requests to cut forests for timber in a number of parks, the most hotly debated was a proposal to harvest giant Sitka spruce trees in Olympic National Park for use in airplane construction. This proposal came soon after Great Britain and France entered the war in the late summer of 1939. With Secretary Ickes' backing, the Park Service refused the request. Under continued pressure, the Service (in the last year of Arno Cammerer's directorship) recommended that spruce trees be taken from two nearby corridors of land intended for a scenic parkway but not yet part of the national park, thus still vulnerable to resource extraction demands. The following year the size of the proposed parkway corridors was reduced to allow cutting in the excluded areas—a means of evading the issue of taking national park resources. Drury, who became director the following August, stated his opposition to any cutting on the lands remaining in the corridors, except as a "last resort," and where "immediate public necessity" could be shown. [9] But local lumber interests persisted in their demands to cut spruce within the park and in the corridors, arguing that quality timber for airplane construction could be found nowhere else. Drury resisted, and sought information on spruce wood substitutes and the availability of spruce elsewhere, especially in British Columbia. The Canadian government refused to release timber statistics, however, citing wartime confidentiality. Pressured by the Roosevelt administration, the Service backed down. Acknowledging a "distinct sacrifice of parkway features," it allowed cutting inside the corridors.

This concession notwithstanding, local businessmen (who had always supported timber company interests and were backed by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the city's newspapers) lobbied to reduce the size of the park and open virtually all areas to cutting for wartime and postwar production. [10] Although vacillating, Drury opposed further cutting for any but specific military needs, and only if there were no other available sources of spruce—a position that the congressional House Subcommittee on Lumber Matters supported during hearings in June 1943. In August the Canadian government eased the situation by releasing information on the availability of British Columbia spruce. This change, plus greater production of Alaska's spruce and increased reliance on aluminum instead of wood in airplane construction, led to the administration's withdrawal of pressure to harvest Olympic's forests. [11]

All the same, local campaigns to shrink the park and cut its forests continued well beyond the war years. In a striking example of timid leadership, Drury, with the Interior Department's concurrence, responded to pressure from timber companies by supporting bills introduced in Congress in 1947 to reduce Olympic National Park by fifty-six thousand acres. Swayed by Olympic's assistant superintendent, Fred J. Overly—a forester and timber company cohort who argued that some of the acreage was already cut over and that much of it was remote and difficult to administer —the Service declared that it sought to "attain a better boundary from the standpoint of administration and protection, following ridges wherever possible." [12] Naively, Drury hoped that the timber interests would be placated and would not seek further reduction of the park.

In fact, the Washington office did not have full knowledge of the lands proposed for removal from Olympic. Included were tracts of heavily forested virgin wilderness, particularly in the Bogachiel and Calawah drainages. The proposal brought an angry reaction from conservationists. Under intense pressure, and with timber interest testimony that the reduction was, as Drury saw it, "only a first step" toward gaining access to the rest of the park, Drury, backed by Julius A. Krug (Ickes' successor as secretary of the interior), eventually reversed his position. This belated opposition, along with President Harry S. Truman's reluctance to give in to the timber companies, helped kill the proposed reduction. Vast tracts of Olympic's forests were saved from commercial harvesting. [13]

Nonetheless, park management continued to encourage the removal of hundreds of individual trees blown down by windstorms—a salvage practice sharply criticized by the wildlife biologists as a disruption of natural processes. Receipts from the sale of windblown timber went mostly toward the purchase of inholdings, which served as the park's main justification for the program. However, especially under Fred Overly's direction, the practice became a means by which local companies were able to remove millions of board feet of park timber, much of it healthy. Overly, who became superintendent in 1951 and who almost certainly enjoyed support from the Service's top foresters, set up salvage contracts with timber companies that allowed the cutting of standing mature trees in addition to any windblown timber.

In time this practice became an embarrassment to the Park Service and to the new director, Conrad Wirth. Visitor abhorrence of the loss of healthy trees began to be pointedly conveyed to the park's "seasonal" (or summer) naturalists, who had daily contact with the public—and who conspired to shame the Service publicly and force it to halt the salvaging. Faced with growing congressional concern and an aroused and angry conservation community, Wirth yielded. When Overly later resumed the practice on a limited basis, the director felt compelled to remove him from the park. Revealing the solidarity among Park Service leaders—and in an action not uncommon in the bureau's history—Wirth assigned Overly to another superintendency (Great Smoky Mountains), rather than disciplining him for systematic destruction of park resources. [14]

Just as lumbermen had sought to gain access to national park resources during wartime, ranchers renewed pressure to increase livestock grazing in the parks, claiming the need to provide beef in support of the war effort. Hoping eventually to eliminate grazing from national parks, the Service responded by applying very restrictive grazing criteria. Critical wartime need had to be shown, and postwar needs constituted no justification for grazing increases. Drury argued for protecting all national parks and their "spectacular features" from grazing. But under the force of wartime necessity, grazing could be permitted "in the areas of lesser importance" or in areas where the damage would not be "irreparable." The Park Service also calculated that its employees and those of other Interior Department bureaus could reduce their beef consumption by approximately one-third to compensate for not allowing grazing in the parks—but there is no indication that the Service or the department seriously pursued this idea. [15]

In early 1943, responding to persistent demands from livestock growers' associations and from the War Production Board, Secretary Ickes approved a livestock grazing "formula" submitted by Drury. The formula imposed a ceiling of twenty-eight percent increase in cattle grazing in the parks and eleven percent in sheep grazing. Although affirming the goal of ultimately eliminating all cattle and sheep from the parks, the formula established land classifications for grazing under wartime emergency conditions. The classifications varied from total prohibition of grazing in the most protected park areas, to allowing increases in livestock numbers and range acreage in other park lands, especially recreation areas. [16]

Permits granted under this arrangement resulted in a wartime grazing increase of only about half the percentages set by Drury's formula—a result of Park Service resistance and of support from outside the bureau. For example, efforts by drought-plagued California livestock growers in the spring of 1944 to gain access to grasslands in nearby national parks failed after being opposed by the Service and evaluated by a special committee of representatives from the Sierra Club, California Conservation Council, Western Association of Outdoor Clubs, and U.S. Forest Service. The demands by livestock ranchers came even after range surveys indicated that national park grasslands in California would support no more than six thousand beef cattle, less than one-half of one percent of the state's 1.4 million head. Recognizing that damage to vegetation would result from livestock grazing, the Service viewed the proposal not as an attempt to support the war, but merely as a means to use national park resources to benefit the local cattle industry. The special committee found insufficient justification for approving the grazing applications. Renewed pressure to allow grazing in the Sierra national parks during postwar drought periods suggests that the urge to increase ranchers' profits was as much a factor as wartime need. [17]


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap5a.htm — 1-Jan-2003