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

Natural Resource Issues under Drury and Wirth

During and after World War II, the bulk of Park Service day-to-day natural resource management continued to involve field activities of national park rangers—mainly "protection" work, including stocking streams and lakes; reducing elk, deer, and bison populations; and fighting forest fires, insects, and disease. [18] Few changes occurred in the natural resource policies written mainly in the 1930s. Among the wildlife practices, bison and bear management and care of Mt. McKinley's wolf and sheep populations were particularly controversial and reflected the continuing schism between managing for visitor enjoyment and adherence to the ecological principles espoused in Fauna No. 1, still the Service's official wildlife policy. More preservation-minded than his predecessors, Drury frequently supported Fauna No. 1's policies.

Believing that wildlife threatened to overgraze certain park areas, the biologists continued to support the concept of population reduction, chiefly of bison and elk in Yellowstone, deer in Zion, and both deer and elk in Rocky Mountain. [19] Such reductions were undertaken by Park Service rangers, at times with help from state game and fish personnel. The Service continued to oppose permitting sporthunters to participate in the reductions, maintaining that it would be "the first step toward destruction" of the national parks. It would violate the sanctity of the parks and blur their distinction from public lands that were subject to resource exploitation. [20]

Although the Park Service monitored grasslands in an attempt to calculate optimum large-mammal populations, concerns arose that the reduction program needed closer analysis. In 1943 ecologist Aldo Leopold proposed to conduct research on Yellowstone's northern elk herd. As Yellowstone superintendent Edmund B. Rogers understood it, Leopold wished to direct his research toward "conclusions regarding the current management program" and toward establishing "greater confidence in management measures." Rogers rejected Leopold's request, declaring that money for research should not be diverted from the park's "essential work." Instead, in a perfect illustration of disregard for scientific data, Rogers recommended that the Service's top management should meet and issue an "authoritative statement" regarding future elk reduction. He added assuredly that such a statement should "automatically take care of confidence in the program by interested agencies and the general public"—a notion perhaps true at the time, except among biologists and conservationists. Rogers' recommendation apparently was to be carried out with no further research. [21]

In the 1940s the Service began greater population reductions of Yellowstone's Lamar Valley bison herd—an action that provoked heated debate over the herd's value as a public spectacle. Although it had gradually eliminated some of its ranching activity, the park maintained its facilities at the Buffalo Ranch and continued its winter feeding program, keeping the Lamar Valley herd at about 800 head, an artificially high number sustained by the feeding. Believing they were faced with an "over-population problem" in the valley that was putting heavy pressure on the winter range, Yellowstone officials gained Newton Drury's support for reducing the herd. With bison thought to be safe from extinction in the United States, it seemed, as Drury stated, "no longer necessary to sacrifice the range" in order to save the species. [22]

The Park Service shot 180 Lamar Valley bison in early 1942, none in 1943, and planned to kill 400 more beginning in January 1944. Allowing for natural increases, this would bring the population to about 350 animals, the level sought by the park. With the support of its biologists, the Service hoped ultimately to put the Lamar herd "entirely on its own resources" (Drury's words, and a clear echo of Fauna No. 1), with the size of the herd appropriate to the productivity of the winter range. [23]

These plans provoked the wrath of former director Horace Albright, who remained steadfast in his desire to ensure the national parks' visitor appeal. Insisting on a huge, spectacular herd of bison in the Lamar Valley, in October 1943 he sent Drury a "pro-forma protest" against further reduction of bison. Albright recalled that during his directorship he had never heard the naturalists complain that a thousand animals would be too much for their range. To him, the range conditions were satisfactory and could support a large number of bison. [24]

The Service's chief naturalist, Carl Russell, an experienced wildlife biologist, advised Drury that "sober consideration" countered Albright's views, and that evidence of poor range conditions was "not hard to find." Russell noted that the elk and bison reduction programs were backed by "a number of competent ecologists," among them Victor Cahalane. The scientists sought to maintain a "natural range condition," not a vast herd of bison. Albright responded that he was "not impressed" with these arguments. He pointed out that when he was Yellowstone's superintendent in the 1920s, the park's "big shows of buffalo" were "talked about in all parts of the country." Seeking to preserve a semblance of the vast herds of earlier times, he urged a rethinking of the reduction policy. [25]

Getting to the core of the issue, Drury responded to Albright, correctly observing that their opposing ideas were derived from "somewhat differing concepts of the purpose and function of national parks in respect to wild life." He stated that in view of the Service's original legislative mandate and the policies "crystallized over the years," the only proper course was to place "all species, including the bison, as rapidly as practicable upon a selfsustaining basis, free from all artificial aids." This policy had been endorsed, Drury asserted, by a "long list" of conservationists and biologists queried by the Service, most of whom readily supported bison reduction. [26]

To bolster his position, Drury quoted at length the supportive comments of Tracy Storer, a wildlife biologist at the University of California and former associate of the late Joseph Grinnell. In response to a Park Service query, Storer had written bluntly (and at odds with views Grinnell had held) that it was "utterly irrational" to protect such species "until 'they eat themselves out of house and home' or fall disastrously to the ravages of disease." Herd size could not build up indefinitely when contained in areas of "fixed size," such as national parks. He stated further that by its very nature, the protection of animals in parks would necessitate "removal of the surpluses that develop from time to time." [27]

Albright countered that national parks were not "biologic units" and thus it was impossible "to avoid some controls." Nevertheless, he urged that the Lamar Valley herd be kept between 800 and 1,000 head, and even proposed that after the war the Service should reinstitute the spectacular bison roundups for the public's enjoyment. The park implemented its reduction policy, however, and Yellowstone's rangers killed 397 of the Lamar Valley bison in January 1944, leaving a population of about 350. Angered, Albright wrote Drury in February that the reduction was a "serious mistake" and that the herd's "usefulness . . . for the public enjoyment" of Yellowstone had been ignored. [28]

The reduction of bison brought a further decrease in the Buffalo Ranch operation, now mainly limited to winter feeding. Predictably, Albright opposed this decrease, because the ranch had managed the large herds that he wanted maintained, and bison ranching was fascinating to the public. His opposition intensified when he learned later in the year of plans to remove the fencing around pastures at Antelope Creek and Mammoth and terminate the exhibition of bison in these areas. Albright insisted to Drury that display pastures were "absolutely essential." [29]

Drury held firm, replying that the Service should manage bison "as a wild animal in a natural environment, and not as the basis of an 'animal show.' " Yellowstone, he stated, was not to be managed as a "zoological park or game farm." In contradiction to this position, in Jackson Hole National Monument (south of Yellowstone and soon to become part of Grand Teton National Park) the Service yielded to pressure from Laurance S. Rockefeller and allowed a wildlife display area to be established along the Snake River. Privately, Drury hoped this display would not be a success. [30]

Concurrent with the bison management disputes a controversy arose over plans to increase the limited, ongoing killing of wolves in Mt. McKinley National Park to reduce predation on Dall sheep, a wild native species. In 1939, after his investigation of coyotes in Yellowstone, Adolph Murie had begun wolf studies at McKinley, an assignment prompted in part by concern that wolves were responsible for a decline in sheep population. Murie concluded, however, that although sheep had declined in numbers, especially during the early 1930s, they had reached an equilibrium with the park's wolf population. He believed that by culling the weaker animals the wolves were helping to maintain a healthier sheep population. [31]

As a result, the park discontinued its wolf control program, causing an angry reaction from Alaska's territorial legislature and sportsmen's organizations that wanted the wolves eliminated to protect the Dall sheep. Petitioning Congress and the President to allow the killing of McKinley's wolves, the antiwolf faction raised fears that Congress would authorize wolf reduction in all Alaska national parks and monuments. Chief Biologist Victor Cahalane was convinced that many people wanted the wolf totally eliminated from Mt. McKinley—he asserted that when Alaskans spoke of "control" they really meant extermination. Cahalane assured Drury that criticism of the Park Service during the limited wolf control program of the 1930s had arisen because the Service was "not effective in exterminating the wolves." [32]

Concerned about the possibility of congressionally mandated wolf control in the park, the Service sent Murie back to McKinley in the summer and fall of 1945 to update his studies. This time Murie determined that the Dall sheep population had continued to decline to the point where its survival in the park was truly threatened. Noting the problems of maintaining natural conditions in parks that were also used for recreational purposes, and also noting the "highstrung articles" in the press against the wolf, Murie recognized the difficulty of preserving wolves even in national parks. Nevertheless, he stated that the "principal fact at hand" was that the sheep population had reached an "all-time low." As a "precautionary measure," he advocated reducing the park's wolf population by no more than ten or fifteen animals. Once the sheep population recovered, Murie added, there would be a "better place for the wolf in the fauna, without endangering a species," and control would no longer be necessary. [33]

It is certain that political pressure had increased for reducing the park's wolf population, but it is unclear to what degree, if any, Murie's recommendations were influenced by this pressure. Given his outspokenness about ecological matters, it seems unlikely that Murie would have recommended predator control of any kind. Indeed, his proposal to kill ten to fifteen wolves was conservative and may very well have been intended as a means of easing pressure while keeping at a minimum the impact on Mt. McKinley's wolf population. In any event, his proposal for limited control of one species to ensure the continued existence of a threatened species was in accord with the Park Service's existing predator control policy—first issued in May 1931, then reaffirmed two years later in Fauna No. 1's recommendations. [34]

With the blessing of Secretary Ickes, the Service made plans to implement Murie's recommendations for limited wolf control. The opposition was not pacified. In December 1945, two months after Murie's reevaluation, a bill was introduced in Congress for strict control of wolves and other predators in Mt. McKinley. Faced with possible legislative reversal of its established policy of limited predator control under the most compelling circumstances, the Park Service gained support from leading scientists and conservation organizations to oppose the bill. Among the scientists was Aldo Leopold, professor of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin. Recognizing that the bill threatened the Service's ability to make and implement wildlife policy, Leopold informed the House Committee on Public Lands that such a mandated predator reduction was "bad public policy" that would "contradict [the Service's] basic function of preserving the fauna of the National Parks." Leopold argued that Adolph Murie, "widely respected as one of the most competent men in his profession," was far better prepared to deal with this issue than was Congress. [35]

In the spring of 1947 the new secretary of the interior, Julius Krug, added his opposition to the bill, helping to bring the legislative effort to an end. With the park's sheep population on the rise and the wolf population somewhat reduced, the Service in 1952 ended the reduction program. [36] As with bison reduction, the wolf-sheep controversy at Mt. McKinley National Park reflected the influence of Fauna No. 1, which recommended that park wildlife be managed to meet ecological goals, rather than simply to please the public.

Fauna No. 1 also influenced the management of bears. Although population reduction was not an issue with bears, public enjoyment was. And through the decades, bear shows had grown from, in Drury's words, "minor incidents into a well-defined program." More frequent contact with people meant, however, that bears became more accustomed to humans and their food, and more prone to wander into campgrounds or other crowded areas, often vandalizing property and endangering people. [37] Under Drury, the Service terminated the bear shows and sought to end roadside feeding of bears, two activities very popular with park visitors.

Quoting directly from Fauna No. 1, Drury explained the basis of the change in bear policy as being that each species would be allowed to "carry on its struggle for existence unaided" and would avoid becoming "dependent upon man for its support." Wildlife in the parks was to be presented to the public in a "wholly natural" way. Drury saw the bear shows as more appropriate for zoos than for parks, and both the shows and the roadside feeding as potentially harmful to the bears. These attitudes had been endorsed by wildlife biologists such as Joseph Dixon, who in 1940 described the bear shows as "unnatural and unnecessary." In a similar vein, Victor Cahalane wrote Aldo Leopold in May 1942 that feeding the grizzlies in Yellowstone "may eventually prove harmful" to the bears. Acknowledging the lack of research to support this opinion, Cahalane added that the Park Service had "nothing very concrete to bolster our contention that this feeding should be abolished." [38]

As early as 1938, Yellowstone reduced the amount of edible garbage at the Canyon dump in order to divert grizzlies to other dumps not open to the public. Further reduction of public bear feeding came in 1940; and, under orders from Drury, none of the parks held bear shows in the summer of 1942. Very likely the decrease in park staffing after the beginning of World War II (including staff necessary to conduct the shows) forced management into alignment with the biologists' point of view, sealing the fate of the shows. Also, the dramatic decline in park tourism after the war began resulted in less roadside feeding and thus a greater opportunity for the Service to reduce that activity permanently. To support a final decision on bear management, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Olaus J. Murie began a study of bear ecology in Yellowstone in July 1943. [39]

Predictably, the new bear management policies evoked strong criticism from Horace Albright, who wrote Drury that the Service should give the public a chance to "see bears under safe conditions." As for Murie's bear research, Albright was certain that Murie would "persist in his belief that bears must not be fed." Probably hoping to reverse the new policy, the former director objected to removal of the bleachers used in the shows (just has he had objected to dismantling the Buffalo Ranch structures). He lectured Drury that, with the changes in both bison and bear management, the Service was creating a "world of trouble" in Yellowstone. Turning up the pressure, he noted that the changes were also a matter of concern to Kenneth Chorley, the influential assistant to national park benefactor John D. Rockefeller, Jr. [40]

However, Murie's preliminary conclusions had already recommended against feeding the bears (as Albright expected), and Drury responded to Albright that he was "more convinced than ever" of the correctness of the new policy. [41] Based on Murie's recommendations and management's inclinations, the shows were not revived. To reduce temptation to bears, the Service increased the burning of garbage; yet some dumps not open to the public remained accessible to bears.

Feeding was much more difficult to prohibit along miles of roadsides. With its tremendous appeal, roadside feeding even increased as the number of park visitors rose rapidly after the war. In the summer of 1951, the Service handed out more than a million leaflets to warn visitors about bears, but that same summer Yellowstone alone had thirty-eight injuries from bears, most occurring while visitors fed the animals. [42] Later, in 1959 (and with minimal support from the Park Service), biologists John and Frank Craighead would begin in-depth studies of Yellowstone's grizzly bear population. By the late 1960s, they would become embroiled in a major dispute with the park over bear management.

Although Drury frequently supported the wildlife biologists and their Fauna No. 1 policies, he seems to have backed the foresters' practices with little concern for ecological factors. Like other programs, active management of national park forests declined considerably during the war. Then, with no change in policies—only a renewed determination to implement them—forestry experienced a resurgence during the postwar era. Opposition of the wildlife biologists to forest fire suppression and to reduction of insects and diseases continued to have no effect. [43]

In his postwar annual reports, Drury repeatedly made clear his commitment to traditional forestry practices. With the return of veterans, the Park Service's firefighting capability "improved considerably," in Drury's words, allowing "intense prevention" and "efficient control" of park fires. Smoke jumping had proved effective in fighting fires in Glacier, inspiring the Service to build that program in cooperation with the Forest Service. Increased costs of firefighting (about $200,000 was spent in fiscal 1948, above regular salary costs) and the need to upgrade equipment were partially offset by support from the air rescue services of the U.S. Air Force. The fire program could be even more effective, Drury argued, if the fire-fighters were not burdened with other duties, and if the parks improved communication systems, maps, and aerial "detection and attack" techniques to combat fires occurring in remote areas.

Spraying and other operations to fight forest insects and diseases were under way in parks such as Acadia, Grand Teton, Yosemite, and Great Smoky Mountains. Aided by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine—and especially by the 1947 Forest Pest Control Act, which funded forest protection operations—both Drury and Wirth advanced these programs. [44] Among the chemicals beginning to be sprayed over extensive areas of some parks was DDT. In Yosemite the Service used it to combat the destructive lodgepole needleminer, even though it noted a decline in fish populations near areas where spraying had occurred. Yellowstone also sprayed DDT and found dead trout and other fish in the treated areas. Despite concerns raised by biologists (Lowell Sumner's warnings date from as early as 1948), DDT continued to be used in the parks through and beyond Conrad Wirth's directorship. [45]

The Park Service's forest management goal remained, as stated in a 1957 informational handbook, to "conserve as nearly as possible the primitive and natural character of the native vegetation"—but it was a goal pursued through strategies long opposed by the wildlife biologists. In a foreshadowing of change, however, a limited fire research program had begun in Everglades in 1951, the first such research in the national parks. Conducted by biologist and "fire aid" William B. Robertson, Jr., the research led in 1958 to the beginning of Park Service experiments in what would become known as "prescribed burning"—allowing selected natural and human-caused fires to burn in ways that simulate natural conditions. Given the Service's traditional mindset, these experiments would influence fire policies only very slowly. [46]

By midcentury a decline in fish populations in a number of parks was attributable not just to DDT but to too much fishing, which brought about, also very slowly, a change in national park fish management. Despite concerns voiced occasionally by the wildlife biologists, the Service had continued to place emphasis on visitor enjoyment of fishing rather than on preservation or restoration of natural conditions in lakes and streams. Anglers faced minimal restrictions on size and creel limits; and as postwar tourism increased, so did the pressure on fish populations. The policy changes, begun mainly during the Wirth administration, were affected by the Service's determination to continue to promote fishing and by the need to cooperate closely with state governments, which in most parks shared jurisdiction over fishing and had licensing authority. Seeking to prevent a serious decline in the quality of fishing, the Service tightened restrictions, more in the large natural parks than in national recreation areas with their huge artificial lakes.

In the mid-1950s Shenandoah and Great Smokies imposed new size and creel limits, set bait restrictions, and initiated catch-and-release programs (euphemistically called "fishing for fun"). Also in the mid-1950s Yellowstone closed its hatcheries and soon ended stocking except for limited planting of native species. It tightened size, creel, and bait restrictions, and in 1960 began a catch-and-release program. Many of the new rules were designed to ensure continued good fishing in the parks. However, the Service also encouraged native fish populations through such policy changes, and by placing certain waters off limits to anglers and resisting the urge to stock the remaining fishless lakes and streams. Similar changes began to take effect in other parks, but because of different state rules, fish regulations varied from park to park. Modified during ensuing decades, fish management in the parks would generally adhere to these basic strategies; still, the Service would continue to allow the taking of native aquatic fauna. [47]


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap5b.htm — 1-Jan-2003