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

The Status of Wildlife Biology

Although Newton Drury accepted the advice of the wildlife biologists many times, he made no effort to expand the Service's scientific research capability; nor would Wirth, who evidenced only random interest in the wildlife biologists and their policies. The biologists were transferred back to the Park Service from the Fish and Wildlife Service beginning in 1944, when Victor Cahalane, George Wright's successor as head of the Wildlife Division, returned and was stationed in Drury's office. Two years later, the remaining handful of wildlife biologists were reinstated to the ranks of the Park Service (and in October 1947 the Service ended its wartime "exile" in Chicago, moving its headquarters back to Washington). [48]

Under Drury in the middle and late 1940s, the Service prepared several reports that emphasized the need to improve its biological programs, including research—but the recommendations encountered a reluctant Service leadership. In late March of 1944, before Cahalane reentered the Service, Chief Naturalist Carl Russell recommended that after the war Drury should promote park research rather than construction and development, and that the Service should not "attempt to justify an extensive program of post-war construction." He advocated instead a "definite program of post-war studies looking toward full understanding of our responsibilities as trustees." Apparently thinking in terms of a jobs program for research, Russell noted the "lack of organized information" in fields such as history, ethnology, and natural sciences. He claimed that as many as two hundred researchers could be put to work in Chicago, Washington, New York, Berkeley, Cambridge, and other cities. [49]

On March 23, 1944—the very date of Russell's memorandum on research —Dorr G. Yeager, assistant superintendent at Zion National Park, issued a lengthy statement on the deterioration of natural conditions in the park that corroborated Carl Russell's concerns. Yeager identified problems of excessive and poorly located park development, predator control and overpopulation of deer, invasion of exotics, and alteration of riverine systems in the park. Given such problems, he speculated that the park had been so mismanaged that it had become "impossible to maintain a seminatural condition." He believed that in Zion the Park Service might be "forced to admit that the natural condition can never be regained." Yeager recommended approaching these complex problems through scientific investigation. Solutions could be arrived at "only through a carefully planned and executed research program" addressing the Service's responsibilities in biological and geological matters. [50]

In early 1945, perhaps in response to such recommendations, the Service prepared the most comprehensive statement on national park scientific research needs to appear during the Drury era. Instead of a large internal research program, however, the report championed the use of independent researchers and foundations. Noting inadequate funds for inhouse research, the report encouraged scientists and university students to use the parks as "field laboratories." Still, the use of outside expertise did not mean that the Park Service should avoid "organizing and prosecuting a vigorous research program when time, funds, and qualified personnel are available." The report called for the Service to create permanent positions (it did not suggest how many) to be filled by technical experts who would oversee the necessary research.

The report further stated that, in addition to guiding the management of flora and fauna, research was needed to support interpretation and development. Park development was to be carried out with a scientific understanding of natural resources to help ensure their preservation. In weighing the relative importance of development and preservation, the report favored preservation, stating that "minor objectives in park development such as might pertain only to Man's convenience . . . must receive secondary consideration when they conflict with the primary objective of preserving the primitive." [51]

There was no substantive response to these calls for improving research. In April 1947 Drury's office issued yet another report, asserting that in light of the importance of preserving natural resources, the Service must "extend and expand its existing research program." It stated that current research efforts were "not altogether satisfactory." Expansion of the program should be accomplished through hiring additional personnel and cooperating with other scientific organizations. [52]

Despite the Service's proclamations, the biologists did not gain additional positions to expand their programs. As Lowell Sumner recalled, only eight biology positions were reestablished after the war. The April 1947 report on research listed even fewer: only six positions, four of them in central offices such as Washington or the regional offices, and two in parks. By either count the number was not sufficient, given the large number of parks to be managed, each with serious wildlife and development problems to be addressed; thus the 1947 report called for at least fourteen additional biologist positions. A 1948 summary of wildlife conditions in the national parks upped this recommendation to sixteen additional positions, half of which should be "bird and mammal men, ecologists, and botanists," the other half to be aquatic biologists. [53] The following year, a similar report noted the variety of wildlife concerns, including moose ecology in Isle Royale; fishery management in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain; and management of large and small mammals in parks such as Acadia, Dinosaur, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wind Cave. The same report noted, however, that no progress had been made in securing the necessary biological staff, and it repeated the hiring recommendations made in the 1948 summary. [54]

Documented needs and statements of good intentions notwithstanding, the Park Service made no real increases in its biological program during the Drury administration. Victor Cahalane recalled that Drury was very timid in approaching Congress about the necessity for additional scientific positions. He believed the director was supportive of scientific programs, but only as long as they did not cost anything. It may have also been that the biologists themselves were not persuasive advocates of their programs. But, in truth, management had other priorities. In 1951 Chief Landscape Architect William Carnes reported that the Park Service currently employed "about 140" landscape architects, who were engaged in "planning the development essential to the administration, protection, and public use" of the national parks. [55] This very large commitment of staff reflected the priorities of Drury's last years as director, even before Conrad Wirth would substantially increase planning and development with his Mission 66 program.

Ironically, management's failure to give strong support to the biologists may have been influenced by a concept derived from the wildlife policies established in Fauna No. 1—that under the right circumstances most species in the national parks should become self-sustaining. Species were to be allowed to carry on their struggle for existence "unaided" unless threatened with extinction. Once they were out of danger of extinction, any "artificial aids" provided by the Park Service were to be discontinued. One implication that could be drawn from this policy was that with resources that were not endangered, a more or less custodial oversight would suffice—not requiring an extensive commitment to research or to a large staff of biologists. For example, once bison reduction in Yellowstone had brought the population to the desired level and allowed the range to restore itself, it seemed that the bison would require less management and possibly almost no research. Drury had stated in 1943 that the ultimate goal for Yellowstone's Lamar Valley bison was to put the herd "entirely on its own resources," and the Service was already on the way to discontinuing winter feeding and other operations at Buffalo Ranch. [56]

Similarly, Lowell Sumner told a Park Service conference in October 1950 that the Service was mainly interested in "watching natural processes unfold," and that park management consisted "primarily" of "letting nature alone." He cited the termination of the bear shows and the efforts to eliminate roadside feeding as examples of current wildlife policies—to return bears to "a normal way of life, based on rustling their own natural food." Sumner noted that, by contrast, other bureaus such as the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service intensively managed game species, treating many of them as crops to be harvested. Later, as director, Conrad Wirth would clearly signal a hands-off approach by stating that wilderness preservation was not specifically a "program item" for the Service, "because in a sense the less you have to do the better it is being preserved." [57]

Sumner and his fellow biologists were keenly aware, however, that not only did placing species on a "self-sustaining basis" require research, but also that Fauna No. 1 itself called for research to be conducted prior to any "management measure or other interference with biotic relationships." Any significant disturbance of natural conditions required prior knowledge of the resources affected—a policy highly unlikely to be honored with 140 landscape architects and only about a half-dozen wildlife biologists in the parks. Sumner knew that, most fundamentally, Fauna No. 1 had called for "a complete faunal investigation" of all national parks—leaving nature alone did not mean failing to achieve an understanding of the populations and dynamics of species inhabiting the parks. [58]

Having long ago endorsed Fauna No. 1 and still seeking to adhere to some of its tenets, the Service lacked the interest in acquiring what biologist Carl Russell had called a "full understanding of our responsibilities as trustees." To do so would have necessitated a substantial buildup of its biological staff; but Drury's unwillingness to act left wildlife biology weak and vulnerable. As Olaus Murie, who had become head of the Wilderness Society, commented to Drury just before Drury resigned from the Park Service early in 1951, the status of the biological programs was "precarious" and the Service had only managed to "hang on to some biologists." To Murie, ecological science had moved up to new levels and the Park Service had undertaken a "high responsibility" in keeping important natural areas unimpaired. Yet with the superintendents' tendency to "oversimplify the task of the research man," as Murie saw it, the biological researcher was frequently seen as little more than a "trouble shooter." The Service's administrators gave the biologists neither "universal approval" nor enthusiastic support. [59]

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Director Wirth's Mission 66 program, ultimately averaging about $100 million per year, would not improve the biologists' status. Although the goals of Mission 66 came to include a strong rhetorical commitment to research—declaring that "guess-work is not good enough for America's national heritage" and that "exact knowledge and understanding based on sound scientific . . . research is essential"—in reality the program included negligible support for biological sciences. Exasperated because biology had been ignored and aware that Mission 66 would not include substantial funding for his programs, Chief Biologist Victor Cahalane resigned from the Park Service in 1955. [60]

Rhetoric aside, Wirth indeed seemed distrustful of science. As Cahalane remembered it, Wirth appeared to care neither about wildlife issues nor about what the biologists were doing, and to believe that scientists were using money that could better be spent drawing park plans. The director's indifference was most evident in his failure to bolster science programs during Mission 66. He made explicit his disregard for science in a letter to Horace Albright in November 1956, expressing the need to "slant a practical eye" toward the issue of overgrazing of Yellowstone's grasslands, a matter of deep concern to the wildlife biologists. In a telling comment, Wirth added: "Sometimes I find, Horace, and I am sure you will agree with this, that you can get too scientific on these things and cause a lot of harm." The director's remarks fell on receptive ears, given Albright's record of opposition to the biologists on numerous wildlife management issues. Albright displayed attitudes similar to Wirth's when he told a 1958 gathering of the National Parks Advisory Board that "there should not be too much emphasis laid on biology." After all, he added, the people were "the ones who are going to enjoy the parks." The former director asserted that "ninetynine percent" of the people who visit the parks are "not interested in biological research." [61]

With little support for science programs within the Service, outside research received continued emphasis during Mission 66. Indeed, reliance on researchers from universities or other federal bureaus had always figured prominently in park management's thinking. Mather had depended on it almost exclusively, and the Drury administration had called for it repeatedly—a trend that continued under Wirth. Much as the 1918 Lane Letter had done, an April 1958 memorandum to the Washington office and all field offices stressed the need for outside research in cooperation with universities and other bureaus. The Service should seek to "advance programs which will attract qualified scientists to the National Park System for productive research purposes." [62]

Victor Cahalane recalled that during his career the Park Service never got much out of university research, that the research was often too abstract, and that it did not influence wildlife management policies and practices. Furthermore, an internal report in the early 1960s observed that relying on others to do national park research resulted in products "most frequently oriented toward the researcher's interests, and only incidentally toward Service needs and objectives." [63] In truth, by continually emphasizing the use of external scientific research, the Service revealed even more clearly the limitations of its commitment to use its own funds and staffing for such purposes. From Mather's time on, the repeated assertions that the Park Service should rely on research conducted by other institutions were a means to avoid coming to grips with the problem internally, in contrast to the enormous support given to tourism development and related management programs.

In 1958, as Mission 66 approached its halfway mark, the budget for scientific research projects throughout the entire park system, not including biologists' salaries, was only $28,000—a minuscule sum compared to that spent for development and construction. In a letter to Lowell Sumner in December 1958, Olaus Murie stated that Mission 66 had brought about a "period of expediency" in the Service, causing "a confused outlook, in which the biological program suffers." Even with many "splendid people" in the Park Service, Murie believed that the Service's Washington office still did not know "what is taking place in the human mind" with the advances in ecological knowledge. [64]

Yet some Park Service leaders were becoming more aware. In 1960 an internal report by a high-level committee commented that the "research effort" for national parks was so inadequate that the parks' resources were "actually endangered by ignorance." Chaired by biologist Daniel Beard (a former superintendent at Everglades and Olympic, and soon to be a regional director), the committee reported that research seemed "less understood, less appreciated, and less organized than anything else" the Service undertook. [65] The following year, Beard told the superintendents conference that the Park Service had a "surprising lack of understanding of the purpose and needs of research." The Service's tendency to seek research support from universities instead of building its own scientific staff meant that the biologists had to "stand hat in hand in an effort to get foundation support" and to rely on the "peon labor" of graduate students. Similar concerns were expressed to the superintendents by Chief Landscape Architect William Carnes, who stated that there was "little reason to brag about our accomplishments in the research field" and that the Service had not "assumed the leadership" to provide knowledge necessary for park management. [66]

The most influential internal statement on research needs was the inspiration of Howard R. Stagner, chief of the Branch of Natural History and advocate of a strong science program. In 1961 Stagner oversaw preparation of a document entitled "Get the Facts, and Put Them to Work." Released that October, it was sharply critical of the Service's "inadequately financed" research program, which lacked "continuity, coordination, and depth." The report described the parks as "complex organisms" that were "rapidly becoming islands" surrounded by lands managed for different purposes. It argued that research was necessary for the Service to "know what it is protecting, and what it must protect against." The Service "must understand, much more completely than it now does, the natural characteristic of these properties, the nature of the normal processes at work within them, the unnatural forces imposed upon them, and, as well, the relationships of park visitors to the natural environments." [67]

A significant shift from earlier thinking, the insights of both Beard and Stagner reflected a growing concern among conservationists and some Service leaders about the national parks' ecological conditions. Such concern went beyond distress about deteriorating park facilities or the location and appearance of facilities once they were built—the major emphasis of many conservationists through much of the 1950s. "Get the Facts" took a different stance, stressing a "critical" need for scientific knowledge of the national parks and quoting from an international panel of scientists that the parks offered the "principal future hope of preserving some scattered fragments of primeval nature for fundamental scientific research." [68]

"Get the Facts" recommended a long-range research plan with a "logical sequence" of projects, together with adequate funding and staffing of the "highest professional research competence." With this document in hand, Stagner worked to increase funding for the science program. More important, he used the report to heighten Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall's interest in national park science. [69] Udall's response would result in major reports prepared outside the Park Service, focusing even more attention on ecological issues in the parks.

By the Service's own reckoning in the early 1960s, it had almost no scientific research to inform natural resource management or to advise on possible impacts of Mission 66 development. In the rush of Mission 66, and with nearly three decades having passed since the acceptance of Fauna No. 1's recommendations as official policy (including the requirement for "properly conducted investigations" prior to any "management measure or other interference with biotic relationships"), the scientific programs called for in Fauna No. 1 had been rendered virtually impotent. [70]

Reflecting this disregard for science, the wildlife biologists' organizational status remained repressed during the postwar years, culminating in the late 1950s with Wirth's decision to bring the biologists under the rangers and foresters, whose policies they many times deplored. Returning to the Service after the war, the wildlife biologists were placed under the naturalists. In 1947, after a number of wartime vacancies had been filled, the Service employed sixty-one "year-round professional" naturalists who oversaw the park interpretive programs—a staff that dwarfed that of the biologists. Rather than managing natural resources, the naturalists focused on interpreting them, a responsibility usually not of primary concern to wildlife biologists. [71] Also in contrast to the biologists' status, the Park Service foresters continued to enjoy close ties with the rangers, and by the end of Drury's tenure many men with formal college training in forestry occupied key positions such as chief ranger and park superintendent. [72]

The rangers gained strength in 1954, when Wirth established a Washington office for "ranger activities"—the Branch of Conservation and Protection. Indicative of their close alliance with the rangers, the foresters were included in the new office. The head of the branch (in effect the "chief ranger"), Lemuel A. (Lon) Garrison—former superintendent of Big Bend National Park and a rising star in the Service—brought clout to the position. (Garrison's successors would be another former ranger and superintendent, John M. Davis, and then former chief forester Lawrence Cook.) To increase the new unit's influence, Garrison urged that it be upgraded to division status.

In 1957, as the rangers were achieving this new status, they made their bid to gain control of the wildlife biology programs. [73] Wirth responded in October of that year by transferring the biologists to the newly established Division of Ranger Activities. Initially he had intended to place the biologists in a branch separate from the foresters. He changed his mind, however, and ordered a merger of forestry and wildlife biology into one branch under forester Lawrence Cook, who reported to the chief of the ranger division. [74]

The transfer evoked impassioned opposition from former chief biologist Victor Cahalane, who strongly disapproved of the Service's forestry practices. Cahalane wrote to E. Raymond Hall (now with the University of Kansas' Museum of Natural History, and a member of the National Parks Advisory Board), urging that "everything possible" be done to reverse the transfer. In view of the Service's failure to bring its forest policies in line with contemporary ecological principles, the former chief biologist characterized the foresters as a group that "pretends to know everything about ecology but actually has no competence in that field." He cited the foresters' efforts to suppress "as rigorously as possible" natural fires and native insects and diseases, and added that "under the mandated merger [the foresters] will apply the same philosophy to wildlife. Knowing little or nothing about animal ecology, they can work havoc." [75]

Cahalane found a ready listener in Hall, who also disapproved of the Park Service's forest management. Early in 1958 Hall attacked the Service's policy to "practice forestry" that led to disruption of natural succession in park forests. In a telling comment, he observed that the Service persisted in using the term "forestry"—a designation used by bureaus such as the Forest Service, with their focus on the economic benefits of timber production. Why, he asked, when the goal was to preserve—rather than harvest— natural resources, should Park Service foresters not be called "biologists," or "botanists"? After all, wildlife biologists were not known as "game managers." Hall believed that the continued use of the term "forester" contributed to a "fuzziness in policy and in practice as concerns the preservation of natural conditions." [76]

Hall's protest had no effect. The merger held, with the wildlife biologists and foresters remaining in the ranger division and reporting directly to Lawrence Cook, an outspoken advocate of traditional forest practices. Contrary to the views of Cahalane and Hall, the rangers insisted that the "basic principles and procedures" of wildlife management were "identical and parallel" to those of forestry. [77] To assist with wildlife management in the field, the park superintendents soon formally designated fifty-nine park ranger positions as "wildlife rangers," probably filling these positions with men who had long been responsible for such work. [78]

In Washington the wildlife biologists transferred to the ranger division were to be involved in day-to-day field operations. Two wildlife biologists stayed with the naturalist division, recently redesignated the Division of Interpretation. They were responsible for overseeing "all biological research" and recommending policies on wildlife and fish management. The directorate explained that the research and policy biologists were better off in interpretation, where they were removed from day-to-day demands of actual management, and that previously "basic research and investigations" had "suffered" when field management activities distracted the research biologists. [79] However, with only two biologists in research and policy, that aspect of the biology programs remained virtually powerless in the surge of Mission 66 activity.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap5c.htm — 1-Jan-2003