Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 6
Science and the Struggle for Bureaucratic Power: The Leopold Era, 1963—1981

Environmental Legislation and Change

In seeking stronger influence in national park management, the scientists were bolstered by the environmental movement and the resulting legislation. Particularly important were the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, and legislation on specific kinds of issues (such as amendments to the Federal Air Pollution Act and the Water Pollution Control Act).

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 had special potential to inject the scientific perspective into park management. This act specifically called for "use of the natural and social sciences" in plans and decisions substantially affecting the environment. Through "environmental impact statements" it also required interdisciplinary analysis of alternatives during planning. To comply with the act, greater scientific knowledge would have to be used in managing public lands, including those under the care of the Service. Nevertheless, as recalled by veteran Park Service manager and analyst John W. Henneberger, the Service in the early 1970s thought it should be exempted from this legislation, believing the parks were already managed properly. [81] To comply with the act, the Park Service created only a few science positions, most of which were stationed in the huge new Denver Service Center, to deal with that office's many complex planning and developmental projects.

Within the parks themselves, new environmental legislation brought unanticipated changes for natural resource management. William Supernaugh recalled that although wildlife rangers had performed both resource management and law enforcement, their resource work became more complex as they sought to help the superintendents comply with new laws and regulations. At the same time, professional law enforcement itself was becoming much more demanding. The complexity of both types of work led to a division of labor, which tended to separate resource management from law enforcement.

The duties of natural resource managers now included a variety of increasingly specialized concerns, such as management of caves, threatened species, nonnative species, fires, and wildlife, in addition to monitoring of air quality, biocide use, and coal, oil, and mineral mining activity (where legal in parks because of prior rights). Their responsibilities also included preparation of resource management plans. Evolving slowly over time, these plans fostered a broader ecological understanding of the parks because they required analyses of historic changes, existing natural conditions, and descriptions of current and anticipated natural resource management needs, including research, for each park. [82] With such duties the resource managers became, as Park Service scientist Bruce M. Kilgore stated in 1978, the "key people in bridging the communications gap between science and management." Kilgore foresaw a continuing professionalization of the resource management staff, in which individuals would have advanced college degrees and "extensive and effective experience" as managers of flora and fauna in the parks. [83]

Historically there was, as Supernaugh put it, a "direct line" between wildlife rangers of the 1960s and latter-day natural resource managers. As resource management became more professionalized and more ecologically oriented, rangers with the education and interest in biological management often chose that field over law enforcement, and took on the increased legislative mandates and ecological problems faced by the parks. (In some parks, mainly those that had no strong wildlife ranger contingent, the park naturalists assumed these responsibilities.) In the 1970s the Service dropped the "wildlife ranger" designation in favor of the more inclusive title of "natural resource management specialist." Some parks created separate divisions for resource management and law enforcement, although, as with other organizational arrangements, there would never be complete consistency throughout the Service. In the Washington office, the formal separation of law-enforcement rangers and resource managers occurred in 1973, when natural resource management got its own division and was placed under a different assistant director. [84]

In addition, scientific resource management in the Service was enhanced by the creation of a number of special research offices. In 1970, during hearings on the proposed North Cascades National Park, U.S. Senator Henry Jackson of Washington prompted the Park Service to cooperate with the University of Washington in conducting a program of scientific studies on the "ecological, environmental, and sociological aspects of park and wild land management." The agreement reached that year established the first Cooperative Park Studies Unit—a university-based scientific research office that became the prototype for similar arrangements across the country.

As the program evolved, Park Service scientists at the studies units would bring the Service's research contracts to the host university, benefiting both professors and graduate students. Many Service scientists became adjunct professors, teaching part time and serving on graduate committees. Advantages to the Service included increased use of university professors and graduate students and increased access to technology (especially computers). The agreements also provided for reduced overhead charges by the university, thereby lowering research costs to the Service. The program got a fast start; by 1973 there were agreements with eighteen universities (some units were established without a Service representative on campus). By 1980 units existed at thirty-five schools, a figure that dropped to twenty-three in 1983, then rose to thirty-one in 1988. Included were such universities as Oregon State, Texas A&M, Idaho, and Hawaii. [85]

These research offices addressed the needs of individual parks, as well as groups of parks that shared similar concerns. For instance, in one of the more successful efforts to deal with broad natural resource questions, the cooperative park studies unit at the University of Massachusetts focused on shoreline stabilization at several parks along the East Coast, among them Cape Hatteras, Fire Island, and Cape Cod national seashores. In cooperation with other universities the unit studied barrier island dynamics, involving continual sand deposition from the forces of wind and water, which often affected park recreational development and nearby urban areas. The research findings, emphasizing the natural processes of constantly shifting island profiles and mass, became the basis of official policy. [86]

Adding to the responsibilities of the study units, legislation of the 1970s on special environmental problems such as air and water pollution increased the need for scientific information in park management. The Service moved very slowly to address air and water concerns, and did not establish an air quality office until the late 1970s. Yet this office soon became one of the largest and best-funded research operations in the Park Service. Similarly, a water resources division emerged in the 1980s, developing substantial expertise in research, resource management, and water rights issues. [87]

Furthermore, in accord with the National Academy's recommendation that "research laboratories or centers" be created in parks "when justified by the nature of the park and the importance of the research," the Park Service established several science "centers," usually associated with individual parks. Building on the model of the Jackson Hole Biological Research Station (opened in the early 1950s in Grand Teton National Park to study and monitor the area's elk population), research centers were created in, for instance, Everglades and Great Smoky Mountains national parks. [88] However, these two new centers came about more from fortuitous circumstances than from any systemwide review and planning by Park Service decisionmakers about which parks or groups of parks needed science centers.

In Everglades, creation of the South Florida Research Center in the mid-1970s resulted mainly from the personal interest and political power of Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nathaniel P. Reed. By the late 1960s the proposed Miami Jetport had threatened the park, catching the Service unprepared and thus compelling it to rush to gather data in hydrology, geology, ornithology, and other fields that would strengthen the park's defense. To many, this effort made clear the need for a strong science program at Everglades. Reed, a south Florida native vitally interested in the welfare of the Everglades, proposed a scientific research center in the park and successfully engineered its establishment and funding. As initially intended, the center was also to serve nearby Biscayne National Monument and Big Cypress National Preserve. [89]

In establishing the center, Reed faced adroit, stubborn resistance from Park Service leaders, who did not relish the competition and interference of a potentially powerful research voice in the park. Moreover, once the center was set up, the Service did not appreciably increase its operating funds, leaving the center weakened by inflation and causing it to terminate support for Biscayne and Big Cypress. To the dismay of scientists, successive Everglades superintendents gradually diverted the center's research funds to resource management. Much of the burden of the latter program therefore fell on the center, likely freeing up the park's own resource management funds for other, often-unrelated ranger operations. Special shortterm "project" funds were used to augment research; but in the opinion of the center's second director, Michael Soukup, and the assistant research director, Robert F. Doren, "such erratic funding" did not lead to a "strong stable [research] program." They asserted that the Park Service failed to develop the "organizational, financial, and personnel requirements for a science program to match resource needs" of the Everglades—a park with profoundly complex ecological problems and under tremendous pressure from outside its boundaries. [90]

The Uplands Field Research Laboratory established in 1975 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park also came about in a fortuitous way. In the early 1970s a Cornell University graduate student in biology, Susan P. Bratton, was hired by the regional office to work in Great Smoky Mountains. There she noted the park's serious lack of scientific information. The park also lacked resource management capability. Yet it faced such problems as management of the mountaintop balds, exotic plants and animals (especially the voracious European wild boar), and Cade's Cove—the park's large historic district, where cattle grazed in areas inhabited by rare plants. Bratton believed that, despite regional office interest, the park managers did not truly want a biologist. She recalled that when she arrived in the park, "old guard" management held her suspect and did little to advance science. [91]

This perspective changed with the appointment of a new superintendent, Boyd Evison, who wanted to bolster scientific input. The coincidence of his and Bratton's interest in improving natural resource management (and the continuing support of the regional office) led to establishment of the Uplands Field Research Laboratory in 1975. This center soon grew into a small multidisciplinary operation, with aquatic, bear, and wild boar specialists, among others, and including both researchers and resource managers. Nonetheless, had there not been a superintendent sympathetic to science, who would take advantage of the regional office interest and of Bratton's work, the uplands laboratory might never have become a reality. Bratton herself believed that neither the laboratory nor the South Florida Research Center came about as a result of any "systemwide thought process." In her opinion, there was "absolutely no overall policy for this kind of thing"—personalities influenced Park Service research, and the centers were a result of "personalities and chance." [92]

The short and troubled existence of the National Park Service Science Center, near Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, provides perhaps the most glaring example of opportunism and the lack of an overall policy or long-range commitment to science centers. Inspiration for the center (formally established in late 1973) came largely from U.S. Senator John Stennis of Mississippi. Stennis wanted to fill space vacated at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility near Bay Saint Louis to help boost the local economy while the Apollo space program wound down—reasons obviously unrelated to any concern for national park science. The facility included laboratories equipped with sophisticated computers and additional up-to-date research capability, such as remote sensing. As intended, other bureaus used the technology; for instance, the U.S. Geological Survey placed scientists there, helping to form a cluster of scientific expertise at the facility. The Park Service decided that its own operation at the science center would provide assistance for planning, inventorying resources, and conducting ecological research throughout the national park system. [93]

From the first, the center did not fare well. Although it had some permanent funding (or "base funding"—appropriations mainly obtained by Senator Stennis), the center operated to a considerable degree on shortterm project money. Thus, every year it depended on regional offices and parks for sufficient projects to keep operating. This tenuous funding situation helped lead to failure, as parks and regions proved uninterested in using the center's expertise. More focused on accommodating Stennis than on developing an effective science center, Park Service leadership had agreed to establish the office but did not ensure adequate funding. [94]

In 1974, and again in 1975, the Washington office authorized task force studies of the center's operations. The 1975 study pointedly criticized the attitudes of the center's scientists and the effectiveness of their work. Recommending that such problems be corrected, it nevertheless concluded with the statement that "gut reaction has been to abolish the facility." Angrily reacting to such criticism, the center staff, in its 1976 annual report, accused the Service of failing to provide an "approved role, mission and organizational identity," which caused the office to experience a "series of disappointments in trying to implement studies and services." Intended to assist parks systemwide but left without systemwide support, the center had indeed become isolated. Its 1976 report claimed that the center had found it "impossible 'to do business' in some sections of the Service." Based on the task force recommendation, the center was disbanded early in 1977, just over three years after it was established. This contrived, half-hearted effort had come to an end. [95]

In addition to the centers, the National Park Service was slowly building scientific research offices in individual parks. These were similar to the centers at Everglades and Great Smoky Mountains, except that they were more integrated into traditional park organizations and did not usually have identities as discrete as those of the centers. In 1967 Acting Chief Scientist Robert Linn had noted that the Service was moving Glen Cole to Yellowstone to become supervisory research biologist, overseeing biological work in that park as well as in Glacier and Grand Teton. Linn expected to hire a biologist for Grand Teton (Cole's old position) and one for Glacier. He believed that together these would "make a pretty good research nucleus" for that part of the system. He also planned to hire scientists for Hawaii Volcanoes and Grand Canyon national parks, and one to be shared by Saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus national monuments. [96] Almost immediately, Yellowstone's small science office would be subjected to strong criticism over its recommendations for grizzly bear and elk management— criticism that would persist over many years. After some delay, the park's science program would grow and diversify.

Especially concerned with fire management, Sequoia National Park built up a small research staff in the late 1960s and the 1970s for diverse studies on matters such as grazing impacts, threats to park wilderness, and air quality. Yosemite and a number of other parks would follow suit, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which developed a science program during the 1980s. By the early 1990s, Indiana Dunes had four research scientist positions plus additional support personnel. Backed by park legislation specifically addressing scientific research, Channel Islands National Park set up an unusually strong natural resource management and science program during the 1980s and early 1990s. [97] Necessitated by special circumstances, science and resource management programs at Redwood National Park operated on an even larger scale. In 1978, after the hard-fought campaign to secure its expansion, Redwood was faced with a massive thirty-thousand-acre rehabilitation project resulting from commercial clear-cutting of trees outside the original park boundary, but on lands included in the expansion. The legislation enlarging the park authorized $33 million for restoration of the cutover lands, which included work on landscapes, vegetation, and streams and required a staff of forest ecologists and other scientists, as well as natural resource managers. [98]

In contrast to the varied, uneven success of scientific research offices, the Denver Service Center, created in 1971 as a Servicewide planning, design, and construction office, gained a commanding position in National Park Service affairs. Even though the service center depended largely on project funds, it became a fully accepted and integral part of the bureau's organization. Soon after its establishment, the service center began to hire scientists, especially to address requirements of environmental legislation.

It did so grudgingly, however. In 1968, three years before the service center's creation, Chief Scientist Robert Linn had noted that the two centers then in existence (the large "eastern" and "western" centers, predecessors to the Denver office) employed two ecologists. The situation improved very little by the time the Denver office began operations. A September 1972 memorandum from Johannes E. N. Jensen, assistant director, service center operations, to Director Hartzog reported that there were currently three full-time positions "authorized for EIS [environmental impact statement] activities," to be supplemented with three permanent, but less-than-full-time, scientists. [99]

In an office of several hundred employees devoted to planning, designing, and constructing national park facilities, allocations of staff and funds to address ecological concerns were meager. Jensen stated that the six scientists would have to prepare an estimated 120 impact statements for various service center projects during the coming fiscal year, and "provide some input" for about 75 additional statements. Even by an "optimistic estimate," these statements would require 1,575 workdays, whereas the six employees could provide only about 1,200 days—a difference that might be made up somewhat by borrowing "other personnel on a part time basis." The assistant director admitted that the service center would be "hard pushed to adequately handle the EIS program." [100]

Biologist William P. Gregg, who assumed the responsibility of building the center's science staff to address the mandates of the National Environmental Policy Act, recalled that the Park Service wanted to do little more than meet minimal regulatory requirements of the law in order to avoid litigation over noncompliance. Gregg believed, however, that the act became the "major factor" in hiring scientists in the Denver office in the 1970s. He stated that "more were hired under that aegis"—including himself —than for any other reason. [101]

Early in his efforts to build a program, Gregg arranged a meeting with the Bureau of Reclamation's legislative compliance chief to discuss how to deal with the law's regulations. Aware that the Park Service might be sued if it did not comply with the required impact statement processes, he sought advice from the bureau because, with its water reclamation projects under attack by environmental groups, it was already facing litigation and should be well versed in the pitfalls of the compliance process. With little faith in the Service's willingness to comply with the law, the center's lead scientist sought advice on how to avoid litigation from the very bureau whose development in the West had been a significant factor in inspiring the environmental movement and its legislation. [102]

Another problem stemmed from the fact that the scientists' work schedules were tied to the deadlines of the service center's design and construction operations. When the Park Service first began to address its impact statement responsibilities, the center already had a backlog of completed plans and other documents for which statements were required. Responding to a law that mandated analysis of alternatives during the decisionmaking process, much of the work that the scientists first undertook came after the fact, justifying decisions already made. The scientists also began to assist with preparation of impact statements on newly initiated projects. But the center's rapid production pace caused the scientists to continue in a rubber-stamp situation. They only had time to gain some familiarity with the park resources, synthesize what was known from existing scientific literature, and apply this knowledge to the plans pouring out of the Denver office. [103]

Still, without the influence of the National Environmental Policy Act there would have been far less scientific input. As recalled by R. Gerald Wright, a biologist hired in Denver in the early 1970s, the act "gave science a power it never had before." The scientists gradually moved the service center toward some comprehension of the parks' natural resources and how they might be affected by the projects being implemented. But because they were virtually forced on the service center, the scientists found their work resented by those unaccustomed to interference. Wright remembered that the old-time planners were particularly hostile. Indicative of the assertion that Park Service leaders initially thought the bureau should not be subject to the new environmental law, the planners tended to question the scientists' motives and to view science as, in Wright's words, a "constraint on their freedom" to plan as they saw fit. [104] Such unfettered decisionmaking was, indeed, what the act's environmental impact statement process sought to curb.

Wright believed that a mid-1970s reorganization of the service center further impeded the scientists' efforts. The reorganization broke up the science office that William Gregg had assembled, and placed its members within the center's regional, multidisciplinary "teams," which were usually headed by landscape architects, engineers, or planners. This "regionalization," Wright concluded, caused science to lose its "group identity" and, more important, its "independence to challenge the team leaders" whenever service center proposals might be unduly harmful to the parks' natural resources. The traditional elite professions within the Park Service thus gained greater control and curtailed the emerging influence of science in the center. Wright found the situation in many ways comparable to the chief scientist's loss of his programs when Director Hartzog had transferred most of the scientists to the regions and the superintendents only a few years before. [105] At its Denver Service Center—the office having far and away the greatest assemblage of landscape architects, engineers, and other professionals capable of undertaking projects that could alter natural conditions in the parks—the Park Service operated with very limited ecological insight.

Throughout the 1970s the Service's scientific natural resource management efforts had increased, but the progress was erratic, influenced by "personalities and chance" and by a steady resistance to change. Gradually, with scientists hired into the Washington office, the regions, the cooperative park studies units, and parks such as Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Sequoia, their personnel numbers had risen. An internal report issued in 1980 declared that the Service had "about 100" scientists—an estimate that probably included research scientists as well as administrators of science programs. Although the Park Service still did not have adequate tracking and accountability for science, the report stated that funding for natural science research had reached $9 million. Some of these funds were used to support resource management or other activity rather than research. Having worked in natural resource management during this era, William Supernaugh later observed that the science program remained "a kind of mystery to many park managers," adding that, "what you don't know about you either distrust or ignore—the situation did not lend itself to success." Much stronger than before, the science programs still faced problems identified in the 1963 National Academy Report: they tended to be "fragmented" and "piecemeal," lacked "continuity, coordination, and depth," and were marked by "expediency rather than by longterm considerations." The academy had believed it "inconceivable" that science was not used to ensure preservation of the national parks' "unique and valuable" properties. But in the more than a decade and a half since the report appeared, the Service had failed to establish a comprehensive, coordinated scientific management program. [106]


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap6d.htm — 1-Jan-2003