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

Policies—New and Old

In its formal natural resource policy statements and its actual in-the-field management practices, the Service was similarly equivocating. It had entered the environmental era with minimal understanding of the ecology of the parks; and in the 1960s and beyond, with pressure to shift toward more ecologically attuned park management, its changes in natural resource management were often impulsive, politically motivated, and scientifically uninformed.

Although the National Academy study affected the role and status of science within the bureau, the Leopold Report had the greater impact on day-to-day resource management. In addressing the issue that had precipitated Secretary Udall's call for the studies, the Leopold Report advocated continued elk reduction on Yellowstone's northern range, although it stoutly opposed "recreational" public hunting in national parks. If ranger staffs were not sufficient to handle a reduction program, members of the public (who should be specially selected and trained) could assist—but for the "sole purpose of animal removal, not recreational hunting." In contrast, for national recreation areas operated by the Park Service (such as reservoir sites), the report endorsed the Service's existing policy of allowing sporthunting. Citing "precedent and logic" and asserting that national recreation areas were "by definition multiple use in character," it declared that hunting should be permitted "with enthusiasm." [107]

On a broader scale, the Leopold Report urged that "naturalness should prevail" in park management. The Service should encourage native plants and animals, discourage nonnative species, and minimize human intrusions in the parks. Further, the report recommended "controlled use" of fire as a management technique and questioned the Service's extensive use of chemical pesticides to combat forest insects and diseases, declaring that such use could have "unanticipated effects on the biotic community" within a park. [108]

The concern for naturalness by no means precluded active manipulation of resources, as with fire management or reduction of elk populations. Indeed, although it acknowledged the process of continuous change in nature, in several instances the Leopold Report advocated preserving or re-creating a particular "ecologic scene." In its opening paragraphs it asserted that although "biotic communities change through natural stages of succession," such communities could be manipulated "deliberately" through control of animal and plant populations. It recommended as a "primary goal" for national parks that a "vignette of primitive America" should be reestablished or maintained, to approximate the conditions at the time of first European contact—the desired "ecologic scene." [109]

Elaborating on his report, Starker Leopold advised the October 1963 national park superintendents conference that the "manipulation of ecological situations" was a proper means of preserving "what it is that we have set up to display before the public." He stated that in cases where the Service wanted to "show a natural scene typical of an area, we can build it— if we have to." A visitor to Mt. McKinley National Park should "have the opportunity to see the type of scene that was observed by the pioneers . . . or whoever was the first visitor to that area." He added, "This is the objective of ecologic planning in the parks." [110]

In May 1963, two months after the Leopold Report appeared, Secretary Udall declared it official Park Service policy. Previously, the Service lacked a cohesive policy statement for overall park management. Instead, it had relied on myriad "handbooks" developed over the years for guidance on specific activities such as wildlife management, maintenance, concessions, road and trail management, and master planning. Although Fauna No. 1 still influenced natural resource policy, by the early 1960s there was little direct reference to it.

Shortly after the Leopold Report appeared, Director Hartzog ordered the preparation of new, concise policies. They were to be separated into three categories—natural, recreational, and historical—a division generally based on land classifications proposed by the 1962 Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission Report and on the perception that Congress had created three basic types of parks. First published in 1967, with slight revisions in 1968 and 1970, the management policies for natural areas included the Leopold Report reprinted in full. [111]

Yet the new policies revealed ambivalence within the bureau. Displaying a remarkable allegiance to tradition in the face of modern ecological concepts, the policies also included the 1918 Lane Letter, the primary policy statement of Stephen Mather's directorship. A product of its times, the Lane Letter had placed heavy emphasis on recreational tourism in the national parks and had characterized the parks as "national playground[s]." Oriented toward park development, the letter virtually ignored national park science, merely commenting that research should be conducted by other bureaus. Its resource management recommendations included such practices as fighting forest insects and diseases and allowing cattle grazing in areas not frequented by the public. In a July 1964 policy memorandum drafted by the Park Service and included in the new policy book, Secretary Udall noted that the Lane Letter was "sometimes called the Magna Carta of the National Parks." The secretary declared that its policies are "still applicable for us today, and I reaffirm them. . . . The management and use of natural areas shall be guided by the 1918 directive of Secretary Lane." Nearly half a century old, the 1918 statement was unquestionably at variance with 1960s ecological concepts for preserving natural areas. As a philosophical and policy statement on parks, it contrasted strikingly with the Leopold Report. Yet both documents were now official policy, and both were reprinted in the 1968 policy book for natural areas. [112]

It is especially noteworthy that Fauna No. 1 was not even mentioned in the new policies. Nor were its recommendations included in the appendix, although they were clearly forerunners of the Leopold Report and far more in tune with it philosophically than was the Lane Letter. The new policies also neglected to mention the 1963 report by the National Academy of Sciences. This omission gives credence to Howard Stagner's recollection that the Service wanted to distance itself from the blunt and, as he put it, potentially "very damaging" criticism in the academy's report. [113] Inclusion of the Lane Letter and exclusion of any mention of the ecologically oriented Fauna No. 1 and National Academy Report rendered the new Park Service policy statement much less forward-looking than it could have been. These factors also reflected the uncertain status of ecological science in the Park Service during the 1960s and 1970s and suggested that the Service was less than fully committed to employing scientific knowledge as a basis for natural resource management decisions.

Moreover, fears arose among environmental groups that, with the three categories of parks, the Service might be more inclined to neglect natural resources in historical parks and cultural resources in natural parks. Rejecting the perception that units of the national park system could be categorized into three basic types and managed accordingly, Congress, in the General Authorities Act of 1970, declared the various types of parks to be part of a single system. The act stated that the parks

though distinct in character are united through their inter-related purposes and resources into one national park system as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage; . . . and . . . it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the System.

Subsequently, in revisions of its management policies, the Park Service abandoned the three separate administrative classifications. Congress reaffirmed the single-system principle in the Redwood National Park Expansion Act of 1978. [114]


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap6e.htm — 1-Jan-2003