National parks are recognized as outdoor laboratories for studying ecological processes. As potential adverse impacts of human activities on the globe have become more widely recognized and politically acknowledged, national parks have become “canaries in the mine” for the biosphere. Natural systems in national parks provide the best indicators of ecological effects of anthropic perturbations such as air pollution, ozone depletion, and global warming. By developing sound technical information on park resources, the National Park Service is positioned to actively manage those resources and to participate in broader regional conservation programs.
Natural Resource Inventories, Conditions and Trends - Shenandoah staff members record fundamental information about the presence, abundance, and distribution of a plant or animal in the park; this is known as "inventory." From these data, they create maps and species lists. Condition and trend programs, often referred to as "monitoring," track changes over time. This helps park scientists understand if species are declining, stable, or improving. Scientists also monitor air and water quality in the park.
Stewardship Activities - As a result of inventory and monitoring, park staff members identify problems with park resources. The presence of exotic plants, elevated levels of ozone in the air, fisheries management, and trampling of rare plants are three examples of resource problems at Shenandoah. Stewardship activities to correct these problems are wide ranging such as protection of rock outcrops, the restoration of species that are rare or non-existent in the park like Peregrine Falcons, removal of exotic plants like Tree of Heaven and Japanese Stiltgrass, fisheries management, and reviews of applications for air pollution emission permits.
Research - Sometimes park staff members do not fully understand a natural resource problem or do not know the best way to resolve a particular issue. In those cases, scientists from universities, other federal agencies, and conservation organizations conduct research targeted on those issues. To conduct research or collect any specimens from the park, a research permit is required.
Resource Education - In the course of gathering information about park resources and managing those resources, park staff improve scientific understanding. An important part of natural resource management is sharing scientific findings with the public and with park management. See our species lists, fact sheets, and posters to learn more about natural resources at Shenandoah.
Planning and Compliance - A tier of planning documents and environmental legislation guides the management of parks. The National Environmental Policy Act and other laws require the National Park Service to evaluate the impacts of management decisions, construction projects, and park operations; to consider alternatives to proposed actions; and to assess public comments. Specific procedures are often stipulated to assure that "compliance" with the spirit and intent of these laws is met.
Natural resource staff consists of "ologists" who specialize in sciences like botany, wildlife management, air and water quality, and so forth. Meet the staff and others who are working to protect Shenandoah's natural resources.