Lesson Plan

Dueling Mandates: Preservation and Use of National Parks

Close up of crown fire at Grant Village Junction.
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.W.1, 3.W.5, 4.W.1, 4.W.5, 5.W.1, 5.W.5
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards: MS-LS2-5., HS-LS2-7
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.


Using dilemma cards describing some of the issues affecting Yellowstone National Park, students work in small groups to consider management issues that meet both of the conflicting mandates that the National Park Service must follow. After the investigation, students will be able to answer the question:

How does the National Park Service attempt to balance the dueling mandates of preservation and use in complex dilemmas?


The National Park Service is only one of the federal agencies responsible for managing public lands. Others include the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish, and Wildlife Service. Sometimes visitors perceive a national park and a national forest as similar; however, there are notable differences between them. The Department of the Interior administers national parks, while the Department of Agriculture manages national forests. The National Park Service is mandated to preserve resources unimpaired, while the U.S. Forest Service is mandated to wisely manage resources for a variety of sustainable uses.  

Most federal land management agencies allow for “multiple uses” for the greatest good for the greatest number of people. On the other hand, through the National Park Service Act (1916), Congress authorized the National Park Service to promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. The mission—preservation of wildness for the enjoyment of the people—is appealing, but it is difficult to accomplish. 

Park managers must forever struggle with this dual mandate to both preserve and use. The challenge becomes increasingly difficult as more people visit parks. As the value of wild places becomes increasingly clear, we are struggling to decide, with limited resources, just what can and should be saved.


*Make one copy of the "Dilemma Cards" for each student. Prepare to put copies of each of the six dilemma cards at a different tables.

*Set up tables or desks into six groups. 

*Prepare to project or make one copy per student of the "Balance the Dueling NPS Mandates" graphic. 

*Make one copy per student of the "Memo to the Superintendent" assessment. 


Make one copy per student.

Download Dilemma Cards

Make one copy per student or project onto board for class discussion.

Download "Balance the Dueling Mandates" Graphic

Lesson Hook/Preview

*Explain to students a time when you felt personally torn between two different directions or opinions. For example, possibly you had two best friends in a fight. Ask students if they've ever felt torn in two different directions or opinions before.

*Explain to students that often in those situations you have to balance the two sides like a see-saw. Project on the board and/or hand out a copy to the students the graphic "Balance the Dueling NPS Mandates". Explain that the NPS has the mission to preserve and promote the use of National Parks such as Yellowstone.

*Ask students to brainstorm answers to the questions on the graphic. 


Prepare for the Dilemmas 

1. Explain that park staffs are often faced with difficult management decisions. Use the background information to introduce students to the dual mandates of preservation and use.

2. Tell students that their work groups will play the part of Yellowstone park officials attempting to make wise management decisions. Explain to the groups that they must work as a group and come to a consensus. To assist, ask students to choose one of the following roles: 

  • Reader - Read the dilemma and possible solutions to the group. 
  • Consensus Builder - Ask each group member their opinion on the dilemma and lead the group towards agreement. 
  • Secretary - Keep notes of the group's decision and reasons for that decision. 

Dilemma Stations 

3. Place at each table group copies of different dilemma cards. For example, at table one place all of the copies of the "Bison Dilemma Card".

4. Explain to students that they will be given five minutes to read its card and take a stand on the issue. At the end of the five minutes, they must take a stand. Then, the groups will move and rotate to sit at a new table group to look at a new dilemma card.

3. After students have gone through all six dilemmas, ask each group to partner up with another group to compare chosen solutions.   

4. Facilitate a class discussion about the issues. What key factors/reasons influenced decisions? What additional information did they need to make an informed decision? What would be the longterm consequences of their suggested solutions?

5. Explain that the Yellowstone National Park management staff is addressing all the various dilemmas by means of management plans, and that the public is involved in the planning process. 

Make an Argument

6. Ask students to choose one dilemma they feel strongest about to argue for their solution in a memo to the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. As a steward of the National Parks, both citizens and rangers must make their opinions known in a respectful manner to leaders. 


*Park management - the process of dealing with or controlling the park. 

*Mandate - an official order or mission to do something.

*Dueling - a contest between two different people or sides. 

*Preservation - maintain (something) in its original or existing state.

*Use - the action of using something. 


*Dilemma - a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally desirable or undesirable ones.

Assessment Materials

Memo to the Superintendent

Students will write a memo to Yellowstone National Park Superintendent arguing for their chosen solution to one of the dilemmas.

Memo to the Superintendent

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

*Teacher-chosen hetereogeneous groups. 

*Require students to only read one dilemma if time is limited. 

*The role with the least reading is the consensus building role. Also, students can be placed in groups of four and partner two students to one role if necessary. 

Enrichment Activities

*Allow each group time to read its card and research the issue presented on the card. Suggest that students research their assigned issue on the Internet. The park's official website (www.nps.gov/yell) includes park management plans, press releases, and research documents related to the various issues.

Additional Resources

Black, George (2012). Empire of Shadows: The epic story of Yellowstone. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Fischer, Frank (1995). Wolf Wars. Helena, MT: Falcon Guides.

Franke, Mary Anne (2005). To Save the Wild Bison: Life on the edge in Yellowstone. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Nie, Martin A. (2003). Beyond Wolves: The politics of wolf recovery and management. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Punke, Michael (2009). Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the battle to save the buffalo and the birth of the new west. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books.

White, P.J., Robert A. Garrott, Glenn E. Plumb (2013). Yellowstone’s Wildlife in Transition. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

Wildung Reinhart, Karen (2008). Yellowstone’s Rebirth by Fire: Rising from the ashes of the 1988 Wildfires. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press.

Yellowstone National Park Website

Yochim, Michael J. (2013). Protecting Yellowstone: Science and the politics of National Park Management. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Contact Information

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Last updated: August 13, 2015