Student Activities

Dueling Mandates

Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Social Studies

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. The student will explore the complexities involved in making management decisions and discover the far-reaching consequences of park management decisions. 


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. 


  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. Give each group a Dilemma Card relevant to a specific Yellowstone park area and issue. 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 ( includes park management plans, press releases, and research documents related to the various issues.
  3. Have students choose the best course of action from those proposed or formulate their own. Encourage them to analyze their choices by listing the pros and cons of the various options they consider. Students should attempt to reach a consensus.
  4. Have small groups of students brainstorm and decide on a solution to their dilemma. Then a spokesperson from each group will present the group's dilemma and its solution.
  5. 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 long-term consequences of their suggested solutions?
  6. 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 deciding and formulating these plans. Encourage students to seek updates from the park rangers via e-mail, Skype, or a visit to the park. 

Park Connections

Management decisions in a national park do not usually please everyone. Every decision must balance the preservation of the resources with the enjoyment of the visitors. This lesson helps participants to understand how and why the NPS makes its decisions. 

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.




Download Dueling Mandates Instructions & Dilemma Cards

Last updated: December 14, 2017