National Park Service
Kelp forest monitoring in the Channel Islands NP
Kelp forest monitoring in the Channel Islands NP
NPS Essentials

Resource Management


The National Park Service manages a broad array of natural and cultural resources in over 400 units spread across the United States and its territories. The NPS Organic Act established the mission for the NPS to: conserve these resources unimpaired for future generations and provide for their enjoyment. Appropriate management actions help to ensure natural and cultural resources are not injured or lost. Natural resources, processes, systems, and values are all included in the term “natural resources.”

Natural Resources include:

  • biological resources (native plants, animals, and communities),
  • biological processes, physical resources (air, water, geology, natural soundscapes, and dark night skies),
  • physical processes (weather, erosion, wildland fire, cave formations),
  • ecosystems and highly valued associated characteristics, such as scenic views.

Thomas Edison seated by his home, Thomas Edison NP
Thomas Edison seated by his home,
Thomas Edison NP

Cultural Resources include:

  • archeological resources (sites, artifact collections, associated documentation),
  • ethnographic resources (sites, collections, values, traditions),
  • museum collections (artifacts, specimens, archives, objects),
  • cultural landscapes (historic sites, historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, and ethnographic landscapes),
  • historic and prehistoric structures and sites (bridges, buildings, roadways, monuments).

In addition, the NPS works with communities to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources within and beyond park boundaries through partnership programs. These resources such as buildings, artifacts, petroglyphs, plants, animals, fossils, as well as clean air, night skies, soundscapes, etc., help us tell stories and share meanings, creating increased opportunities for visitors to connect with and become stewards of national parks.

The NPS has always been in the “resource conservation business.” The protection and management of NPS resources is challenging. The NPS strives to understand, maintain, restore, and protect integrated components of these landscapes to be preserved, while providing for meaningful and appropriate opportunities to enjoy them.

The National Parks Panorama (5:30 minute video) highlights the vast natural and cultural resources and values that we protect in the NPS.


Throughout the history of the NPS, societal values and individuals have shaped resource management in the national parks. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, some people argued for conservation of resources for all, while others believed they should be used for individual gain. Both sides recognized increased visitation to protected areas was negatively impacting irreplaceable resources. The US Congress responded by enacting a series of laws to protect both natural and cultural resources on federal lands.

The early management of protected lands in the past century played an evolving role in resource management today.


At places as varied as Yellowstone, Casa Grande, and Chickamauga and Chattanooga, there was growing conflict between “enjoyment and use” and the idea of “conservation and preservation.” Parks suffered greatly from looting, theft, and destruction of historic, prehistoric, and scientific features. Congress took action with the first protective laws: The Yellowstone Hunting Act (1894) and The Antiquities Act (1906).


After the establishment of the NPS in 1916, park management decisions favored entertaining visitors and promoting tourism. The conflict between enjoyment and conservation was often overlooked or ignored. The aim was to expand visitation as much as possible in order to increase public support for the parks.

Park managers manipulated some resources to promote visitation, for example, garbage dumps were created so visitor could watch bears feeding at Yellowstone, while buildings, such as Bent’s Old Fort, were reconstructed. Not all the resources we preserve and protect today were then part of the management scheme, such as soundscapes, ethnographic resources, and cultural landscapes.

Feeding bears during the early years at Yellowstone NP
Feeding bears during
the early years at
Yellowstone NP


By the 1930s, increased nationwide emphasis on science affected park management philosophy. Biologists and other scientists recognized the need for more informed natural resources management decisions based on scientific information and ecological thinking. In addition, historians used data and research to support recommendations for protecting historic resources.


In 1933, under an executive transfer order, the NPS received the War Department's parks and monuments, as well as the national monuments held by the Forest Service and the national capital parks. The addition of nearly 50 historical areas in the eastern US made the NPS truly national and deeply involved in the preservation of historic and natural sites and resources.

The 1935 Historic Sites Act organized the myriad of federally owned parks, monuments, and historic sites under the NPS and declared for the first time "... that it is a national policy to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings, and objects of national significance.” It marked the beginning of our current philosophy toward cultural resource management. The Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments declared in 1936, "It is well to bear in mind the saying: ‘Better preserve than repair, better repair than restore, better restore than [re]construct.”’ (from NPS-28, Cultural Resources Management Guidelines)


In the 1960s and 1970s, environmental consciousness swept the nation. Americans became more aware of the impact of urbanization and industrialization on fragile natural areas and cultural icons. Civil rights increased consciousness of the impact of one group’s actions on another group’s lives. A series of federal laws and reports substantially increased the capacity of the NPS to preserve and protect resources on park lands.

Important environmental laws affecting NPS lands included:

  • Wilderness Act (1964)
  • National Historic Preservation Act (1966)
  • National Environmental Preservation Act (1969)
  • Coastal Zone Management Act (1972)
  • Endangered Species Act (1973)
  • Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1979)

Two reports had particular impact on environmental law:

  • The 1963 Wildlife Management in the National Parks report (commonly referred to as “The Leopold Report”), called for a major infusion of science into NPS management. It stated that parks should be managed as “vignettes of primitive America.” Among the report’s recommendations were predators be allowed to maintain the balance of nature, rather than be destroyed, and natural fires should be allowed to burn, where appropriate, rather than be suppressed. The report was the first suggestion to manage parks based on scientific information and ecological principles.
  • In 1964, the US Conference of Mayors undertook a study of historic preservation in the country. The resulting report, “With Heritage So Rich,” revealed growing public interest in historic preservation and identified a need for a unified management approach. The report recommended a “new preservation” that included a comprehensive “National Register” to list historic properties. The recommendations of the report directly led to the passage and substance of the National Historic Preservation Act.


In the 1980s and 1990s, public involvement became codified in federal law. Although consultation was already part of the processes to carry out the Environmental Protection Act and National Historic Preservation Act, the passage of these laws ensured that Federal agencies could no longer operate in a vacuum; public input was required. Private industry was contracted to do work needed in cultural resources.

Structural preservation at Aztec Ruins NM
Structural preservation at
Aztec Ruins NM

One important development concerned consultation with Native Americans. Native Americans demanded a say in the deposition of funerary artifacts held in federal collections and discovered on federal lands. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) enacted a consultation and reporting process to ensure tribal involvement.

Members of the public concerned with encroachment on battlefields insisted on enhanced measures to protect them. The American Battlefield Protection Act (1996) enables the NPS to assist communities with planning, interpreting, and protecting battlefields. The National Park Service Omnibus Management Act of 1998 mandated that scientific research and the inventorying and monitoring of resources be done in parks. The results of these studies are to be integrated into management decisions.


Today, NPS resource management is characterized by:

  • Best available science: Resource management is driven by science, be it to understand changing species demographics, mitigate impacts from fire, restore a historic structure, or create an interpretive program.
  • Use of technology: Non-invasive methods to identify sites, databases to manage the data, use of GPS and GIS for locational data, websites.
  • Compliance activities: Federal law dictates the NPS conduct compliance and consultation to ensure management actions will not harm resources.
  • Planning: The NPS undertakes extensive planning and review to ensure future management actions in the short and long term will not detrimentally impact resources.
  • Researchers monitoring glaciers, Glacier NP
    Researchers monitoring glacier
    Glacier NP
  • Increasing diversity: Resource management works to ensure that parks, resources, and stories reflect the diversity of our society.
  • Working beyond park borders: The NPS collaborates with local communities, governments, tribes, and stakeholders to ensure cooperative and collaborative management of resources.
  • Encouraging international visitation: NPS resources represent America to our visitors from foreign nations. More than ever before, international visitors come to national parks expecting to experience the best our nation has to offer. In addition, NPS resource managers travel to international parks to provide their expertise in helping with natural and resource protection.
  • Integrating resources with education and interpretation: Resource managers collaborate with educators and interpreters to integrate the best available data, scientific theories, stories, and meanings into programs that benefit all ages.

Commitment to scientific integrity: The first Departmental Policy for Scientific Integrity in the federal government was established by the Department of Interior in 2011. It describes processes to ensure that the scientific research conducted in parks meets the highest professional and ethical standards.

In 2012 the National Park System Advisory Board Science Committee published a report entitled, “Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks”.

Among its key recommendations are:

  • The overarching goal of NPS resource management should be to “steward NPS Resources for continuous change that is not yet fully understood in order to preserve ecological integrity and cultural and historical authenticity, provide visitors with transformative experiences, and form the core of a national conservation landscape and seascape.”
  • The NPS must expand its scientific capacity, station more scientists in parks, and provide support for critical research needed to protect park resources.
  • NPS management strategies must be expanded beyond park boundaries to larger landscapes and longer time horizons. Collaborative and efficient partnerships are essential to success.
  • The NPS should integrate the precautionary principle into decision making at all levels. The principle emphasizes science-informed prudence and restraint, and requires the NPS to err on the side of preservation.
  • Monitoring resource conditions is essential to managing for change, and NPS monitoring should be expanded and more integrated into educational outreach and research.

Revisiting Leopold emphasizes urgency and opportunity in responding to the committee’s recommendations, and the importance of NPS resource management as an “enduring responsibility.” The key difference between present-day management of resources and the early decades of resources management is the degree to which science informs management. We must use the best available information to make good science-based decisions and “do no harm.” Harm runs the risk of impairing resources.


NPS Management Policies interpret statues and case law and give direction for the resource management activities of the agency. Chapter one provides the foundation.

  • The NPS Obligation to Conserve and Provide for Enjoyment of Park Resources and Values
    The fundamental purpose of the national park system, established by the Organic Act and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act, as amended, begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act. (Management Policies: FOUNDATION 1.4.3). Not only physical resources (e.g. wildlife, water, mountains, historic buildings, Native American sites, etc.) are to be protected, but also processes, systems, values, and connections to people (migration, climate, geology, languages, traditions, etc.) as well.
  • Traditional Samoan clothing in the National Park of the American Samoa
    Traditional Samoan clothing in
    the National Park of the American Samoa
  • Natural Resource Management Guiding Principle
    The National Park Service will preserve and protect the natural resources, processes, systems, and values of units of the national park system in an unimpaired condition to perpetuate their inherent integrity and to provide present and future generations with the opportunity to enjoy them. (Management Policies: Chapter 4 - NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, p.35)
  • Cultural Resource Management Guiding Principle
    The National Park Service will protect, preserve, and foster appreciation of the cultural resources in its custody and demonstrate its respect for the peoples traditionally associated with those resources through appropriate programs of research, planning, and stewardship. (Management Policies: Chapter 5 - CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, p. 59)


The resource career fields employ people in a variety of disciplines to do a variety of jobs related to resource management. As a rule-of-thumb, positions in large parks and WASO tend to be specialized, while those in small parks and regional offices tend to be more generalized. There are numerous job titles and series in resources management. Interdisciplinary collaboration is required for an effective resource management program.
  • Geologist
  • Biologist
  • Biological technician
  • Botanist
  • Archeologist
  • Hydrologist
  • Curator
  • Geographer
  • Air quality specialist
  • Historic Preservation specialist
  • Ecologist
  • Cartographer
  • Recreation specialist
  • Forester
  • Librarian
  • Paleontologist
  • Anthropologist
  • Fire Ecologist
  • Night Skies researcher
  • Soundscapes scientist
  • Meteorologist
  • Ethnographer
  • Environmental Compliance specialist
  • Fire ecologist/manager
  • Museum specialist
  • Soils scientist
  • Social scientist
  • Fisheries biologist
  • Historian
  • Archivist
  • Landscape Architect
  • Resources educator
  • Natural Resource manager
  • Cultural Resource manager
  • Natural Resource specialist
  • Cultural Resource Specialist
  • Integrated Resource Manager
  • And many more!
Archeological dig, Fort Vancouver NHS
Archeological dig
Fort Vancouver NHS
Specimen cabinet, Point Reyes NS
Specimen cabinet
Point Reyes NS
Prescribed burn, Saguaro NP
Prescribed burn
Saguaro NP
Curatorial cleaning in Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley NP
Curatorial cleaning in Scotty’s Castle
Death Valley NP
Bear trapping, Yellowstone NP
Bear trapping
Yellowstone NP
Pottery identification, Grand Canyon NP
Pottery identification
Grand Canyon NP
Python capture at the Everglades NP
Python capture at
Everglades NP
Preserving Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde NP
Preserving Cliff Dwellings at
Mesa Verde NP
Examining map, archives, Hot Springs NP
Examining map, archives
Hot Springs NP
Monitoring traffic, Arches NP
Monitoring traffic
Arches NP
Removing exotic vegetation, Cuyahoga Valley NP
Removing exotic vegetation
Cuyahoga Valley NP
Caribou research, Denali NP
Caribou research
Denali NP
Arborist, Harpers Ferry NHP
Harpers Ferry NHP
Museum exhibits, Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS
Museum exhibits
Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS
Peregrine release, New River Gorge NR
Peregrine release
New River Gorge NR
Fish biologist, Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP’s
Fish biologist
Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP’s


Resource professionals utilize a variety of principles to address management issues and concerns. A general framework is shown in the graphic.

Applying resource management principles
Applying resource management principles
  1. Know your resources: First, you must know what you have. Find information through: research, inventorying, and monitoring. Utilize databases, libraries, and archives to find the information.
  2. Resource evaluation: Substantiate the condition, significance (national register), special status (endangered) of the resource by analyzing the information you find.
  3. Analyze condition and Identify risks and threats: Research should provide data to assess the vulnerability, significance, and potential threats to the resource in order to analyze the condition.
  4. Planning: Requires integration of all of the information found to be able to determine required consultation, preservation, and utilize science-based decisions for best management applications. Generally the decisions are utilized in resource stewardship plans, general management plans, or other types of documents for implementation and action.


Every employee has a responsibility to support the NPS mission in preserving natural and cultural resources. Ultimately everyone, directly or indirectly, supports cultural and natural resource management in their day-to-day work.

Children learning about endangered species, Oregon Caves NM
Children learning about endangered species
Oregon Caves NM
  • Resources management provides subject matter expertise and information
  • Interpretation develops waysides, exhibits, publications, formal education and interpretive programs, and other products that incorporate resource messages and teaches the public about the importance of the resources in our parks
  • Visitor Resource Protection protects cultural and natural resources from harm or destruction
  • Museum collections curators provide artifacts for displays and manage loans in and out of the collections
  • Partnerships and VIP’s assist with resources projects such as invasive plant removal, painting historic buildings, etc.
  • Maintenance works to minimize resource impacts when installing sewer/water lines, roads and trails
  • Skilled artisans restore and stabilize historic structures
  • Planning secures funding needed to complete preservation and conservation projects
  • Human Resources and administration ensure all needed positions are hired and employee needs (paperwork, training, payroll, etc.) are met to insure work is done effectively and efficiently.