Lesson Plan

Dueling Mandates

Fire burns in a forest with a park sign in the foreground
Close up of crown fire at Grant Village Junction.

Jeff Henry

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-General
Community, Conservation, Ecology, Environmental Law, Government, History, Leadership, Public Policy, Wildlife Management
1-2 hours
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards: MS-LS2-5., HS-LS2-7.
park management, wolves, bison, snowmobiles, fisheries, geysers, Wildfire, Yellowstone


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.


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.


mandate, unimpaired, generations, conserve

Last updated: March 21, 2018