Guidance for Protecting Yellowstone

Ranger talks with visitors with the Lower Falls in the background.
Ranger discussing the importance of Yellowstone National Park with visitors at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

NPS/Jay Elhard


Purpose Statement

Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, was set aside as a public pleasuring ground to share the wonders and preserve and protect the scenery, cultural heritage, wildlife, geologic and ecological systems and processes in their natural condition for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.


Significance of Yellowstone

  • Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park, an idea that spread throughout the world.
  • Yellowstone was set aside because of its geothermal wonders—the planet’s most active, diverse, and intact collections of combined geothermal, geologic, and hydrologic features and systems, and the underlying volcanic activity that sustains them.
  • The park is the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the last, largest, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the temperate zone of Earth. It preserves an exceptional concentration and diversity of terrestrial, aquatic, and microbial life. Here, natural processes operate in an ecological context that has been less subject to human alteration than most others throughout the nation—and indeed throughout the world. This makes the park not only an invaluable natural reserve, but a reservoir of information valuable to humanity.
  • Yellowstone contains a unique and relatively pristine tapestry of prehistoric and historic cultural resources that span more than 11,000 years. The archeological, architectural, historical, and material collections constitute one of the largest and most complete continua of human occupation in the western U.S. and collectively represent the material remains of the birth of the National Park and conservation movement.
  • Yellowstone was the first area set aside as a national public park and pleasuring ground for the benefit, enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. Visitors have a range of opportunities to experience its unique geothermal wonders, freeroaming wildlife, inspiring views, cultural heritage, and spectacular wilderness character.

Mission Statement

Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and the majority of the world’s geysers and hot springs. An outstanding mountain wildland with clean water and air, Yellowstone is home of the grizzly bear and wolf and free-ranging herds of bison and elk. Centuries-old sites and historic buildings that reflect the unique heritage of America’s first national park are also protected. Yellowstone National Park serves as a model and inspiration for national parks throughout the world. The National Park Service preserves, unimpaired, these and other natural and cultural resources and values for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.


Two "Organic Acts"

The laws creating Yellowstone National Park and the National Park Service are both called “The Organic Act” because each created an entity. (Also called enabling legislation.) However, the name most often refers to the law that created the National Park Service. To avoid confusion, we refer to the laws by their names as listed in the US Code Table of Popular Names: The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act and The National Park Service Organic Act.

Original text on the page detailing the creation of Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park Protection Act

The United States Congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Text of the act that created the National Park Service.
National Park Service Organic Act

The National Park Service Organic Act was passed by Congress and approved by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916.


Environmental Laws

Beginning in the late 1960s, the US Congress passed an unprecedented suite of laws to protect the environment. The laws described here particularly influence the management of our national parks.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 particularly influences the management of national parks.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), passed in 1970, establishes a national policy “to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment … stimulate the health and welfare of man … and enrich the understanding of ecological systems …” It requires detailed analysis of environmental impacts of any major federal action that significantly affects the quality of the environment. Environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs) are written to detail these analyses and to provide forums for public involvement in management decisions.

The Clean Air Act (1970) mandates protection of
air quality in all units of the National Park System; Yellowstone is classified as Class 1, the highest level of clean air protection.

The Clean Water Act (1972) is enacted to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” by prohibiting the discharge of pollutants.

The Endangered Species Act (1973) requires federal agencies to protect species that are (or are likely to become) at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant part of their range. It prohibits any action that would jeopardize their continued existence or result in the destruction or modification of their habitat.

Rocks covered in lichen arranged in the shape of a tall fire ring on a mountain top
Park History

Learn about Yellowstone's story from the earliest humans to today.

Historic Moran water color of hot springs with group standing in distance
Birth of a National Park

Learn about Yellowstone's early days as a national park.

Visitors standing on a boardwalk and taking pictures of the orange thermophiles of Grand Prismatic.
Today's National Park Service

The National Park Service has grown to manage ~83 million acres in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa.

"For the benefit and enjoyment of the people" etched in concrete and surrounded in stone
Modern Management

Managing the national park has evolved over time and dealt with some complex issues.

Yellow and black bands with NPS arrowhead on the right and Foundation Document text on the left.
Foundation Document (PDF)

A document that provides basic guidance for planning and management decisions.

Last updated: June 4, 2018

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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