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Preserving Nature in the National Parks

Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Preserving Nature in the National Parks
    Book Description:

    This book traces the epic clash of values between traditional scenery-and-tourism management and emerging ecological concepts in the national parks, America's most treasured landscapes. It spans the period from the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 to near the present, analyzing the management of fires, predators, elk, bear, and other natural phenomena in parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Great Smoky Mountains.Based largely on original documents never before researched, this is the most thorough history of the national parks ever written. Focusing on the decades after the National Park Service was established in 1916, the author reveals the dynamics of policy formulation and change, as landscape architects, foresters, wildlife biologists, and other Park Service professionals contended for dominance and shaped the attitudes and culture of the Service. The book provides a fresh look at the national parks and an analysis of why the Service has not responded in full faith to the environmental concerns of recent times.Richard West Sellars, a historian with the National Park Service, has become uniquely familiar with the history, culture, and dynamics of the Service-including its biases, internal alliances and rivalries, self-image, folklore, and rhetoric. The book will prove indispensable for environmental and governmental specialists and for general readers seeking an in-depth analysis of one of America's most admired federal bureaus.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14366-9
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Preface to the 2009 Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Richard West Sellars
  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    Richard West Sellars
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    There was a time, through the middle of the twentieth century, when the national parks reigned indisputably as America’s grandest summertime pleasuring grounds. Managed by the National Park Service after 1916, the spectacular mountains, canyons, forests, and meadows set aside to provide for the public’s enjoyment appealed tremendously to a public increasingly mobile and enamored of sightseeing and automobile touring. To make the parks accessible to millions of vacationers, graceful winding roads were constructed, with romantic names like Going to the Sun Highway or Trail Ridge Road. Huge rustic hotels built of log and stone, such as Yellowstone’s Old Faithful...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Creating Tradition: The Roots of National Park Management
    (pp. 7-27)

    On March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone Park—the world’s first “national park,” more than two million acres located mostly in the northwest corner of present-day Wyoming—to be preserved and managed by the federal government for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. In the midst of the Gilded Age’s rampant exploitation of public lands, the concept of federally managed parks protected from the extractive uses typical of the late-nineteenth-century American West abruptly gained congressional sanction. Yellowstone’s awesome natural phenomena had inspired a political phenomenon.

    Despite its eventual worldwide implications, the Yellowstone Park Act attracted minimal public attention; Congress...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Codifying Tradition: The National Park Service Act of 1916
    (pp. 28-46)

    Following a few tentative efforts early in the twentieth century, a campaign to establish a national parks bureau began in earnest in 1910 and continued for six years. In June 1916, as the effort neared success, an article entitled “Making a Business of Scenery” appeared inThe Nation’s Business.Written by Robert Sterling Yard, in charge of the campaign’s promotional literature, the article championed the scenery of America’s national parks as an “economic asset of incalculable value” if managed in a businesslike way. Yard wrote that, as an example, Switzerland “lives on her scenery,” having made it a “great national...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Perpetuating Tradition: The National Parks under Stephen T. Mather, 1916–1929
    (pp. 47-90)

    In September 1916 Joseph Grinnell, head of the University of California’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley, coauthored an article inSciencemagazine entitled “Animal Life as an Asset of National Parks.” A close observer of the parks (particularly Yosemite), Grinnell, along with his coauthor, Tracy I. Storer, also at the University of California, reflected on the various uses of the parks, from recreation to “retaining the original balance in plant and animal life.” Regarding their concern for nature, they warned that “without a scientific investigation” of national park wildlife, “no thorough understanding of the conditions or of the practical...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Rise and Decline of Ecological Attitudes, 1929–1940
    (pp. 91-148)

    The survey of park wildlife initiated in the summer of 1929 and funded through the personal fortune of biologist George Wright marked the National Park Service’s first extended, in-depth scientific research in support of natural resource management. The success of this effort inspired the Park Service to establish a “wildlife division,” inaugurating a decade of substantial scientific activity within the Service. During this period, the wildlife biologists under Wright developed new perspectives on natural resources, opening new options for park management. They promoted an ecological awareness in the Service and questioned the utilitarian and recreational focus that dominated the bureau....

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 5 The War and Postwar Years, 1940–1963
    (pp. 149-203)

    After removal of the wildlife biologists to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940, nearly a quarter of a century would pass before any meaningful attempt to revitalize the National Park Service’s biological science programs. By the early 1960s, the Service would come under public criticism for its weak, floundering scientific efforts, described in one report as “fragmented,” without direction, and lacking “continuity, coordination, and depth.”¹ Moreover, the Park Service would find its management increasingly challenged by conservation groups, its leadership in national recreation programs seriously weakened, and its control over the parks’ backcountry threatened by restrictions in the proposed...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Science and the Struggle for Bureaucratic Power: The Leopold Era, 1963–1981
    (pp. 204-266)

    Much of the history of the National Park Service from the George Wright era on involved a conflict not between “good” intentions and “bad” intentions, but between two idealistic factions—each well-meaning but committed to different perceptions of the basic purpose of the national parks. One group, by far the stronger and exemplified by Conrad Wirth’s career, emphasized recreational tourism and public enjoyment of majestic landscapes, along with preservation of a semblance of wild America. Wirth’s understanding of the mandate to leave the parks “unimpaired” was tied to preservation of park scenery. The other group, represented mainly by the wildlife...

  13. CHAPTER 7 A House Divided: The National Park Service and Environmental Leadership
    (pp. 267-290)

    In looking back on the span of national park history, it is the infusion of an ecological and scientific perspective that constitutes the most substantive difference between late-nineteenth-century and late-twentieth-century natural resource management in the parks. As long as management emphasized little more than preserving park scenery, it did not require highly specialized data and an in-depth understanding of the parks’ natural phenomena. The emergence of ecological concerns, however, necessitated scientific research in the parks as the only real means of comprehending the mysteries of the complex natural systems under the Service’s care. This need fostered a slow buildup of...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 291-308)

    In October 1997, when this book was first published, the chances seemed slim that the National Park Service would change any time soon from its predominantly recreational tourism culture to embrace a strong and enduring “ecosystem management culture,” as the 1993 Vail Agenda had urged—and which, in effect, the book itself recommended.Preserving Naturehad begun as an internal study, or “administrative history” in Service parlance, of the evolving policies and practices for the management of natural resources in the national park system through the twentieth century. It could have been assumed that the National Park Service, operating within...

  15. Abbreviations
    (pp. 309-310)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 311-382)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 383-386)
  18. Index
    (pp. 387-404)