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The important role of the national park service

The National Park Service NPS research program must generate sound information to help resource managers deal with increasingly serious and complex threats, withstand increasingly detailed scrutiny, enhance public understanding, and foster cooperation with outside scientists and other agencies.

Because many issues that affect parks, such as air and water pollution and the fate of migrating animals, cannot be confined within park boundaries, proposed solutions can affect areas that surround the parks and require regional cooperation. Even when management decisions apply strictly within park boundaries, public review can be contentious. Moreover, because litigation and other challenges to federal land management decisions have become commonplace, the quality and validity of research is critical when park management decisions come before the courts and other arenas of public exposure and scrutiny.

Any examination of the national park system can uncover many cases in which a lack of scientific understanding of park resources led to problems—loss of resource integrity, increases in conflicts between visitors and resources, or escalation of minor issues into major problems. For instance, visitor facilities were developed in habitat critical to endan- Page 24 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Science and the National Parks.

National Park Service

The National Academies Press. Exotic fish species were introduced to improve recreational fisheries without thought to the implications for native species and the predators that feed on them. Fire suppression led to unanticipated changes in the distinctive character of forests. A common thread in these examples is that almost invariably, the establishment and early management of the parks was done with inadequate scientific knowledge of these ecological systems.

Today, our information base is substantially greater, but so too are the threats the park system must face. Illustrations of the importance of scientific understanding in the management of the parks can be found in every NPS unit.

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 - The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act established a fund for acquiring new recreation lands either within or adjacent to existing park units or new parks;
  • Studies using tracer dyes have shown that Mammoth Cave groundwater comes in large part from the surrounding drainage plain, which receives both untreated and inadequately treated sewage effluent;
  • During the initial 12 years of study, 1958—1970, scientists found apparent stability in high-density wolf and moose populations that reinforced a popularly held belief of balance and constancy in wild populations, often attributed to the lack of harvesting or other manipulation by humans;
  • However, after decades of fire control, fire-intolerant species of pine and fir spread into the meadows and giant sequoia groves, respectively;
  • Natural Resources Defense Council Press, 1997;
  • Page 35 Share Cite Suggested Citation:

When parks were first established, there was often a lack of understanding of the resources they contained. Problems arose when park boundaries failed to encompass complete ecosystems or enough land to support critical ecological processes e. In the early years of park management, many resources were damaged or lost simply because managers were unaware of their existence or did not know how to manage them Allen et al.

These examples illustrate that research is needed for several purposes ranging from simply identifying resources to deciding on appropriate short-and long-term management strategies. In summary, research is important in the national parks for three broad purposes: To determine what resources are present in order to protect them, manage them, and detect changes in them.

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To understand the natural dynamics and processes of populations, ecosystems, and other park resources. To assess the effects of specific threats and to devise and evaluate management responses. Page 25 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Before the spill, coastal resource inventories in these parks, both biotic and archaeological, were virtually nonexistent. Because of the paucity of data about prespill conditions, the full extent of wildlife losses and the magnitude of eventual recovery will never be known.

A more adequate information base would have helped the NPS assess the losses, allowed for a better understanding of what changes could be expected, and helped park managers develop appropriate mitigation and restoration programs. The oil spilled into Prince William Sound from the 1989 grounding of the Exxon tanker Valdez damaged beaches in Kenai Fjords and Katmai national parks.

The lack of scientific data about conditions before the spill made it difficult to assess the losses and plan appropriate mitigation. David Policansky, National Research Council. Page 26 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Researchers working in Great Smoky National Park tag bears as part of a long-term black bear population study. In the 1950s, an era when there was little attention to science in the NPS, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina was the site of a misplaced effort to improve recreational fishing by removing native nongame fish from a park stream.

Because knowledge of the park's fish populations was limited, several species of fish previously unknown in the park were both discovered and extirpated during that operation.

For many years it appeared that one species—the Smoky madtom—was both discovered and made extinct by that management action; this fish has subsequently been found outside the park, and a reintroduction trial is now under way. Similar problems were caused by the introduction of New England brook trout, which has come to predominate over the native southern Appalachian brook trout. Research now indicates that the native trout is a the important role of the national park service distinct subspecies, and its gene pool has been contaminated by the release of the exotic trout.

Introduced rainbow and brown trout also have reduced the range of the native brook trout. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an inventory of black bear populations showed that only about 500 bears were present, far fewer than expected in the ecosystem, so managers were motivated to develop a regional management plan. When population monitoring showed unexpectedly low bear populations in several sections of the park, illegal hunting was suspected, and an enforcement program was instituted.

A multi-agency state and federal operation led to the arrests of several persons allegedly involved in exporting bear parts to the Orient.

Defining cause-and-effect relationships, in particular, requires sustained, interdisciplinary research at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Because change is universal in nature, research must determine whether a given amount of change represents natural fluctuation around a steady the important role of the national park service or a net trajectory in a desirable or undesirable direction.

In Yellowstone National Park, for instance, the deteriorating condition of the northern range continues to create controversy. Scientists external to the park say the deterioration is caused by excessive populations of elk; research by park biologists, however, indicates that the changes are natural and caused, in part, by climatic changes.

The controversy stems in large part from the lack of long-term data.

  • They range in size from about 65 hectares 160 acres or 0;
  • The legislation established the basis for the fundamental mission, philosophy, and policies of the National Park Service;
  • Wirth in 1956, to upgrade facilities, staffing, and resource management throughout the System by the 50th anniversary of the Service in 1966;
  • The administration of natural resources includes the preservation of;
  • Because the parks often lack even the most basic inventory of resources and baseline data, research often must start from an inadequate data base for the design of key studies;
  • In the short term, managers and scientists must accept this uncertainty and research must continue.

Since ecosystems operate under fluctuations in climate, the need to detect actual directional change in resources poses a significant challenge that requires a substantial and sustained research effort.

Such efforts require sophisticated and sensitive research techniques. Because the parks often lack even the most basic inventory of resources and baseline data, research often must start from an inadequate data base for the design of key studies. This research, conducted largely by scientists outside the NPS, has generated new hypotheses about natural population regulation in large mammals that have received wide scientific review and public scrutiny.

  1. Fire suppression led to unanticipated changes in the distinctive character of forests.
  2. Page 34 Share Cite Suggested Citation. A nearby commercial cave, in similar karst terrain, was closed because water pollution had resulted from poor local sewage and wastewater disposal practices.
  3. Among the recommendations was an urgent call for park management grounded in scientific research. The addressed the current status of national park management and made recommendations for the future.
  4. The number of volunteers and volunteers has consistently grown and has proven increasingly beneficial.

During the initial 12 years of study, 1958—1970, scientists found apparent stability in high-density wolf and moose populations that the important role of the national park service a popularly held belief of balance and constancy in wild populations, often attributed to the lack of harvesting or other manipulation by humans. But stability dissolved in the 1970s as the moose population declined by more than 50 percent while the wolf population increased to an unprecedented level. For scientists, a belief in static equilibrium was replaced by knowledge of cyclic change in populations of wolves and moose, with fluctuations occurring over decades.

The change caught the attention of the public, and there was considerable demand for information that was met by an ongoing monitoring effort. Further perturbation of this classic predator-prey story became evident in the 1980s, as a wave of disease was circumstantially linked to a decline that jeopardized the survival of the famous wolf population.

Forced by the unprecedented decline, the NPS abandoned its attempt to let natural processes prevail on the island even to the exclusion of common research techniques such as radiotelemetry, which necessitates animal capture and handlingand it allowed scientists to capture wolves, take blood samples, and attach radiocollars to monitor them and study the possible roles of food shortage, disease, and genetic deterioration in their decline.

Once again, public interest was intense. Notably, the answers came from scientists outside the NPS, who were supported by and interacting closely with Park Service staff.

The example of the Isle Royale wolves provides an invaluable demonstration the important role of the national park service the hazards that face all small isolated populations, and it highlights issues that face conservation biologists worldwide. The fate of the Isle Royale wolves is unclear. Their future dynamics might not emerge, as in the past, as a simple outcome of supply and demand for prey.

In the short term, managers and scientists must accept this uncertainty and research must continue. Page 29 Share Cite Suggested Citation: A decline in the famous wolf population in the 1980s led the Park Service to allow scientists to put radiocollars on some wolves to better study the population's status and health.

NPS photo by Robert J. Studies there began in the 1940s, when the NPS was under pressure from trophy hunters to reduce or eliminate the wolf population. Among the handful of NPS biologists at the time was Adolph Murie, who went to McKinley to investigate the role of wolves in reducing Dall sheep populations.

Murie undertook a pioneering program of basic ecologic research, providing the first scientific look at this controversial carnivore. His collection of Dall sheep skulls provided the first life table for a species of wildlife, and his findings are still used in theoretical analyses of mammalian mortality patterns and applied research into wolf-prey relations.

The tradition of ambitious research on predator-prey interactions, using state-of-the-art technology, continues at the park today, and evidence about the movements of the Page 30 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Although various studies were being conducted at parks around the nation, there was little consistency, little opportunity to build on the work of others, and a good deal of frustration that the research did not really meet the needs of managers.

The project was developed to standardize the method for studying park visitors. The survey methodology was carefully designed, tested, and revised, and its rate of response is so successful 75—85 percent that it has been published in the social science literature and widely used, even in other countries. The survey has two elements: To date, 46 studies have been done in 38 national parks. NPS and cooperative park study unit staff work closely with park personnel in planning, conducting, and interpreting the studies.

Because of the growing body of information being compiled, VSP is now building an important data base on visitor needs.

Learn and Explore

The customized portion of the research provides park managers with insights about changes and improvements in park operations: Grand Teton National Park managers built a new information station at a location different from the important role of the national park service originally planned after learning that more visitors stopped at the new site first.

At Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the visitor study helped managers plan ways to make the home more accessible to visitors with disabilities, and the study's results were used as the basis for the park's request for increased funding to keep the home open longer hours. Studies at the White House revealed that many visitors are children, and managers began to provide more information for youngsters. Page 31 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Because visitors at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument identified the need for more camping facilities near the monument, managers are working with nearby towns and other government agencies to encourage construction of additional campgrounds.

Research on natural processes also has been important in fire management. Beginning with the pioneering use of fire in the management of Everglades National Park in the 1950s, research in the national parks, some funded by the NPS, has had a major influence on the acceptance of fire as a natural process in wilderness landscapes.

Studies of natural fires, the effects of fire suppression, and the use of planned fires have produced a large body of literature. Fire is now a universally accepted management tool in conservation biology, and the NPS has been a major force in this change in thinking.

In Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks in California, fire suppression was once believed essential to protect park resources. However, after decades of fire control, fire-intolerant species of pine and fir spread into the meadows and giant sequoia groves, respectively. Research that began in the 1960s provided a better understanding of the significant role of fire in maintaining the distinctive character of The important role of the national park service Nevada forests, and prescribed burning began in the 1970s.

Recent public challenges to this practice have led to outside review of the fire management and research program. The reviewers endorsed the fundamental concept of vegetation management through burning and recommended additional research to provide a better basis for planning Page 32 Share Cite Suggested Citation: A synergy among management, public information, and research was found to be needed. At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, intensive study of fire history began in the early 1980s.

Scientists found that high-intensity, stand-replacing fires occurred at long intervals and affected large percentages of the study area in a single burn. Their description was published before the dramatic 1988 fires—and it is remarkable that the results produced a convergent picture with studies of those large fires. In fact, the research was an asset to park scientists and managers in dealing with the fires and is being used to shape new management policies. Another example of the value of research on natural processes is evident today in how park units along the coasts are managed.

When NPS began acquiring land for Cape Hatteras National Seashore authorized in 1937 and for some time thereafter, its policies included expensive structural attempts to stabilize beaches, dunes, and shorelines. Even where historic structures are involved, NPS's policy now requires that ''control measures, if necessary, be predicated on thorough studies taking into account the nature and velocity of shoreline processes.

The evolution of NPS's management of shoreline processes was based in part on the accumulation of scientific evidence that demonstrated the futility of trying to control beach erosion in these dynamic, ever-changing ecosystems.