Ever since the national parks and monuments were brought under the administration of one agency there has been a steady demand for the addition of numerous areas of many types to the system. This demand results from an increased public consciousness of the need for preserving areas of outstanding scenic, scientific and recreational values.
For more than a decade the investigation of proposed new areas was made by the Director or by officers of the Service designated by him, including field men. It finally became necessary and advisable to concentrate this work under one office, and in 1928 the Branch of Lands was established under the late Washington Bartlett Lewis as assistant director. Mr. Lewis had been superintendent of Yosemite National Park from 1916 to 1928. The Branch of Lands had charge of the investigation of proposed new parks, extensions to existing areas, land acquisition, and the drafting work.
A reorganization of these activities brought about the establishment of the Branch of Planning in 1931. Conrad L. Wirth, who had been associated with the National Capital Park and Planning Commission in the acquisition of land for the park system of Washington, D. C., was named assistant director in charge of the new unit, which took over the functions of the former Branch of Lands with the exception of land acquisition, which was transferred to Office of Chief Counsel.
Through several stages of growth, the Branch of Planning has been assigned additional functions during the years, and is now called the Branch of Recreation, Land Planning and State Cooperation. It has charge of the advance land planning of the national system, and to it are referred, for investigation and report, all proposals for additions or extensions to the system. In making these studies the Branch usually calls upon other branches of the Service to collaborate on wildlife, historical, forestry, or other phases of the investigations.
As a basis for the selection of areas for addition to the national park system, studies are conducted in the recreational use of land primarily to determine their relative values from a national standpoint. This involves research, field investigations and the assembling and analysis of data regarding scenic or landscape values, physiography, vegetation, wildlife, history, archeology, and geology as factors in the outdoor recreational environment. On the basis of findings through these general preliminary studies, investigations, of specific areas are conducted by the Branch, or caused to be conducted by other branches. From the assembled data recommendations are made for areas to be established as national parks, international parks, national battlefield parks, national historical parks, national military parks, national monuments, national battlefield sites, national historic sites, national cemeteries, national memorials, national seashores, national parkways and extensive trail systems, and additions to or abandonment of such existing areas.
Upon the approval of a specific recommendation, the necessary data are assembled, the plan of action is outlined and presented to the Office of Chief Counsel for the handling of the necessary legal procedure. When an area is authorized by Congress for addition to the system, negotiations are directed for the final adjustment of boundaries within the limits authorized, and cooperation is given to the Office of Chief Counsel in the acquisition of lands.
All advance planning programs, master plans and development plans pertaining to the national park system are reviewed for conformance with planning policies of the service. If such plans conform to Service policies they are concurred in by the Supervisor of Recreation and Land Planning (whose title was changed from assistant director) and referred to the Director for approval.
It is also the duty of the Branch to study and negotiate proposed changes in nomenclature in the areas administered by the Service, in cooperation with the U. S. Board of Geographical Names.
Information and data are assembled by the Branch concerning national parks of other countries for comparative study. This information is obtained direct from the foreign countries or by cooperation with the Department of State.