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Family Tree of the National Park System
Part IV
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part IV


NATURAL AREAS, 1933 - 1964

Four new National Parks and seven scientific National Monuments were added to the System between 1933 and 1964 and three National Parks were created out of existing reservations, as follows:

Cedar Breaks N.M., Utah
Everglades N.P., Florida
Big Bend N.P., Texas
Joshua Tree N.M., Calif.
Organ Pipe Cactus N.M., Ariz.
Capitol Reef N.M.< Utah
Channel Islands N.M., Calif.
Olympic N.P., Wash.
Kings Canyon N.P., Calif.
Jackson Hole N.M., Wyo.
Grand Teton N.P., (new) Wyo.
Virgin Islands N.P., V.I.
Petrified Forest N.P., Ariz.
Haleakala N.P., Hawaii
Buck Island Reef N.M., V.I.

During his first seven years in office, President Roosevelt established five scientific National Monuments, three of them very large, without serious difficulty, in the same manner as his predecessors. They were Cedar Breaks, proclaimed in 1933 to protect a remarkable natural amphitheater of eroded limestone and sandstone in southern Utah; Joshua Tree, California, 1936, to preserve a characteristic part — initially 825,340 acres — of the famous Mojave and Colorado deserts; Organ Pipe Cactus, Arizona, 1937, to protect 325,000 acres of the Sonoran desert; Capitol Reef, also 1937, to preserve a twenty-mile segment of the great Waterpocket Fold in southern Utah; and Channel Islands, 1938, to protect Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands, the two smallest in a group of eight islands off the coast of southern California.

Roosevelt's sixth scientific National Monument, however, was another story. Jackson Hole had been talked of as a possible addition to Yellowstone as early as 1892, and from 1916 onward the Service and Department actively sought its preservation in the National Park System. It was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., however, who rescued Jackson Hole for the nation after a visit in 1926 left him distressed at cheap commercial developments on private lands in the midst of superlative natural beauty — dance halls, hot dog stands, filling stations, rodeo grand stands, and billboards in the foreground of the incomparable view of the Teton Range.

Rockefeller began a land acquisition program, and in a few years his holdings in Jackson Hole exceeded 33,000 acres, which he offered as a gift to the United States. Meanwhile, however, bitter opposition developed among cattlemen, dude ranchers, packers, hunters, timber interests, and local Forest Service officials who preferred livestock ranches or forest crops to a National Park, county officials who feared loss of taxes, and members of the Wyoming State administration who were politically concerned. When no park legislation had been enacted by 1943, Rockefeller indicated he might not be justified in holding his property, on which he paid annual taxes, much longer. President Roosevelt decided to act and on March 15, 1943, proclaimed the Jackson Hole National Monument, consolidating 33,000 acres donated by Rockefeller and 179,000 acres withdrawn from Teton National Forest into a single area adjoining Grand Teton National Park.

Roosevelt's proclamation unleashed a storm of criticism which had been brewing for years among western members of Congress. Rep. Frank A. Barrett of Wyoming and others introduced bills to abolish the monument and to repeal Section 2 of the Antiquities Act containing the President's authority to proclaim National Monuments. A bill to abolish the monument passed Congress in 1944 but was vetoed by President Roosevelt who pointed out in an eloquent message that Presidents of both political parties, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, had established ample precedents by proclaiming 82 National Monuments, seven of which were larger than Jackson Hole. The proclamation was nevertheless also contested in court, where it was strongly defended by the Departments of Justice and Interior and upheld. Finally, a compromise was worked out and embodied in legislation approved by President Harry S Truman on September 14, 1950. It combined Jackson Hole National Monument and the old Grand Teton National Park in a "new Grand Teton National Park" containing some 298,000 acres, with special provisions regarding taxes and hunting. It also prohibited establishing or enlarging National Parks or Monuments in Wyoming in the future except by express authorization of Congress.

This long and bitter controversy marked the end of an era for the National Park Service. Thereafter establishment of large scientific National Monuments by proclamation—commonly done between 1906 and 1943—became almost impossible, not only in Wyoming but elsewhere. Only two scientific National Monuments were established under authority of the Antiquities Act during the next 29 years—Buck Island Reef, Virgin Islands, containing only 850 acres, proclaimed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961; and Marble Canyon, Arizona, containing 25,962 acres proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on his last day in office. More significantly, President Johnson declined to proclaim a proposed Gates of Arctic National Monument, Alaska, containing 4,119,000 acres; a Mt. McKinley National Monument, also in Alaska, containing 2,202,000 acres adjoining the National Park; and a Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona, containing 911,700 acres. After 1943, through its control of appropriations and legislation, Congress largely nullified Presidential authority to establish new National Monuments.

The Jackson Hole controversy was accompanied by mounting pressure from various interests, especially in the west, to open up protected natural resources in the National Park System for use during periods of national emergency. This pressure reached new heights during World War II. Timber interests sought permission to log scarce Sitka spruce in Olympic National Park for use in airplane production. Livestock interests sought to reopen many areas to grazing to help food production. Mining interests sought permission to search for copper in Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier, manganese in Shenandoah, and tungsten in Yosemite. The military services requested use of park lands for various purposes. In 1942 the Service issued 125 permits to the War and Navy Departments and the next year an additional 403 permits. Troops were trained in mountain warfare at Mount Rainier, for example, military equipment for arctic use was tested at Mount McKinley, and desert warfare units trained at Joshua Tree. Director Drury, supported by Secretary Ickes, successfully defended the basic integrity of the System in the face of these exceptional pressures while permitting as a last resort only those uses absolutely essential to the prosecution of the war and for which there were no alternative sites.

With the end of World War II a new round of threats to the System accompanied the post-war development of river basins in the United States by the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The proposed Bridge Canyon Dam on the Colorado River would have created a reservoir flooding all of Grand Canyon National Monument and 18 miles of the National Park; Glacier View Dam on the Flathead River in Montana threatened to flood 20,000 acres of Glacier National Park; Echo Park and Split Mountain Dams on the Green and Yampa Rivers were expected to create large reservoirs inundating long stretches of wilderness canyons in Dinosaur National Monument; and the reservoir behind the proposed Mining City Dam on the Green River, Kentucky, would have periodically flooded the famous underground Echo River in Mammoth Cave National Park. In the face of strong opposition and national controversy, conservation organizations and the Service, generally though not always working together, managed to meet these and other similar threats and bring the System through this period relatively unscathed.

In spite of these extraordinary pressures, four new National Parks were established between 1933 and 1964 and three others were created out of existing reservations. Everglades National Park, Florida, was authorized May 30, 1934, to protect the largest subtropical wilderness in North America, now also the third largest National Park, situated in the southeastern United States, long under-represented in the System. Everglades is also a beleagured wilderness threatened by drainage projects, drought, and an international jetport — a testing ground for modern conservation principles. Big Bend National Park, Texas, was authorized in 1935 to protect over 700,000 acres of unique wilderness country along the Mexican border, including the Chisos Mountains and three magnificent canyons in the great bend of the Rio Grande. Olympic National Park, Washington, was established in 1938, over the bitter opposition of timber interests after an ardent campaign by conservationists, strongly supported by Secretary Ickes and President Roosevelt. The park was formed around the nucleus of Mount Olympus National Monument. After a 50-year struggle against power and irrigation interests, lumbermen, ranchers, cattlemen, sheepmen, and hunters, Kings Canyon National Park, California, was finally established in 1940 to protect some 710 square miles of magnificent mountain and canyon wilderness on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Virgin Islands National Park, our only National Park in the West Indies, was authorized in 1956 to protect nearly two-thirds of the land mass and most of the colorful off-shore waters of St. John's Island, in the American Virgin Islands. The park owes its existence to the generous support of Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., and Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller. Finally, Petrified Forest, Arizona, long advocated as a National Park, became one in 1958 — formed from the National Monument of the same name. The world-famous crater of 10,023 foot Haleakala, on the island of Maui, was made a National Park in 1960 by detaching it from Hawaii National Park and making it a separate reservation.

Four previously authorized National Parks were also formally established in this period, including the Great Smoky Mountains in 1934, Shenandoah in 1935, Isle Royale in 1940, and Mammoth Cave in 1941. Until 1943, significant additions were also made to several existing National Monuments, including, among others, 305,920 acres added to Death Valley in 1937, 203,885 acres containing the spectacular wild canyons of Utah's Yampa and Green Rivers added to Dinosaur in 1938, no less than 904,960 acres added to Glacier Bay to provide more land for the Alaskan Brown Bear and other wildlife and protect more glaciers, and 150,000 acres added to Badlands in South Dakota both in 1939.

In spite of these achievements, the establishment of large, new Natural Areas became increasingly difficult during this period. Sixty-one of the 64 Natural Areas in the System at the time of the Reorganization of 1964 were originally established or authorized before World War II. It is a more startling fact that of the 23,840,162 acres of Federal land in all the Natural Areas of the System on April 1, 1971, some 22,913,488 acres, or 96%, were contained in National Parks or National Monuments established or authorized before World War II. Congress responded to this and similar realities in other areas of conservation by authorizing creation of the highly significant Land and Water Conservation Fund in 1965, beginning a new era in land acquisition that will be discussed in a later section.

Partly because of the increasing difficulty of adding new Natural Areas to the System, the Service launched a Natural Landmarks Program in 1962. Its purpose was to recognize and encourage the preservation of significant natural lands by diverse owners, mostly non-federal, including state or local governments, conservation organizations, and even private persons. It was designed to complement the Service's Registered National Historic Landmarks program inaugurated in 1960.

On March 17, 1964, Secretary Stewart L. Udall announced the first seven sites eligible for entry on the new National Registry of Natural Landmarks. They were Mianus River Gorge and Bergen Swamp, New York; Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida; Elder Creek and Rancho La Brea-Hancock Park, California; Fontenelle Forest, Nebraska; and Wissahickon Valley, Pennsylvania. With this action another tool was added to those available to the National Park Service to help strengthen environmental conservation in the United States.

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Last Modified: Sat, May 12 2001 10:08 am PDT

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