Wildlife Management in the National Parks
It is obviously impossible to mention in this brief report all the possible techniques that might be used by the National Park Service in manipulating plant and animal populations. We can, however, single out a few examples. In so doing, it should be kept in mind that the total area of any one park, or of the parks collectively, that may be managed intensively is a very modest part indeed. This is so for two reasons. First, critical areas which may determine animal abundance are often a small fraction of total range. One deer study on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, for example, showed that important winter range, which could be manipulated to support the deer, constituted less than two per cent of the year-long herd range. Roadside areas that might be managed to display a more varied and natural flora and fauna can be rather narrow strips. Intensive management, in short, need not be extensive to be effective. Secondly, manipulation of vegetation is often exorbitantly expensive. Especially will this be true when the objective is to manage "invisibly" -- that is, to conceal the signs of management. Controlled burning is the only method that may have extensive application.
The first step in park management is historical research, to ascertain as accurately as possible what plants and animals and biotic associations existed originally in each locality. Much of this has been done already.
A second step should be ecologic research on plant-animal relationships leading to formulation of a management hypothesis.
Next should come small scale experimentation to test the hypothesis in practice. Experimental plots can be situated out of sight of roads and visitor centers.
Lastly, application of tested management methods can be undertaken on critical areas.
By this process of study and pre-testing, mistakes can be minimized. Likewise, public groups vitally interested in park management can be shown the results of research and testing before general application, thereby eliminating possible misunderstanding and friction.
Some management methods now in use by the National Park Service seem to us potentially dangerous. For example, we wish to raise a serious question about the mass application of insecticides in the control of forest insects. Such application may (or may not) be justified in commercial timber stands, but in a national park the ecologic impact can have unanticipated effects on the biotic community that might defeat the overall management objective. It would seem wise to curtail this activity, at least until research and small scale testing have been conducted.
Of the various methods of manipulating vegetation, the controlled use of fire is the most "natural" and much the cheapest and easiest to apply. Unfortunately, however, forest and chaparral areas that have been completely protected from fire for long periods may require careful advance treatment before even the first experimental blaze is set. Trees and mature brush may have to be cut, piled, and burned before a creeping ground fire can be risked. Once fuel is reduced, periodic burning can be conducted safely and at low expense. On the other hand, some situations may call for a hot burn. On Isle Royale, moose range is created by periodic holocausts that open the forest canopy. Maintenance of the moose population is surely one goal of management on Isle Royale.
Other situations may call for the use of the bulldozer, the disc harrow, or the spring-tooth harrow to initiate desirable changes in plant succession. Buffalo wallows on the American prairie were the propagation sites of a host of native flowers and forbs that fed the antelope and the prairie chicken. In the absence of the great herds, wallows can be simulated.
Artificial reintroduction of rare native plants is often feasible. Overgrazing in years past led to local extermination of many delicate perennials such as some of the orchids. Where these are not reappearing naturally they can be transplanted or cultured in a nursery. A native plant, however small and inconspicuous, is as much a part of the biota as a redwood tree or a forage species for elk.
In essence, we are calling for a set of ecologic skills unknown in this country today. Americans have shown a great capacity for degrading and fragmenting native biotas. So far we have not exercised much imagination or ingenuity in rebuilding damaged biotas. It will not be done by passive protection alone.