National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks
NATURAL HISTORY RESEARCH IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
The National Park Service bears the responsibility of administering the national parks of the United States for the purpose for which they are or may be set aside by specific Acts of Congress. The Service is also charged with the responsibility of preserving these lands for the use and enjoyment of the public and for interpreting meaningfully the natural features. Finally, it must administer these lands as part of a complex public land system. National parks are units of the public domain and have a definable role within the totality of federal lands.
Carrying out these responsibilities requires knowledge about the parks and their problems and this can only come from research. Too frequently operational management acts even when the necessary information for action is fragmentary, or is lacking. Scientific research furnishes the knowledge and understanding of the complex natural elements of the national parks and their interaction with one another on which effective management can be based.
What is the past and present status of research in natural history in the national parks? Its status has been and is one of many reports, numerous recommendations, vacillations in policy and little action, insofar as actual financial support is concerned.
In 1929, the Secretary of the Interior appointed a Committee on Educational Problems in the National Parks to devise an educational or interpretive program for park visitors. Confronted with vast gaps in the scientific knowledge essential for this activity, the Committee recommended a research program to gather scientific information for the museum, education, and wildlife administrative programs.
Research as an activity of the National Park Service was made official with the creation, July 1, 1930, of a Branch of Research and Education to coordinate the new educational program.
Also in 1930, a comprehensive ecological management survey of the fauna of the national parks was launched and privately financed by the late George M. Wright. Beginning in 1931, this survey was gradually integrated into and financed by the Branch of Research and Education as an official National Park Service function. In the first publication resulting from this research program, Fauna Series No. 1 (1932) of the National Park Service, the wildlife research and management policies of the Service were officially formulated. Fauna No. 1 analyzed the major ecological situations prevailing in each park in the early thirties and recommended numerous management solutions as well as more research. It analyzed the Yellowstone elk situation, which had been a cause for concern since 1911, warned of further range destruction, urged elk control and further research.
In 1935, a second publication on wildlife research and management, Fauna No. 2, was produced. By that time, seven current biological research projects were described and the practice was established of designating and protecting as "research reserves" unique, unusually fragile scientific areas within the parks.
Between 1932 and 1940, 28 research reserves were listed in Ecology as established in 10 national parks and other areas under the National Park Service. There were approximately 25 biologists in the National Park Service at that time, mostly in field positions, financed from Civilian Conservation Corps funds. About half of the time of this staff of field biologists was spent in ecological reviews of proposed development projects; the other half was divided between wildlife management and research, which at that time were considered for practical purposes to be indistinguishable components of the total program. Fauna No. 4, Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone, by Adolph Murie (1940), exemplifies the best of the biological research carried out by the Service during this period. In this publication, Murie repeated the warnings of severe range destruction by elk in the Yellowstone and indicated that a two-thirds reduction was necessary.
Moral support to research was given during this period by the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments, which has consistently urged greater support for research in natural history.
In November, 1939, in accordance with a reorganization program of the Department, the National Park Service biologists were transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service, now called the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, but their stations and duties unchanged. The word "research" was dropped from the Branch of Research and Education of the National Park Service. With the outbreak of World War II, nearly all of these biology positions lapsed, owing to the abolition of the CCC from which funds for most of the positions had been derived. A comparable staff and program in geology, established during the 30's, was eliminated preceding World War II and has not been restored.
Fauna Series No. 5, The Wolves of Mount McKinley, by Adolph Murie (1944) marked the last of the Fauna Series for the next 17 years.
The resident Park Naturalists contributed much, particularly in the earlier years, to the knowledge of the parks through observation, collections and inventories of park resources, and through some basic research. The geological research of Edwin McKee at Grand Canyon is a most notable example, but the observations of Arthur Stupka at Great Smoky Mountains, Frank Brockman at Mount Rainier, and the early work of Milton Skinner at Yellowstone, also illustrate the research opportunities and accomplishments of that period.
World War II reduced the naturalist staffs to a minimum. After the war the National Park Service reestablished eight biologist positions under the Division of Interpretation, which was the lineal descendant of the old Branch of Research and Education. The number of biologists was not restored to pre-war strength despite the increasing pressures on park resources; a situation experienced by no other professional group within the National Park Service except the geologists.
On February 10, 1945, the National Park Service issued a statement on Research in the National Park System, and its Relation to Private Research and the Work of Research Foundations. Its recommendations covered natural history as well as history and archaeology and advocated a research program to provide a constant flow of knowledge on the interrelations of life forms (ecology) essential for interpretation and management and an adequate staff of biologists. A list of 77 needed biological research programs was included, with priorities. The years passed -- but little happened.
During the period 1948-1957, research biologist Walter Kittams was stationed in Yellowstone to study the chronically serious elk situation and recommend corrective measures. He produced voluminous illustrated reports showing the spread of ecological destruction and urging an adequate elk-reduction program.
In 1953, the National Park Conference advocated research as a basic tool for interpretation and management. This led to inclusion in the Administrative Manual of a policy statement in support of research.
In 1956, the first (and last) meeting of National Park Service biologists since 1939 was held in Washington. A list of suggestions for strengthening and implementing the Service's biological program was submitted by the conferees, but was not implemented.
In 1957, a position of aquatic biologist was reestablished to handle research, interpretation, and management of fisheries and related aquatic resources. A previous fishery position had existed between 1934 and 1940.
In 1957, members of the first Everglades National Park Research Conference met to consider the urgent need for a research program to provide answers as soon as possible to various threats to the park's ecological existence. Special funds from the Service's Water Resources Branch were allocated annually for several years (until the first regular research funds finally were secured) for a study by the University of Miami of the park's freshwater needs -- which study was recognized as being by far the most acute and immediate need. However, even with special funds derived from other sources, financing of this study never approached the $20,000 annually which the University has shown would be the minimum required for ecological field research covering the subject. A research project on the ecologically essential role of fire in the park received no research financing.
In 1958, the first research funds became available for natural history (ecology and geology). The total allocated in the National Park Service for this purpose was $28,000, in subsequent years reduced to $26,880 by a four per cent administrative overhead deduction. The annual amount allotted for natural history research has remained at this low level to the present. However, miscellaneous year-end moneys, and, at the local level, occasional contributions from park budgets, and donations, may have equalled or exceeded the formal allotments. The pump-priming effect of even so small a research budget as $28,000 (supplemented by year-end and other miscellaneous small funds, as mentioned) stimulated research institutions and scientific collaborators to produce for the Service, by 1962, several dozen manuscript reports on critical ecological problems. The majority of these reports have indicated the most immediately needed corrective management measures.
On February 10, 1958, the National Park Service reorganized the Divisions of Interpretation (Natural History) and Ranger Activities "to strengthen both the research and protection phases of biological resource conservation." This reorganization made a "clear-cut division of responsibilities between interpretation and conservation functions in the field areas with respect to biological research and management." It transferred one of the eight Service biologists to the Division of Ranger Activities, with responsibilities for all operational functions, and gave the Division of Interpretation (Natural History) the responsibility "for developing and carrying out a program of research on biological resources." In that year also, biologist Coleman Newman completed his four-year research on the ecology of The Roosevelt Elk of Olympic National Park.
In 1961, the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments recommended an expanded research program, stating that history and archaeology have proved the value of research, but that research in natural history has remained inadequate. The National Park Service revived the long-dormant Fauna Series with No. 6, The Bighorn of Death Valley by Welles and Welles, summarizing an ecological research project that had been partially financed out of the Service's annual allotment.
In January 1962, the National Park Service issued a prospectus on a proposed Comprehensive Natural History Research Program.
In 1963, the Secretary's Committee on Wildlife Management in the National Parks issued a report on Wildlife Management in the National Parks which included recommendations on the control of elk herd in Yellowstone National Park. This report dealt with a problem of concern since 1911 on which recommendations were made in Fauna Series No. 1 (1932) published by the National Park Service, again in Fauna Series No. 4 (1940), and again in a series of reports during the period 1948-1957.
The Department of Interior is well aware of the unsatisfactory status of natural history research in our national parks. Secretary Udall in a letter of April 25, 1962, addressed to Dr. D.W. Bronk, then President of the National Academy of Sciences, said:
"The National Park Service has long recognized that broad ecological knowledge is indispensable to the integrity and general welfare of the national parks. During recent decades, however research undertaken by the Service has of necessity, consisted largely of projects stimulated by crises in park management, planning, protection, and interpretation. Some more broadly based and fundamental studies in the national parks have been made by scientists from universities, other federal agencies, and research organizations such as the Carnegie and Smithsonian Institutions, but no coordinated or long range plan of investigations has been developed. As a result, the needs of some areas have been fairly adequately met; in others, the accomplishments bear a haphazard relationship to actual needs; while for the remainder, comprising far too many areas, little has been done." The Committee agrees with Secretary Udall.
Research by the National Park Service has lacked continuity, coordination, and depth. It has been marked by expediency rather than by long-term considerations. It has in general lacked direction, has been fragmented between divisions and branches, has been applied piecemeal and has suffered because of a failure to recognize the distinctions between research and administrative decision-making, and has failed to insure the implementation of the results of research in operational management. Too few funds have been requested; too few appropriated. In fact, the Committee is not convinced that the policies of the National Park Service have been such that the potential contribution of research and a research staff to the solution of the problems of the national parks is recognized and appreciated. Reports and recommendations on this subject will remain futile unless and until the National Park Service itself becomes research-minded and is prepared to support research and to apply its findings.
These harsh comments are not to be interpreted as a criticism of much of the personnel of the Park Service. The Committee has been most favorably impressed by the quality of the men, their dedication to their profession and the morale which exists in the Service. There are simply too few research people and these few are inadequately supported. The Committee was shocked to learn that for the year 1962 the research staff (including the Chief Naturalist and field men in natural history) was limited to 10 people  and that the Service budget for natural history research was $28,000 -- about the cost of one campground comfort station.
The Committee recognizes also that a limited amount of excellent research in natural history has been carried on by the Park Service and that much has been accomplished by independent investigators with the encouragement and cooperation of the Park Service. In fact, the accomplishment of research in natural history in the national parks should be a matter of pride to the Service in view of the limited funds and personnel available for that purpose. A list of publications and reports (far too many of these have not been published) is appended to this report. 
It is inconceivable to this Committee that property so unique and valuable as the national parks, used by such a large number of people and regarded internationally as one of the finest examples of our national spirit, should not be provided with sufficient competent research scientists in natural history as elementary insurance for the preservation and best use of parks. The national parks idea originated in the United States, and, in spite of all deficiencies, the parks are far beyond anything similar elsewhere in the world. The need for sound knowledge on which to make decisions was expressed to the Committee in strong terms by several of those responsible for the operational management of some of the more important parks. Such knowledge results from research. An examination of research in natural history accomplished by the National Park Service, projects now under way and the conditions in various national parks forcefully demonstrate the need for an expanded research staff adequately supported and emphasizes the urgency of immediate action.
One of the first needs is a complete inventory of each of the national parks including information on such items as topography, geology, climate, water regime, soil, flora and fauna, land use and archeology, with distribution maps where appropriate. Insofar as historical records permit, the inventory should include past as well as present conditions. An inventory furnishes a base from which changes in biology and habitat can be judged and by which management practices can be planned.  It supplies also a major part of the information by which a park and its significance can be presented (interpreted) to the public.
The Committee found that a great deal of inventory information has been accumulated for some parks and that much of it is effectively presented in attractive form for the pleasure and instruction of the public. There are, however, obvious deficiencies, the correction of which demands research. Most significant is a lack of detailed information on geology, aerial photography, adequate maps of topography, soil types and the distribution of plants and animals.
The place of natural history research in the national parks is demonstrated by the clear and present danger to some parks because research on which proper management operations should have been based was not carried out in time; because the results of research known to operational management were not implemented; or because the research staff was not consulted before action was taken. In still other situations problems are recognized for the solution of which research is needed but none has been undertaken or planned, or if planned, has not been financed.
Other situations which demonstrate the need for research and/or adequate research staff in natural history in the National Park Service were noted by members of the Committee in their visits to the national parks or were called to their attention. Some of these were the following:
In each of these examples, and there are others, operational management decisions were made by the National Park Service without benefit of adequate information such as comes from research, and the parks suffered serious damage.
A review of the areas included within the National Park System has also brought to light current need for specific research:
Other examples of research accomplished could be cited but the Committee considers that the amount is too little, the problems solved are too few and the need is too great for the status of research in natural history in the national parks to remain in its present anemic condition.
1Total number NPS employees 5359; in Washington 386; in regional offices 1126; in National Parks 1638; in other Field areas 2209.
2See Appendix 5.
3The Committee has been impressed by the management plans developed by the Nature Conservancy of Britain. Of the eighty-five National Nature Reserves in Britain, more than half are now under approved management plans, each of which is a document of from twenty to one hundred pages prepared according to a standard pro forma pattern. The Committee recognizes that plans devised for the nature reserves in Britain are not applicable in toto to the national parks of the United States but believes that they contain suggestions of value, and has submitted to the Secretary of the Interior with this report examples of the management plans prepared by the Nature Conservancy of Britain.