Recommendations Concerning Future Directions for Science and Scientific Resource Management in the National Parks
More than a century ago, farsighted congressional leaders began setting aside landscapes on a truly grand scale by creating a system of national parks in the United States. They recognized that these majestic areas represent America’s natural heritage, in all of its grandeur, nobility, and complexity, and that they must be protected for the benefit of the public. And they specifically mandated that the national parks be left “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” National parks are spiritual places—sacred, and inspirational. They are places with great restorative powers, of enormous benefit in a stressful modern world. From the beginning, and continuing into the present, national parks have been theaters of education—classrooms for science and the humanities. In the parks, millions of Americans have expanded their knowledge of natural history through experiences that have served to foster better citizenship. Appreciation of the scenic beauty of the national parks has nurtured a greater understanding of the ecological complexity and biodiversity of the world. Over the years, science has not fared well in the in the National Park Service. In an effort to reverse that trend, Service leadership recently created a program to double the science effort in the national parks—known as the Natural Resource Challenge. To date, the Challenge has greatly strengthened the Park Service’s scientific natural resource management capability, as well as its ability to take better advantage of public and private partnerships to further enhance ecological management. The Natural Resource Challenge represents more than just an increase in funding—it has actually created a historic shift in emphasis, moving national park management toward the heart of the National Park Service mission. The Service has long excelled in managing recreational tourism, but by virtue of its mandate, it has been cast in the leadership role in nature preservation. The mission to preserve the parks unimpaired includes the ecological integrity of park resources. However, national parks with decreased biological diversity and diminished natural systems can in no way be considered unimpaired. Thus, the National Park Service has no choice: Mastering the science required to maintain ecological integrity is central to its unimpairment mandate. And to accomplish this mastery, the Service must be given wide latitude in establishing and managing its own fully constituted science program.