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Episode Five: 1933–1945Great Nature

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Page from George Melendez Wright’s wildlife survey, 1930 Add to Scrapbook

Page from George Melendez Wright’s wildlife survey, 1930

George Melendez Wright and the Balance of Nature (continued)

Wright proposed a radically new policy: unless threatened with extinction within a park, each native species should be left to "carry on its struggle for existence unaided."

Wright also called for other changes, including the end of winter feedings and the closing of open-pit garbage dumps that attracted bears. Most park managers were unconvinced, but Horace Albright, intrigued by the surveys, established a new wildlife division in 1933. He named George Melendez Wright, only 29 years old, as its chief.

By 1936, the division employed 27 biologists, all working to promote Wright's vision that park policies had to take the animals and plants into account, not just the tourists. Wright's personal interest in Yellowstone's rare trumpeter swans turned into a crusade to save the birds from extinction. He succeeded in creating a special wildlife refuge that ultimately brought the swans back from the brink.

Bee Wright with baby Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone National Park, 1931 Add to Scrapbook

Bee Wright with baby Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone National Park, 1931

Wright also supported the call to establish South Florida's Everglades as a national park, warning that if action was not taken soon all the wildlife there would become extinct. Thanks to the efforts of landscape architect Ernest Coe and journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as well as the support of Horace Albright, Everglades National Park would become the first national park to be created solely for the preservation of animals and plants and the environment that sustains them.

In February 1936, on the way back from a meeting in Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, Wright and Park Service colleague Roger Till were killed in an automobile accident. George Melendez Wright, only 31 years old, would be remembered as the savior of wildlife in America's national parks.

Without him, the Park Service's interest in wildlife waned. By 1939, of the 27 biologists who had been under Wright's supervision, only nine were left. (See sidebar video.)

FDR and the Great Depression

Franklin Roosevelt, Yellowstone National Park, 1937 Add to Scrapbook

Franklin Roosevelt, Yellowstone National Park, 1937

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's deep love of the outdoors was inspired by boyhood hunting, fishing and hiking expeditions on his family's country estate in New York. He considered himself a conservationist in the mold of his famous cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. With another Roosevelt as president, the national parks once again had a great friend in the White House. Adding historic sites and battlefields to the national park system was merely a first step in the reorganization FDR was contemplating. But the Great Depression, a much bigger issue, demanded his urgent attention.

The Depression affected everyone in the United States. One out of every four American wage earners was out of work and many people wondered where their next meal would come from. Factories shut down, farms were foreclosed, and unemployed young men, concerned that they had become a burden to their families, roamed the countryside by the hundreds of thousands.

The Civilian Conservation Corps

Franklin Roosevelt with CCC members, Shenandoah National Park, 1933 Add to Scrapbook

Franklin Roosevelt with CCC members, Shenandoah National Park, 1933

Among the many programs Roosevelt's New Deal created to combat unemployment was the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was especially dear to the president's heart because of its focus on conservation.

The CCC put young men to work in national forests, state parks and national parks, clearing brush and replanting forests, fighting fires, building visitor shelters and ranger cabins, and improving campsites and trails.

Continued on page 3

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

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THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA is a co-production of

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