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Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir
Science and Health:
Preserving Our Parks
More on This Story:

NOW's guest former Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall has long been an advocate for the National Park Service, which he oversaw during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Most recently, Mr. Udall testified in front of the Senate about the outsourcing of National Park Service jobs.

America's National Parks system is an object of great national pride. Parks have long been a bi-partisan priority — Republican Teddy Roosevelt is credited with giving the conservation movement its first big political push. His nephew, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt used the Civil Conservation Corp to greatly enhance the parks. Under Lyndon Johnson and the Mission 66 program the parks got another infusion of much-needed development funds and added numerous areas to the system. Richard Nixon continued adding lands and signed several important environmental bills including the Endangered Species Act and the General Authorities Act of 1970 which added recreational areas to the Park Service's domain.

We love our National Parks — some might say that we're loving them to death. Annual visitation to the areas of the National Park system reached 277 million in 2002. Below is a brief history of the system and some of the current challenges it is facing, links for further information

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Yellowstone: The First National Park

Yellowstone is not only the first national park in the United States, but the first in the world. When early explorers of the West came upon bubbling hot springs, fields of elk and bison, and majestic mountains, they were stunned. Yellowstone gave the United States something to brag about. In 1872 a consortium of conservationists, railroad interests and politicians succeeded in having the area declared a National Park. The legislation noted that the Yellowstone area

. . . is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale. . . and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
  • Yellowstone National Park

  • Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir
    Teddy Roosevelt and the Conservation Movement

    Theodore Roosevelt, avid hunter and sportsman was also a prime figure in the conservation movement. He viewed his experiences in the American West as instrumental in creating his character, once remarking "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."

    It was while in North Dakota that Roosevelt became concerned with the destruction of wildlife and natural lands. As President, Roosevelt created the US Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act which created 18 national monuments. He also established 5 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges and 150 national forests. The Teddy Bear was created to memorialize a bear cub that Roosevelt would not let his party kill on a hunting trip early in his career.

    Early National Park Service Poster
    The Growth of the National Park System

    By 1916 the Department of Interior oversaw 14 national parks, 21 national monuments, and two national reservations. Future Park Service directors Stephen T. Mather and Horace Albright, the National Geographic Society, journalists, railroad interests and others pressured Congress for a single body to oversee these areas, and the National Park Service (NPS) was created by the "Organic Act" of 1916. The Reorganization of 1933 added the national capitol, War Department and Forest Service reserves to the Park Service.

    In 1935 the Preservation of Historic Sites Act gave the NPS the mandate to oversee historic preservation, "to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States."

    The 1960s was a time of great growth for the National Park System. A 10-year improvement program, called Mission 66 added more than a billion dollars. In the Wilderness Act of 1964 established a National Wilderness Preservation System, in order to ensure that some lands would be remain pristine. The Land and Water Conservation Fund established a reserve for the purchase and preservation of new areas, created the National Register of Historic Places and created the Wild and Scenic Rivers system and the National Trails System.

    The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other environmental legislation added legislative power and oversight requirements to the system. In 1970, recreational areas, which carried fewer usage restrictions were added to the system. The legislation declared the various types of parks to be part of a single system.

  • More on National Park Service History
  • Canyonlands National Park
    Challenges: Environmental Issues

    National Parks are facing environmental challenges. One of the most troublesome is air quality. In 1972, the Superintendent of Canyonlands National Park in Utah was worried about emissions from coal-burning plants in the area. Conditions at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee are especially bad. Burning fossil fuels has reduced visibility in the area from 93 miles to just 25 on a good air-quality day. The park, one of the most-visited in the nation, is also being damaged by acid rain and high ozone levels. Some critics contend that the White Houses' Clear Skies Initiative will exacerbate such conditions. Read more about the debate over the Clear Skies Initiative.

  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • The Clear Skies Initiative
  • Monitor the air quality in your neighborhood

  • Ranger"
    Challenges: Financing and Outsourcing

    Both watchdog groups and the General Accounting Office acknowledge that there is a large backlog in necessary park maintenance. Funding this backlog, as well as well as park functions and development is a yearly battle. One of the current administration's cost-cutting solutions has proved especially controversial. Earlier this year National Park Service Directory Fran Mainella proposed outsourcing a portion of park service jobs (15 percent in 2003 and 25 percent by the end of 2004). As many construction, maintenance and all concessions jobs are already performed by outside contractors, the plan has led to fears that the outsourcing would lead to a loss of special resource management expertise.

  • "Competitive Sourcing at National Park Service Benefits Citizens," National Park Service Director Fran Mainella
  • U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearings on Oversight on Competitive Sourcing, July 24, 2003
  • "In The Northwest: 'Outsourcing' a sweeping attack on national parks," SEATTLE POST INTELLIGENCER, July 30, 2003
  • Competitive Outsourcing in the National Parks: Efficient Government or Eroding Expertise?, Myron Ebell, Competitive Enterprise Institute

  • WPA
    Challenges: Preservation vs. Usage

    There has long been a tension in management of federal lands between preservation and usage. Today these conflicts are being played out in debates over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; the decision to allow snowmobiles into Yellowstone National Park, and commercial mining and forestry endeavors on other public lands. One of the most contentious of these issues surround "The Roadless Rule," which was designed to protect wilderness areas in the National Forest System from road construction.

    No new sites have been added to the National Park System since 1999.

    Sources: The National Park Service; National Parks and Conservation Association; Richard West Sellars, PRESERVING NATURE IN THE NATIONAL PARKS; The National Archives and Records Administration; "The Precarious State of Our National Parks," Natural Resources Defense Council; National Park Trust; Republicans for Environmental Advocacy; "National Parks an Economic Boon,"

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