The Early Years,
Defining The System,
The New Deal Years,
The Poverty Years,
The Ecological Revolution,
A System Threatened,
Mission 66 began in 1956 with great fanfare and optimism. However, within a few years this supposed panacea was mired in controversy, the result of changes in the conservation and science communities with which the National Park Service had not kept pace. The death of George Wright in 1936 had heralded the end of his Wildlife Division if not in name, then certainly in influence. Yet ecological science dramatically matured and diversified. Conservation groups began to take note by the early 1950s but the Park Service clung tenaciously to its concept of "atmosphere preservation" and to other ideals promoted decades earlier by Stephen Mather.
Over this short seven-year period, however, National Park Service management and philosophy would be challenged and ultimately overturned by a shocking series of reports and commentaries from scientists both within and outside the agency. At the same time, the search for additional recreation opportunities for the nation would be rekindled. Abandoned during World War II and the postwar funding crisis, the search for recreation areas, seashores, and state park sites led to a major government inquiry and new responsibilities for the Park Service.
It is often the case that one particular speech or article can catch an organization's attention when others have consistently failed. Throughout the decade of the 1950s pressure to reinvest the Wildlife Division with funds and influence and to manage the parks and monuments with attention to modern scientific data had increased. Yet it was a single speech by Stanley Cain at the Sixth Biennial Wilderness Conference that drove home the point. The eminent ecologist chastised the agency for "missing a bet" by not conducting a natural history research program and tailoring its management policies to reflect the findings. A transcript of the speech was widely circulated among NPS administrators with a note from an NPS scientist further exhorting his superiors.
The Cain speech gave impetus to a grudgingly developing research program which in turn led to two important in-house reports over the next several years. First prepared in 1960 and released service-wide three years later, A Back Country Management Plan for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was a document with far greater implications than its name might suggest. Always intended to be a blueprint for NPS backcountry planning, the Sequoia report began with a series of definitions and position statements about such issues as wilderness protection versus personal freedom, carrying capacities, population trends and wilderness use, and the ultimate aim of conservation.
In 1962, the agency produced a wildlife management report sometimes referred to as the Stagner report after its lead author. In the report, the authors propose a series of management principles which echo many of George Wright's from Fauna of the National Parks three decades earlier and anticipate those of the Leopold report a year later.
As important as these reports were to altering NPS policy, the year 1963 was the turning point. Two complementary reports by outside committees confirmed the findings of Cain, Stagner, and others and radically transformed policy priorities. The chief document in this transformation was officially known as the Report of the Advisory Board on Wildlife Management in the National Parks. Unofficially it was called the Leopold report after its committee chairman. Established by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall to comment on the problem of overgrazing by Yellowstone elk as well as other specific wildlife issues, the committee chose to go well beyond those tasks and define a basic management philosophy for the national parks. In a now familiar statement they suggested that the primary purpose of the parks was the maintenance or restoration of the biotic associations in each unit to the "condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man." After further discussion and specific examples, the report called for a permanent staff of scientists in each park to oversee these management priorities. When published, a letter from Secretary Udall endorsing it accompanied the report.
Yet another blue-ribbon group took up the allied question of research in the parks. Known as the Robbins report after its chairman, this document added fuel to the fires of change and corroborated the Leopold committee, Cain, and the scientific and conservation communities. Together these two reports resulted directly in the revival of both extensive scientific research in the parks as well as new management for "ecosystem preservation."
While this management revolution transpired, the business of coping with the recreation needs of the nation also rekindled. A series of studies conducted in the late 1950s again identified park, parkway, and seashore opportunities for preservation. Congress, however, took a further step by creating the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission to study the problem in a comprehensive way. Its report, issued in 1962, led to establishment of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (now absorbed into the National Park Service) as well as heightened responsibility for the National Park Service in planning a national recreation program and administering areas for that purpose.
The following year the Recreation Advisory Committee to the federal government further elaborated policy on national recreation areas. These units were to be primarily for outdoor recreation rather than natural or historic preservation. This clear mandate served notice on the Park Service of still greater diversity in its management responsibilities.