National Park Service Since 1916  Term Paper

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Specific legislation on rights of way would have to be enacted separately in order to apply to any of the other parks (for instance, the 1915 act creating Rocky Mountain National Park contained rights of way). (Winks 1997)


Under the Act of 1970 act, Congress proceeded to create new National Recreation Areas, including "urban parks." The act clearly strengthened the Park Service to protect park units in all ways by Congressional mandate. The Park Service was given the ability to exercise the broad powers it already possessed and would acquire in the future.

The act also changed the definition of the Park System to include "any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes." Even though this provision was directly given for national seashores, national lakeshores, and wild and scenic rivers, no distinction of this nature was made in the act itself, and thus the language is broad enough to include all water and land resources within a park and intended the strictest type of protection to the National Parks, as distinct from any segment of them.

Section 8 of the Act of October, 1976 directed the Secretary of the Interior to "investigate, study and continually monitor the welfare of areas whose resources exhibit qualities of national significance and which may have potential for inclusion in the National Park System." (Winks 1997-50)

Even more power was mandated by Congress to protect the National Parks in 1978, when it declared "in light of the high public value and integrity" of the park system, the parks must be protected to avoid "derogation of the values and purposes" for which the parks were created. Thus, Congress gave the Park Service the power to prohibit actions of invasive activity, practice or structure, and to eliminate it. Federal law gives the National Parks great power inside the protection of the United States Government, to be regulated by the Park Service and its rangers. From parks to regional offices, the Park service employs over 20,000 individuals (permanent and temp) and receives additional support from 90,000 volunteers. (National Park Service 2006)

The first "Park Ranger" was appointed by Philetus W. Norris in 1880. It was "Ranger" Yount's job to protect elk and buffalo from slaughter for their hides, from market hunters and from people traveling to the mines at Cooke City. To do this, he took up residence in a cabin near the confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, but quit a year later when the enormity of the job became evident. He left after sending a letter to Norris advising him that it would take a large body of men, available on the lands, to police it, something which happened about a century later. (Everhart 1990)

With more than 76 million acres of national parks, the U.S. NPS and the park rangers it employs, educates and ensures the safety of the millions of visitors who hike, climb, ski, boat, fish, and explore natural resources. The primary responsibility of the park ranger is safety. Rangers must strictly enforce rules and ensure the safety of visitors. Completing registration forms at park offices become a crucial link in a search and rescue mission. As accidents happen in the great outdoors, park rangers are trained in first aid and rescue operations and are alert at all times to weather conditions, progress and safe returns of groups that go hiking or mountain climbing. Condition of trails, movement of wildlife, wind gusts, and forest fires become necessary to know at all times. Besides answering questions, providing guided tours, rescuing park users, enforcing laws, and directing traffic, park rangers are also conservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, and even botanists. Park rangers also protect the park's natural resources from humans who destroy park property by chopping down trees for firewood, polluting lakes and rivers, harming wildlife, and leaving campfires unattended. In case of a forest fire start, rangers become firefighters. Park rangers can arrest and forcibly evict those who violate park laws. Park rangers must wear many hats in the execution of their duties. (Princeton Review 2006)


Public opinion follows the vagaries of political pressure on Congress to change the limitations of use of the natural resources in the National Parks. PETA, groups organized to protect redwood forests and keep private companies from doing too much logging on public lands, as well as many other environmental and natural-resource-watch organizations keep close a close eye on the laws and the private organizations who put pressure on Congress and the House to change and loosen its restrictions on use of National Park properties.

Since multiple use was peculiar to the mandate of the National Forest Service, language used in the Organic Act of 1916, and in subsequent amendments to that act in 1970 and 1978, Congress clearly meant to provide national parks with a higher standard of protection than national forests. "Unimpaired" and "for future generations" was interpreted by the courts to become stricter and stricter, more protective, meanings of "unimpaired."

Did Congressman William Kent, author of the National Park Act of 1916, mean this to happen? Kent opposed a bill, H.R. 16673, in Congress in January, 1915, allowing the Secretary of the Interior to lease "for purposes of constructing dams, water controls, reservoirs, transmission box lines" or "any part of the public lands... including lands in national forests, the Grand Canyon and Mount Olympus national monuments, and other reservations, not including national parks" for a period of fifty years. Kent said this would be a travesty in reference to the Grand Canyon, who's water, Kent maintained, should belong to the people.

Kent also wished to give a large area of Mt. Tamalpais, in Marin County, which he owned, along with a grove of redwoods, to California as a state park or national monument. (the first national monument was created by executive action at Devil's Tower, Wyoming, in 1906.) Kent wanted this because the growing population of Marin County was creating pressure for more water, and he wanted to protect the purity of the watershed as well as give Marin County an adequate public water supply. In 1908 he was successful in these endeavors, and his redwood grove became Muir Woods National Monument. From 1903 on he spoke of the need for more national parks and the necessity to keep lands in or destined for parks out of local politics. Kent favored the development of water power through public means, the protection of watersheds, and the creation of national parks and monuments to preserve scenic and natural areas.

Congress mandated that even before ditches could go into any national park for reservoirs or other bodies of water, they would have to be specifically authorized by Congress, by amendment to the Federal water power act of 1920. It appears that Kent's basic principles had at last been recognized. (Winks 2006) Congress was empowering the national parks to have more ability to control what was within their borders with backing by the federal government.

Public policy is defined by Congress in regard to powers and limits of activities within national parks. The advocates of natural resources seem to be able to sway Congress to limit or define further powers for those who wish to intrude or change the meaning of the original acts that have heretofore defined the powers of the NPS. On the other hand, Congress has kept the agency in check when it appeared to ask too much. However, the federal government has in the past been willing to grant to the NPS services, manpower and other budgetary needs, as well as keep strict tabs on private organizations that wish to take advantage of this liberality.

Section 8 of the Act of October, 1976, gave the Secretary authority on resource issues outside the boundaries of any of the existing parks. From this it was not difficult, through four key acts already on the books - the Wilderness Act of 1964, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, Clean Water Act of 1972, and Endangered Species Act of 1973 - to make other government agencies cooperate with the NPS.

In 1980 the U.S. district court in the District of Columbia rejected the notion of a separate public trust outside the statutory duties imposed on the NPS. On the other hand, the court found that the NPS had very broad discretionary powers from several sources. (Winks 1990)

However, today there are new issues that the NPS must deal with: The knowledge base focuses on natural resource management issues, including biological and physical changes, such as acid rain; biological and genetic diversity in worldwide agriculture; hazardous and solid waste disposal; and forest, fishery, soil, and water degradation. (Machlis 2000) in addition, the encroachment on public lands of oil companies seeking to drill and distribute oil from them is a new threat that has recently cropped up. Some say…

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