Reader Participation Day: Preservation, or Enjoyment?

Do you believe preservation of the national parks comes before the public's enjoyment of these places? Photo of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park by Kurt Repanshek.

From time to time the ongoing debate is renewed over whether the National Park Service is supposed to be managing the National Park System primarily for the public's enjoyment, or with an eye on preservation so future generations can also enjoy the parks. What do you think?

Just last week this issue came up again in another court ruling, where a judge weighing in on whether the Park Service had properly decided on personal watercraft use at Gulf Islands National Seashore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore pointed out that preservation comes first.

To reconcile values that may at times be in tension with one another--conservation and recreation--NPS itself has consistently interpreted the Organic Act to prioritize conservation, see PIRO-00022; GUIS-00169, and recognized that the courts as well “have consistently interpreted the Organic Act and its amendments to elevate resource conservation above visitor recreation.” Id. (citing cases); see also 2006 NPS Policies at 1.4.3 (“Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act.”) (emphasis added).

This is the approach courts and Congress have determined the Park Service should take with each of the 392 units in the National Park System, not just those called "national parks."

Do you agree with this approach?

Comments

I agree with conserving the resources but what's the use if they cannot be enjoyed by the people. Proper management is the key-- creating a balance between the two rather than have them at opposite ends.

If we don't preserve it, it won't be there for the future to enjoy.

Larry is right -- balance is needed. But it still needs to be a bit heavier on the side of preservation.

The parks are preserved FOR the enjoyment of the people. While I'm generally in favor of all the preservation efforts of park rangers, sometimes I feel they get a bit neurotic about how they handle the resources we've entrusted to them. In other words, the national park service can sometimes feel that the resources belong to them and not the people who come to enjoy them. I don't envy their jobs, but I believe that sometimes they hamper the current enjoyment of the parks in ways that wouldn't harm them for future generations.

In my opinion, the principle mission of the NPS should be preservation. Opportunities for recreational enjoyment of natural and cultural resources should be provided, but only in so far as aethetics, ecology, and historic values are not compromised by overuse.

Giving priority to preservation should lead to the establishment of visitor use carrying capacities so that overcrowded urbanized conditions are not experienced such as exists at Furnace Creek campground during the winter months at Death Valley. Crowds of hikers waiting in line to ascend the cables of Half Dome beg the question as to whether or not Half Dome should be best managed as a sacred landmark, off limits to both hikers and rock climbers.

Strict adherence to the priority principle of preservation in our parks would lead to removal of the private car from Cades Cove and Yosemtie Valley and re-evaluation of the educational benefits versus aesthetic disturbances provided by motorized tour boats on the sea of silence that is Crater Lake.

Resistence to preservation as the predominant mission of the NPS comes primarily from those whose livelihoods are dependent on profits from an ever-growing motorized industrial tourist economy.

I totally agree that preservation comes first. It's always been a fine balance for NPS to do that and also provide recreation services. Don't folks know they can visit National Forests for that? Many parks, like here at the North Rim, are already at carrying capacity. Yes, the public needs to see how marvelous these special places are. But hopefully without loving them to death.

There is no black and white answer to this, and I won't try to provide one, but I will say I think it's the job of the NPS to undertake this balance. If someone said that they "enjoy" the parks by throwing dynamite around in them, we'd all agree that that kind of activity should be barred. What we have though is activities that are on a sort of border line.

Suffice it to say I am skeptical when someone says that they should have a right to enjoy the parks with [insert type of motorized vehicle/activity here]. The idea that the park should accomodate your particular preferred gas-powered, noisy, fast-moving, and disruptive (these suits always seem to involve activities that share these categories) form of enjoyment just never makes sense to me.

But I will also say that it's because the park service is often given some of the most special places that draw people that we have these disputes. And it's also because the USFS typically does not provide such a rich experience (or even sufficient roads to travel on), in my opinion - they don't seem to have the funding for it and it's not quite their mission either.

MikeD:
There is no black and white answer to this, and I won't try to provide one, but I will say I think it's the job of the NPS to undertake this balance. If someone said that they "enjoy" the parks by throwing dynamite around in them, we'd all agree that that kind of activity should be barred. What we have though is activities that are on a sort of border line.

Suffice it to say I am skeptical when someone says that they should have a right to enjoy the parks with [insert type of motorized vehicle/activity here]. The idea that the park should accomodate your particular preferred gas-powered, noisy, fast-moving, and disruptive (these suits always seem to involve activities that share these categories) form of enjoyment just never makes sense to me.

But I will also say that it's because the park service is often given some of the most special places that draw people that we have these disputes. And it's also because the USFS typically does not provide such a rich experience (or even sufficient roads to travel on), in my opinion - they don't seem to have the funding for it and it's not quite their mission either.

I think sometimes the type of unit or the particular area needs to be taken into consideration. I've visited several full-scale "National Parks" (Flamingo and Gulf Coast at Everglades NP, Jackson Lake at Grand Teton NP) where motorized boating is the norm, with small-scale marinas and boat launches. Several National Recreation Areas under NPS control are heavy on motorized boating, such as Lake Mead and Glen Canyon. However - water based activities seem overall less destructive although there's no doubt that many types of watercraft can be rather noisy. However - a manmade lake is hardly the pristine experience in the first place.

The Forest Service does seem to have a difference in experience. I found some of the visitor facilities in the Lake Tahoe area to be comparable to NPS. Shasta Lake is primarily FS (and Bureau of Reclamation) on a similar scale with Lake Mead or Glen Canyon.

Preservation

An unpreserved park is a rathole unworthy of visitation. We go because they're beautiful. If they're not, why bother.

If you want to tear up the landscape, do so in the national forests. Plenty of room there.