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Wildlife Management in the National Parks:

The Leopold Report

 

 

 

Historical

 

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In the Congressional Act of 1916 which created the National Park Service, preservation of native animal life was clearly specified as one of the purposes of the parks. A frequently quoted passage of the Act states "...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

In implementing this Act, the newly formed Park Service developed a philosophy of wildlife protection, which in that era was indeed the most obvious and immediate need in wildlife conservation. Thus the parks were established as refuges, the animal populations were protected from hunting and their habitats were protected from wildfire. For a time predators were controlled to protect the "good" animals from the "bad" ones, but this endeavor mercifully ceased in the 1930's. On the whole, there was little major change in the Park Service practice of wildlife management during the first 40 years of its existence.

During the same era, the concept of wildlife management evolved rapidly among other agencies and groups concerned with the production of wildlife for recreational hunting. It is now an accepted truism that maintenance of suitable habitat is the key to sustaining animal populations, and that protection, though it is important, is not of itself a substitute for habitat. Moreover, habitat is not a fixed or stable entity that can be set aside and preserved behind a fence, like a cliff dwelling or a petrified tree. Biotic communities change through natural stages of succession. They can be changed deliberately through manipulation of plant and animal populations. In recent years the National Park Service has broadened its concept of wildlife conservation to provide for purposeful management of plant and animal communities as an essential step in preserving wildlife resources "...unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." In a few parks active manipulation of habitat is being tested, as for example in the Everglades where controlled burning is now used experimentally to maintain the open glades and piney woods with their interesting animal and plant life. Excess populations of grazing ungulates are being controlled in a number of parks to preserve the forage plants on which the animals depend. The question already has been posed -- how far should the National Park Service go in utilizing the tools of management to maintain wildlife populations?

 

 

 

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