IMPORTANCE OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
By Geo. C. Ruhle
Definition: - Research embodies the careful and critical
inquiry or examination in seeking facts and principles. It employs a
systematic investigation by means of experimental methods, augmented
with generalizations, laws, and hypotheses to discover new facts, and to
correlate them with other facts.
The General (Direct) Value of Research: - The part played by
research in the development of science and industry is common knowledge
to mankind. Large industrial enterprises have been developed by it as
frequently as by the labors of organizing departments. The recognition
of the national essentiality of science is practically unanimous.
The Importance of Research to the Educational Program in a
National Park: - Granting the general importance of research, since
no argument should be necessary as to its utility in increasing
production, eliminating disease, or enhancing comfort and security, does
or can research play a vital part in the Educational Development of a
National Park? Is it an Educational Asset? Yes. Conservation and
Development being considered as the first two purposes of our national
parks, the third purpose is their maximum utilization along appropriate
lines. No argument should be necessary for the use of our parks in the
cause of advancing knowledge, especially since the wonderful
possibilities of scientific discovery are so manifest everywhere. It is
a cardinal purpose to supplement the recreational utility of these
pleasure areas with higher investigations of a type by which our mastery
over nature is derived. A wholly materialistic gain for the parks
through research is prestige and decorous advertisement. Without basic
in formation supplied by research, intelligent procedure along any line
What is the Importance of Research to the Park Naturalist: --
Chiefly through the training received and the mental attitude developed.
It is obvious that one works with a great handicap if one conducts
activities along emperical lines without the advantages which the
scientific method entails. Research is extremely valuable as an
intellectual stimulus, developing an ability to think clearly and
independently, to analyze complicated problems, and put factors in their
proper relationship and value. It prevents mental stagnation by its
induciveness to creative thought, by eliminating passive acceptance. It
fosters a sense of obligation, mental alertness, self-reliance, a
responsibility of taking part in investigation of unsolved problems, an
answered challenge. It keeps the mind fresh by contact with superior
brains, either directly or through current literature.
Pure vs applied research: - Even great business corporations
with research programs are beginning to recognize the promotion of pure
science as a sound business policy. The goal of research is discovery of
all truth. Research is valuable whether capable of immediate application
or not. The smallest discovery may lead to unexpected and far reaching
results, as has often been proven, In our national parks, both pure and
applied research should not be found wanting.
Besides the Chief Naturalist, the Park Naturalists and Mr. Russell,
there were present as visitors Mr. John Coffman, Dr. Joseph Grinnell,
Mr. Joseph Dixon, Mr. Charles Kraebel, Mr. A. Everett Wieslander, Mr.
Duncan Dunning and Professor Horne, all of whom took part in the round
table discussions during this session of the conference.
Following the presentation of Dr. Ruhle's paper on the importance of
research, the fact was brought out that the present scientific knowledge
of the natural features of the park is almost infinitesimal compared
with what will ultimately be known through intensive research. Much
investigation will be necessary before we can in any measure round out
the park story.
Dr. Grinnell pointed out that scientific research is of practical
value to the park naturalist because he is best equipped to transmit
this knowledge to the park visitor.
It is advisable that the naturalist work upon scientific problems in
order that he may continue to remain alert; it is equally important that
he bring these problems to conclusion, as the successful
completion of the projects will be an asset not only to him, but also to
Dr. Grinnell pointed out that some men are able teachers while others
are primarily concerned with research and that seldom are both faculties
combined in one man. For this reason it was pointed out that it might be
well to have two types of naturalists. The suggestion was made by others
that the specialists in research might best be members of the
headquarters staff rather than members of the educational staff in the
individual parks -- at least until the work is further developed.
Discussion was reopened on the question of the maintenance of a
natural balance in the national parks.
The question arose concerning the control or extermination of animals
which are dangerous to human life, such as the rattlesnake. It was
maintained by several present that such control would upset the natural
balance, but it was recognized as inevitable that some such control be
introduced in areas widely used by the public. It was recommended that
the problem be given special scientific study with a view to developing
a practical solution of the problem.
Mr. Kraebel suggested that specialists concentrate upon the study of
problems of this sort in the individual parks, and it was pointed out by
other members present that such study might fall within the scope of the
investigations to be conducted by Messrs. Wright and Dixon.
Dr. Grinnell pointed out the danger of officially permitting
"reasonable" control of any species because the interpretation of this
term will depend entirely upon the ideas of the individual. There is
bound to be a difference between opinions of different individuals and
also in a single individual's opinion at different times.
Mr. Dixon pointed out that absence of control measures will not
result in absolutely natural conditions and that an agreement based on
the result of careful scientific investigation would be the best means
of determining upon what should be a natural balance.
The question was brought up as to whether any species should be
allowed to disappear from a national park. Dr. Grinnell and Mr. Kraebel
maintained that artificial means should not be introduced to preserve
the species if that species exists in other national parks. Mr. Hall
pointed out that it was dangerous to make such a generalization and that
the course of action should depend, rather, upon careful investigation
and pre-determined plan of action. Dr. Grinnell pointed out the danger
of allowing human ideas to interfere with the natural balance. He said
that as years progress it is likely that the pyramiding of ideas may
divert us from the original park objective of undisturbed preservation.
He pointed out that we may start with a minor artificial change but that
following artificial changes must continually be made in order to make
or check natural changes and that thus there will eventually be built up
a condition which is entirely artificial.
After a long discussion by the delegates and visitors present it was
agreed that park areas should be kept as nearly "natural" as possible,
but that the use of the park by the people introduces an artificial
element which is inevitably an element in the situation and should be
considered in any administrative plan.