10 Recommendations

National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks: The Robbins Report


This Committee has stated that in its opinion the National Park Service must manage to some degree the lands which fall within the National Park System. The Committee has stated further that the management of any enterprise cannot be effective unless the objectives of the enterprise are clearly defined and well understood, and plans are devised to accomplish the objectives.

Plans must be based on information of the resources (inventory) of the activity, on its problems, and on its relation with other similar activities; and they must be implemented by adequate and competent personnel, properly organized, motivated, and supported financially.

Research is an essential part of the program outlined above and its use a necessity in each of the steps. These elementary principles apply to the national parks as well as to a business or any other organized activity.

The Committee has based its recommendations on these considerations, as well as on its acquaintance with the parks and their problems and begs leave to submit the following:

1. The objectives or purposes of each national park should be defined.

COMMENT: Each national park was established because of the potential esthetic, educational, scientific and cultural values of its natural history and/or its human history. The features of a park which make the values possible of attainment should be carefully defined to serve as the basis for operational management. They should be preserved and restored, where necessary, and provisions made for their proper enjoyment and use by the people. The objectives should exclude the use of the national parks for amusement or such mass recreation as requires elaborate facilities or extensive and/or artificial modification of the natural features of a park. The Committee endorses, in this respect, the conclusion of the report: “Wildlife Management in the National Parks.” Zoning of a national park into, for example, natural undisturbed areas, naturalistic areas, public use areas and Park Service facility areas is suggested.

2. Inventory and mapping of the natural history resources of each park should be made.

COMMENT: Such an inventory should cover the past as well as the present, and include information on topography, geology, climate, water regime, soil types, flora and fauna and natural communities. Mapping, including aerial maps, should cover species distributions, natural communities, land use, archeology and such other mappable features as may be of importance in the park.

An inventory serves as a basis for judging changes, good or bad, in the condition of a park, supplies the information necessary for interpreting the area to the public, and is essential for proper operational management, as well as for further research.

3. A distinction should be made between administration, operational management, and research management.

COMMENT: Research is essential to solve problems of operational management whether the latter concerns preservation, restoration, interpretation or the use of the parks by the public. Administration, the management of research and the management of operations require somewhat different though well recognized administrative procedures. In most situations, the following steps are involved:

1) Identification and definition of the problem or situation;

2) Research, or fact finding, based on observation and/or experimentation;

3) Administrative action which involves decision on a course of action, grounded on the findings and recommendations of research and such other considerations as may be involved; and

4) Operational management, which means the implementation of the decisions by the appropriate operational division.

4. A permanent, independent, and identifiable research unit should be established within the National Park Service to conduct and supervise research in natural history in the national parks, and to serve as consultant on natural history problems for the entire National Park System.

COMMENT: In order to maintain objectivity, the principal research organization should be independent of operational management. It should provide knowledge which would allow predictions of the consequences of alternate lines of action or inaction. Close liaison should be maintained between the research unit and the administrative and operating divisions in order that the results of research may be adequately applied. All branches of the service should participate fully in identifying problems and in preparing programs and budgets for research. The research staff should have complete freedom in the execution of an approved research program, in evaluating the results, in reporting the findings and in making recommendations based on the findings. There should be free communication on research ideas and research accomplishment from anywhere in the National Park Service to and from the top research staff. Provision should be made to enable the research staff to maintain close association with other scientists.

5. The research unit in natural history in the National Park Service should be organized as a line arrangement with an “Assistant Director for Research in the Natural Sciences” reporting to the Director of the National Park Service.

COMMENT: A nucleus of highly competent scientists headed by a Chief Scientist should be assembled in the headquarters of the National Park Service. This nucleus should comprise at least 10 individuals — including the present staff. The scientific group in Washington should be supported by an appropriate staff of natural history specialists available for field assignments and other research. The committee emphasizes that quality is more important than numbers and that a selective and flexible approach to research problems is likely to be most profitable in the long term. Field research personnel should report directly to the Washington staff, and should be administered by personnel management policies compatible with their responsibilities.

6. Most of the research by the National Park Service should be mission-oriented.

COMMENT: The National Park Service should direct its in-service research mainly toward the problems involved in the preservation and/or restoration of the national parks for the esthetic, educational and scientific values and toward the adequate interpretation of these values. The solution of some of the problems may extend beyond the conventional bounds of natural history and involve, at least temporarily, contributions by, for example, economists, social scientists, and engineers. The problem should be emphasized and assistance for its solution sought wherever competence may be found. When appropriate, mission-oriented research should be carried out on a contract basis with universities or private research organizations.

7. The National Park Service should itself plan and administer its own mission-oriented research program directed toward the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the national parks.

COMMENT: The mission of the Service in the preservation of the total environment is a unique responsibility. The research program necessary to support this objective is of a scope and character different from that of any other institution or land management agency. The Service must therefore accept the responsibility for the planning, administration and conduct of its own research program. While it may, and is encouraged to utilize the specialized services of other agencies and institutions, it cannot abrogate its responsibilities for the direction and execution of its own mission-oriented research program.

8. Research should be designed to anticipate and prevent problems in operational management as well as to meet those which have already developed.

COMMENT: A limited staff which has inadequate support can deal only with immediate “brush fire” problems; that is to say, it can deal only with situations which have already become critical and perhaps irreparable. A research staff adequate in competence and numbers can conduct research from long-term considerations, detect problems before they become critical and offer alternate choices of action for their solution.