National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks: The Robbins Report
Appendix 1: The Everglades National Park
(Excerpts from the Minutes of the Committee’s Meeting at Everglades National Park, January 10-12, 1963)
Although the Committee realizes that it cannot deal with all the problems of all the national parks individually, but must concentrate on guiding principles of research, comments on some of the parks visited, especially the Everglades National Park, will illustrate its thinking.
Everglades is the third largest national park in the United States, being exceeded only by Yellowstone and Mount McKinley. Its preservation as a vast primitive area of prairie, swamp, and bay, teeming with many forms of wildlife, constitutes a national problem.
Located at the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula, Everglades is bounded on the north by a rich agricultural area supplying winter fruits and vegetables to snowbound northern states, and on the northeast by Miami — one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Around its shores, on east, south, and west, and in its bays and harbors, are some of the nation’s finest fishing grounds.
The Committee noted the lack of sufficient scientific data on which to base claims to a proper supply of water for the Park. During its meeting at Everglades, the Committee adopted the following resolutions and recommendations relating to water  and other problems.
1. An example of the need for more research in national parks is seen in Everglades National Park. A crisis there has resulted in part from the diversion of natural water flow essential to preservation of the ecosystem and in part from insufficient information, attributable to inadequate provision of funds and to the lack in the past of full awareness at higher administrative levels of the need for such research.
2. Pursuant to its examination of National Park research problems in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks has visited and studied the Everglades National Park. As a result of this study and discussion thereof, the Committee unanimously agreed that:
a) The present water deficit in the Park between the months of November and March is not natural, and is caused by diversion to areas beyond the Park boundaries of water which flowed into the Park under natural conditions.
b) This water deficit is causing detrimental changes in the vegetation and wildlife of the Park, for which the Park was created. It is of such extent that if the conditions are not reversed the numbers of fish, birds, and other wildlife will be reduced to disastrously low levels.
3. In its agreement with the National Park Service the National Academy of Sciences will, among other things, “set forth the Academy’s findings and recommendations for a research program designed to provide the data required for effective management and protection of the national parks.”
Because of the natural dynamics of ecological systems, the protection of the significant natural features of many, if not all, national parks requires action.
For example, vegetation seems to proceed by a process of natural succession toward a climax of approximate stability, long-term and dynamic. The National Park Service needs to decide whether to allow natural succession to proceed of itself everywhere or whether to interfere, if it would result in the loss of species and communities that were an integral part of the complex of the parks at the time the parks were formed and for which, in part, they were created.
The necessity for such a decision can be illustrated in the Everglades National Park by the existence of communities dominated by pine (Pinus elliotti var. densa), which are natural in south Florida because of the periodic lightning-caused fires and, probably, prehistoric Indian-set fires. Complete fire protection would result in the eventual elimination of the pine-dominated community and its animal associates, because the progressively developing hardwood undergrowth stops the reproduction of pine.
The Service has to decide, in such cases, which of the alternative results its policy is directed toward, and beyond that it must decide which policy agrees best with park purposes in preservation, what it is that is to be preserved.
The Service should conduct adequate research on (1) the effects of fire, past and present; and (2) the conditions under which fire can be used as a management tool to preserve the natural conditions of a park. The problem referred to here is not unique; it is true also for Sequoia and for many other species. This is not a general approval of indiscriminate burning or an attack on fire control.
4. Research is needed to clarify the role of annual flooding and desiccation in the ecology of the lower Everglades.
5. Research is needed to permit more precise definition of the relation between fresh-water supply and the biological productivity of Everglades communities.
6. Research is needed on vegetation changes in the Everglades resulting from diminished fresh-water supply.
7. Research is needed (synthesizing 4, 5, and 6 above) leading to prediction of the optimum fresh-water supply and the likely effects, in terms of ecological changes, upon the Everglades of volumes at various levels below optimal flow.
8. Research is needed through such techniques as vegetation mapping, aerial photography (or photogrammetry), and pollen analysis, and through studies of the history of the plant cover and its rejuvenation from the effects of such factors as fire, hurricane, and flooding. The Committee believes that the Everglades National Park offers a unique opportunity for these and related studies.
9. Research is needed on population trends and ecological requirements of rare and threatened species like the American crocodile, the reddish egret, and the roseate spoonbill.
10. Research on the following is needed at Fort Jefferson National Monument, which is administered by the Park Service:
a) Sea turtle nesting
b) Terrestrial arthropod of the Dry Tortugas Keys
c) Land flora of the Dry Tortugas Keys
d) Marine resources of the Dry Tortugas Keys
e) Tern colony studies; life history and behavior of terns
f) Tortugas bird migration studies
The Committee also wishes to call attention to the August 10, 1962, Robertson Report, which presented a comprehensive research program in natural history for the Everglades National Park. The 37-page report is a competent one, covering in great detail the fields of botany, zoology, and archeology. Dr. Robertson states:
“The nationally significant features of Everglades National Park are almost entirely biological, and many aspects of the natural history of the area are still little known. The area is not closely comparable with any other, and research findings in a given field obtained elsewhere are seldom directly applicable. Much of the biology of the area appears to depend upon minute variations in environmental factors and delicate fluctuating balances, between flooding and desiccation and between salt and fresh water. Though vast, the area is not large enough to be in control of its own ecological destiny. Various alien forms of land use around its periphery threaten serious ecological deterioration. Dozens of species of animals and plants are restricted to the area, and, being represented by small populations that occupy limited ranges, are continually under threat from adverse ecological change, natural disaster, and disturbance.
“The above facts combine to make the need for an active program of natural history research particularly acute in Everglades. No phase of Park operations can afford to proceed without careful evaluation of possible effects upon natural history values. Construction programs and plans for channeling visitor use have continual need for such information. Interpretation activities require research findings not only to do a proper job of forcefully illustrating difficult concepts by exhibits and other forms of presentation but also in order to broaden and refresh the program continually.
“The present report undertakes to review the natural history fields of greatest importance in Everglades, showing research in progress and presenting project outlines for research that appears to be needed in the next several years. The range of possible worthwhile natural history research in Everglades is so nearly unlimited that it would be futile even to attempt a complete listing. Obviously, our present interest must be concentrated upon the most critical needs, leaving much interesting and valuable biological research of more limited significance for a later day.”
This report was “lost” for several months and was only accidentally discovered during the Committee’s visit to the Everglades.
1See Appendix 3 for a more extended discussion of the Everglades Park water problem by Dr. Gillson, Geologist member of the Committee.