National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis unveiled Friday the recommendations of an independent science panel charged to change one of the seminal statements of the environmental movement.
The science panel has spent a year examining how to update the 1963 Leopold Report. It was written by A. Starker Leopold, a prominent biologist in his own right and the son of conservation icon Aldo Leopold.
This was the report that led the National Park Service to begin managing parks as ecosystems, with the goal of restoring naturalness to wildlands. It called for restoring conditions in the parks as close as possible to what they were when first visited by the “white man.”
If that isn’t possible, the Leopold Report called for recreating “a reasonable illusion of primitive America.” The report became the blueprint that prompted the National Park Service to actively push to restore fire to landscapes where it had been removed.
It eventually led to the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. But more important it established the values for environmental protection and conservation for half a century.
It became a manifesto for the modern environmental movement that was to embrace as its guide the directive of whatLeopold’s father’s book, "A Sand County Almanac," called the precautionary principle: “Who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?”
But a rote following of the Leopold Report’s goal presented a challenge right away when considering management of parks in Hawaii, where Polynesians had dramatically changed the ecosystem of the islands long before Captain Cook arrived. Later, even in Yellowstone, the historic use of fire by Indians provided a challenge.
But the biggest challenge came from the reality of human-caused climate change. Restoring conditions to what they were in the past is unrealistic — if not impossible — in many parks and ecosystems.
Warming temperatures and changing patterns of drought, flooding, snowfall and other climatic effects could completely transform parks in the future. So the new panel, led by Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, has a new manifesto.
“To steward NPS resources for continuous change that is not yet fully understood, in order to: 1) preserve ecological integrity and cultural and historical authenticity, 2) provide visitors with transformative experiences, and 3) form the core of a national conservation land- and seascape.”
The Colwell report was unveiled at a ceremony at Rocky Mountain National Park this morning.
“The Leopold Report has guided our management of natural resources for 50 years,” said National Parks Director Jarvis, a former superintendent at Craters of the Moon National Park. “And while still valid in many ways, it needed to be revisited in light of the growing impacts of environmental change and human influences that we are experiencing in national parks and expanded to include the stewardship of cultural and historic resources.”
Jarvis had asked committee members to answer three questions: What should be the goals of resource management in the national park system? What policies are necessary to reach those goals? What actions are necessary to implement those policies?
The National Park Service will now hold a series of meetings on the report’s recommendations with its employees, members of the scientific and parks communities and managers of protected areas in other nations. It shows how the agency hopes the new report can restore it to the leadership it held on conservation policy after the Leopold Report.