A bear meanders across the road several hundred yards in front of your slowly moving vehicle. A doe and her fawn leap back into the brush as you approach. The sun shines in such a way that it seems the mountains above you go on forever. This pristine image of our nation's national parks is unfortunately getting harder to find today. The approximately 270 million visitors to the parks annually have begun to take their toll on the wild and preserved areas of our nation.
Congress created the world's first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872. For many years after the beginning of Yellowstone (and other such parks), the wilderness could be viewed from afar, but not entered. Camping within park limits was something that was just not done by visitors (National Park Service, Caring for Legacy, 1). The national parks were much less accessible to the public sector in the early 1900's than they presently are. A staggering 68% of Americans have visited at least one area of the National Park System today, and all these visits have undoubtedly led to the gradual degradation of our parks (Rettie, 124).
Our National Park Service, or the NPS, is the agency responsible for the upkeep and management of the national parks (Rettie, ix). The service was created in 1916 (National Park Service, When Did the NPS, 1). The early parks, including Yellowstone, didn't have a central governing body for over forty years. This meant that the first parks had to struggle to stay alive and running. In addition, many fell into ruin due to lack of public support or due to the fact that some Americans didn't even know that these parks existed. People also weren't sure how to handle themselves within park boundaries, which is still a problem today. Several of the National Park Service's duties and goals currently include managing the daily needs of the national parks, expanding the National Park System, communicating the significance of American heritage through the National Park System, and preserving the land for the enjoyment by future generations (Hartzog, 95). Since Yellowstone's beginning, the U.S. has inspired 125 other countries around the world to initiate national parks and other land preserves (Rettie, x).
Management of the national parks by the NPS has been controversial from the start. Wildlife management has been key among the controversies. Over five decades ago, Lowell Sumner, a regional wildlife technician, was able to convince officials that the parks and their disappearing wildlife needed to be protected (Hendee, Stankey, and Lucas, 33). During Yellowstone's first eleven years, hunting was allowed and encouraged. Elk, bison, and grizzlies were controlled in this manner (Baden and Leal, 140). In the 1960's, the Park Service adopted its current policy of "hands-off" or natural regulation. This rule says that the populations and conditions of the park should be allowed to fluctuate without human intervention (Keiter and Boyce, 3). The NPS has a fight on their...