National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis unveiled Friday the recommendations of an independent science panel charged with changing one of the seminal statements of the environmental movement.
The science panel spent a year examining how to update the 1963 Leopold Report, written by A. Starker Leopold. He was a prominent biologist in his own right and the son of conservation icon Aldo Leopold.
That 1963 report 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 wasn’t possible, the Starker 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. More importantly, 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 a precautionary principle taken from Aldo Leopold’s book “A Sand County Almanac.” He asked: “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 undercut its premise.
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 in Colorado Friday.
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. The agency hopes the new report can restore it to the leadership it held on conservation policy after the Leopold Report.
It’s too early to tell how the new report will affect management in Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon and other regional parks and monuments.
And its reality will be hard for many followers of Leopold to swallow.
But for new generations whose entire lives have been in the shadow of melting glaciers, regular giant fires and scorching summers, the report will help guide them forward.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484