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To Conserve Unimpaired
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The Evolution of the National Park Idea
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When the national park system was first established in , the goal "to conserve unimpaired" seemed straightforward. But Robert Keiter argues that parks have always served a variety of competing purposes, from wildlife protection and scientific discovery to tourism and commercial development.
In this trenchant analysis, he explains how parks must be managed more effectively to meet increasing demands in the face of climate, environmental, and demographic changes. Taking a topical approach, Keiter traces the history of the national park idea from its inception to its uncertain future. Thematic chapters explore our changing conceptions of the parks as wilderness sanctuaries, playgrounds, educational facilities, and more.
He also examines key controversies that have shaped the parks and our perception of them. Ultimately, Keiter demonstrates that parks cannot be treated as special islands, but must be managed as the critical cores of larger ecosystems. Only when the National Park Service works with surrounding areas can the parks meet critical habitat, large-scale connectivity, clean air and water needs, and also provide sanctuaries where people can experience nature. Today's mandate must remain to conserve unimpaired-but Keiter shows how the national park idea can and must go much farther.
Professionals, students, and scholars with an interest in environmental history, national parks, and federal land management, as well as scientists and managers working on adaptation to climate change should find the book useful and inspiring. Keiter also performs an essential service in bringing the park literature up to date, with chapters on Native Americans, ecosystem restoration, and the challenge of climate change.
To Conserve Unimpaired offers a series of overlapping studies of what we today may regard as the central issues of our own participation in the park system's evolution. The range of topics that Keiter covers is amazing I highly recommend this book What gives the book its realistic grounding is the insight provided by the author's nonprofit park experience that fully informs and illuminates the realities of contemporary park management. How should parks balance wilderness values, enjoyment of visitors, science, and education?
To Conserve Unimpaired
In the early days, the Park Service actively sought to improve visitor experiences by attempting to control nature. Not only did the agency suppress wildfires, it also eradicated wolves to protect more "desirable" wildlife, and fed bears garbage "to create an evening spectacle for park visitors. But they could not stop the Park Service from punching through a network of new roads to facilitate tourism. Brower captured the dichotomy of all national parks: "Part schoolroom and part playground and part — the best part — sanctuary from a world paved with concrete, jet-propelled, smog-blanketed, sterilized, over-insured, and aseptic … with every natural beautiful thing endangered by the raw engineering power of the twentieth century.
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The challenge of conserving those "beautiful things" looms even larger today, as we face the pressures of climate change and ever more people and development. One can't help but wonder whether the legal mandate governing park management, the Organic Act of , is adaptable enough to endure. In fact, the Park Service's management ethos did begin to change in the s with the influential Leopold report — by legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold — which recommended that parks be managed to represent a "vignette of primitive America" with minimal human intervention into natural processes.
Keiter shows how the Organic Act can continue to accommodate changing views of the national parks while ensuring that conservation comes first. He points the way toward conserving the parks "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," as the law specifies, through science, collaboration, and a heightened sense of social justice, connectivity, and diversity, both human and ecological. Yet, as Keiter concludes, "The parks will always be confronted with new demands and threats, testing our commitment to the fundamental principles underlying the hallowed notion of conserving nature in an unimpaired condition.
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Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world. Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.