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Science for Parks conference report

I. Insights from the Opening Ceremony

From the evening of March 25th through the 27th, I listened to and attended lectures and brief sessions at “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: the Next Century.” This event was organized on the University of California–Berkeley campus by faculty of their conservation biology and related departments, along with directors of California parks organizations, the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, and public television station KQED.

March of 2015 marks the centennial of two major San Francisco area events. One was the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—largely sponsored by the railroads—whose Palace of Fine Arts stands in the Marina district of San Francisco to this day. You can read more about the Pan-Pacific Exposition in Alfred Runte’s excellent article, which I linked to in my March 26 blog post.

The other March 1915 event was a national park conference, convening about 75 men at Berkeley by Stephen T. Mather, then assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Mather was soon to become the first director of the National Park Service (in 1916). An emphasis of the conference was two “best ideas” the organizers feel are related: public education and public lands.

As a long-time aficionado of national parks, I couldn’t miss this event. The organizers will produce a book about the entire conference, but I’m sure this will take at least a year. In a few pages there is no way I can sum up all that was discussed and revealed during those intense two days and more of meetings. So I’ve decided to concentrate on a few individual speakers who impressed me greatly. In the next week or two I’ll try to give the essence of what I learned from them.

I had never before connected the National Geographic Society to the national parks. But in his remarks at the opening ceremony, Chris Johns, chief content officer for National Geographic Magazine, told us that not only was the April 1916 issue of his magazine devoted to the then-existing national parks, but that the society donated eighty thousand dollars so that the National Park Service could be set up. Thus, a new division of the Department of the Interior was born.

In the very next year (1917) three scientists investigated California’s redwoods and noted their devastation. This was the beginning of the Save the Redwoods League, which now helps to protect thirteen units of big trees in our third largest state.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis appeared briefly and mentioned that Gary Machlis, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University in South Carolina, has recently been appointed to the position of first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service Director. I’ll tell you more about Machlis in a future blog post.

It seems appropriate to close this first post about the conference by listing seven serious concerns facing the national parks—and the world. They were pointed out by steering committee chairman Steve Beissinger as having occurred in the last hundred years. They are: changing climate, storms and fires of greater severity, urban encroachment and pollution, invasions of non-native species, plant and animal extinctions, changing attitudes of a public that is more urbanized, and political pressures of narrow interest groups that have sometimes led to benign neglect of parks.

You can watch the videos of the opening ceremony and all other plenary sessions at: www.parksforscience.berkeley.edu. [NOTE: These videos are still available in the Live Stream category on this website as of September 7, 2015.]

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