National Forests vs. National Parks, 1959-1960
More than four decades after the Forest Service and National Park Service first
began to bid for the management of America's scenic recreation lands, tensions over
pulling lands from one agency's jurisdiction to the other flared again.
A November 1959 letter from Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton to National Park
Service Director Conrad Wirth provided a key spark. In his proposed directions for
an improved national park system, Secretary Seaton included, "Strive for the
establishment of new national parks, monuments, recreation areas, and historic sites
necessary to round out and complete the System and to meet the growing need for
such areas at the national level."
Two months later, Director Wirth fueled Forest Service officials' anxiety when he
asked in a strident 1960 editorial, "Are people to be like ants spending their
existence in structures of brick and concrete, steel and glass, and rushing back
and forth in a maze of city streets or along the super highways, continually seeking
something but not knowing what? [A]ll of us want something much better than that
for our children and ourselves." One of the ways Wirth recommended to avoid
such a future was through an expanded National Park system in the U.S.
The talk of new Park Service acquisitions drew multiple responses from the U.S.
Forest Service. Forest managers at the local level lashed out against perceived
criticism of their work and the threat of land management transfers. High level
officials responded in more measured tones, taking care to highlight the benefits
of the Forest Service's multiple use management programs without issuing a direct
attack on a sibling federal agency.
A February 12, 1960 memo from Forest Service chief Richard McArdle to all Forest
Service officers included several pages of attachments, including Secretary Seaton's
recommendations, and encouraged Forest Service employees to tone down their rhetoric.
"...[L]et me say that I regret this situation has arisen. The Forest Service
seeks no quarrel with the National Park Service and has only the highest regard
for that agency and its competent personnel as a sister agency in conservation.
From time to time, as is to be expected, differences in policy viewpoints arise
where the two agencies have mutual interests. But these differences are generally
resolved in a judicious and dispassionate manner without name-calling.
How did this present situation arise? Basically, it is a question of competition
for land in the face of rapidly rising populations, increasing leisure time, improved
accessibility, and a great upsurge in the demand for outdoor recreation."
In other words, the very same issues that had created friction between the two agencies
in the 1920s had returned in earnest.
National Forests vs. National Parks, 1914-1925
Office Memorandum, U.S. Government, Forest Service, from
chief Richard E. McArdle to All Forest Service Officers, February 12,
U.S. Department of the Interior Information Service, December
3, 1959, press release (photocopy) with attached copy of Secretary Seaton's
November 21, 1959, letter to National Park Service Director Conrad L. Wirth.
Wirth, Conrad L. "The Crisis in Open Land,"
Guest Editorial, Sierra Club Bulletin, p. 2, January 1960.