GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 39-8
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


KENYON, Taylor, U.S. National Park Service, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave E, Ashford, WA 98304

During the early years of conservation and public land management scientific observations were hard-won. People like August Kautz, Eugene Ricksecker, and John Muir could be found cataloging trees, making detailed sketches of rare vegetation, and surveying glaciers deep in the backcountry using a compass and survey transit. Access was poor, human resources were scarce, and the questions were too numerous to answer. At this time the NPS was still deciding what its ideals and values truly were. The ethos was one of access and use, construction and exploitation. The science at the time, however, was cutting-edge. Physical observations of glacial and river resources supported regional infrastructure plans, forestry assessments supported park development, and fire lookouts were established as advanced observation and communication centers. Many values of the NPS have since shifted to the current focus on conservation and inclusion, which still primarily favors access. Instead of building roads we desperately attempt to maintain the infrastructure from the era of development, which leads to an ever increasing focus on maintenance and a decline in scientific input to NPS land management. Now is the era of conservation without focus, and adherence to standards which have not been significantly reviewed in decades. Infrastructure is often replaced without regard to its longevity, gross environmental impacts are regularly made to protect historic resources, and science intended to support both sides is often stifled by a system which preferentially hires non-science managers. While this has limited science in land management, the trend is changing to give us the edge once again. New remote technologies like GNSS systems, LiDAR/SAR, and Photogrammetry software have enabled us to answer questions once thought too enigmatic, and to do so with minimal staff. The needs and potential benefits are starkly visible in Mount Rainier National Park, a place of unstable slopes and many receding glaciers. The best possible outcome seems to lay in the enrichment of resource programs and methods to support true longevity of built infrastructure while minimizing our impact on the landscape, and taking steps to more intentionally foster communication and cooperation with our partnering agencies. The cutting-edge nature of park science is needed once again to support the ideals of the NPS, and these new tools and partnerships are the ideal vehicle for its return.