Breath of Clarity

Juggling National Park Service Priorities: Conservation and Visitor Use

Original Post by Genevieve Brune:

Over the past couple of months, we have learned about various stakeholder needs and the complications that come when land managers try to address all of these needs, while balancing the resources of public lands. The National Park Service’s mission perfectly sums up this goal of trying to protect resources, while also trying to increase visitor use and satisfaction:

“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

A couple of issues have come to mind for managing this balance:

Based on limited resources and budgets, do you think that the preservation of naturel resources should be prioritized over visitor use and public engagement, or vice versa? Why?

Right now, the National Park Service does not limit the number of visitors to public lands. However, there are lots of indications that park resources are being overused and overstressed (Public Lands History Center 2018). Do you think that the National Park Service should limit visitors to reduce the use of resources? If yes, how do you recommend that the National Park Service goes about doing this, while still ensuring that all of the public still gets to enjoy these public lands?


Public Lands History Center. 2018. “Overuse in National Parks: Fewer Visitors or More Parks?” Colorado State University.

My Comment:

Hi Genevieve,

Excellent question!

Throughout the quarter, we did talk about the conflict concerning the National Park Service (NPS)’s mission to satisfy all stakeholders, including fossil fuel corporations, by basing its management on the multiple-use framework. Establishing a balance while implementing the multiple-use framework is tricky considering the multiple stressors intensified by climate change. Common pool resources are limited for all stakeholders. At the same time, natural resource preservationists have relatively low budgets compared to fossil fuel corporations. Additionally, there are alternatives, such as renewable energy suppliers, to fossil fuels corporations. So, the preservation should be prioritized over fossil fuel extraction. However, the change in priority needs to acknowledge the human population’s current dependency on fossil fuel extraction. It must be a smooth transition. Therefore, the need to prioritize preservation is clear, and the most massive challenge is how to make it happen. The same massive challenge exists regarding visitor use and public engagement, except it is more complicated because fossil fuel extraction feeds climate change while the connection between citizens and National Parks would help mitigate the impacts of climate change. So, I do not recommend limiting visitors to reduce the use of resources without establishing any sort of alternative. The answer should not be stricter enforcement as it is important to consider people who visit national parks do not do so to be instructed (Jones et al. 2017). Rather, they visit to experience and be moved by the grandeur of iconic places (Jones et al. 2017). So, the NPS should simultaneously focus on increasing public engagement while protecting National Parks by strengthening the diversity in opportunity for people to connect with nature. The NPS can devote energy to reconstructing new affiliations with state, regional, and local parks, nature centers, and cultural heritage sites to encourage more recurring experiences in nature beyond the occasional visit to a national park (Jones et al. 2017). The 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act permits the NPS to expend appropriated funds beyond unit boundaries if such expenditures help protect park resources (Sauvajot 2016). For example, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program provides technical assistance to communities for conservation and recreational initiatives (Sauvajot 2016). To manage parks and protected areas successfully and ensure that resource values persist, park managers must establish and maintain relationships with other agencies and organizations, as well as directly engage in conservation efforts at a local scale (Sauvajot 2016).


Jones, Cassidy, Nate Shipley, and Sabah Ul-Hasan. 2017. “Bringing Parks Back to the People: Revisiting the Dual Mandate and Core Values of the National Park Service”. The George Wright Forum. 34(1): 45-52.

Sauvajot, Raymond. 2016. “National Parks and the Scaling-Up Imperative”. The George Wright Forum. 33(2): 145-148.