The National Park Service (NPS) is an agency of the United States federal government that manages all U.S. national parks, many American national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations. It was created on August 25, 1916, by Congress through the National Park Service Organic Act and is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The NPS is charged with a dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management while also making them available and accessible for public use and enjoyment. As of 2008 21,989 employees of the NPS oversee 413 units, of which 59 are designated national parks. The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial in 2016.
National parks and national monuments in the United States were originally individually managed under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. The movement for an independent agency to oversee these federal lands was spearheaded by business magnate and conservationist Stephen Mather, as well as J. Horace McFarland. With the help of journalist Robert Sterling Yard, Mather ran a publicity campaign for the Department of the Interior. They wrote numerous articles that praised the scenic and historic qualities of the parks and their possibilities for educational, inspirational, and recreational benefits. This campaign resulted in the creation of a National Park Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Mather became the first director of the newly formed NPS.
Since its inception in 1916, the National Park Service has managed each of the United States’ national parks, which have grown in number over the years to 59. Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States. In 1872, there was no state government to manage it, so the federal government assumed direct control. Yosemite National Park began as a state park; the land for the park was donated by the federal government to the state of California in 1864 for perpetual conservation. Yosemite was later returned to federal ownership.
At first, each national park was managed independently, with varying degrees of success. In Yellowstone, the civilian staff was replaced by the U.S. Army in 1886. Due to the irregularities in managing these national treasures, Stephen Mather petitioned the federal government to improve the situation. In response, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane challenged him to lobby for creating a new agency, the National Park Service, to manage all national parks and some national monuments. Mather was successful with the ratification of the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916. Later, the agency was given authority over other protected areas, many with varying designations as Congress created them.
National Park System
The National Park System (NPS) includes all properties managed by the National Park Service (also, confusingly, “NPS”). The title or designation of a unit need not include the term park; indeed, most do not. The System as a whole is considered to be a national treasure of the United States, and some of the more famous national parks and monuments are sometimes referred to metaphorically as “crown jewels”. The system encompasses approximately 84.4 million acres (338,000 km²), of which more than 4.3 million acres (17,000 km²) remain in private ownership. The largest unit is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. At 13,200,000 acres (53,000 km²), it is over 16 percent of the entire system. The smallest unit in the system is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania, at 0.02 acre (80 m²).
Most units of the National Park Service have been established by an act of Congress, with the president confirming the action by signing the act into law. The exception, under the Antiquities Act, allows the president to designate and protect areas as National Monuments by executive order. Regardless of the method used, all parks are to be of national importance.
A potential park should meet all four of the following standards:
It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation’s heritage.
It offers superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.
It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.
Wilderness areas are covered by the US National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects federally managed lands that are of a pristine condition, established by the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577) in 1964. The National Wilderness Preservation System originally created hundreds of wilderness zones within already protected federally administered property, consisting of over 9 million acres (36,000 km²). Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) began with Executive Order 13158 in May 2000, when official MPAs were established for the first time. The initial listing of U.S. areas was presented in 2010, consisting of areas already set aside under other legislation. The National Park Service has 19 park units designated as MPAs.
As of 2016, the National Park Service has an annual budget of about $3 billion and an estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog. The National Park Services budget is divided into two primary areas, discretionary and mandatory spending. Within each of these areas, there are numerous specific purposes to which Congress directs the services activities. The budget of the National Park Service includes discretionary spending which is broken out into two portions: the direct operations of the National Parks and the special initiatives. Listed separately are the special initiatives of the service for the year specified in the legislation. For Fiscal Year 2010, the service has been charged with five initiatives. They include: Stewardship and Education; Professional Excellence; Youth Programs; Climate Impacts; and Budget Restructure and Realignment.
This includes the staff responding to visitor emergencies (medical and criminal), and the protection of the park’s natural and cultural resources from damage by those persons visiting the park. The staff includes park rangers, park police, criminal investigators, and communication center operators.
Facility maintenance and operations
This is the cost of maintaining the necessary infrastructure within each park that supports all the services provided. It includes the plows and heavy equipment for road clearing, repairs and construction. There are buildings, trails, roads, docks, boats, utility pipes and wires, and a variety of hidden systems that make a park accessible by the public. The staff includes equipment operators, custodians, trail crews, electricians, plumbers, architects, and other building trade specialists.
This is the staff that provides for the routine logistical needs of the parks. There are human resource specialists, contracting officers, property specialists, budget managers, accountants and information technology specialists.