America's National Parks and Their Keepers, by R. A. Foresta. 1984. Resources for the Future, Washington, D. C. 382pp. $12.00.
To my knowledge this book is the first analytical study of the National Park Service as a bureaucracy and of the National Park System. It examines the evolution of the Service, and attempts to diagnose its present quandary: What is the national value of the Service and the Park System? Foresta's major thesis is that currently the Service is without a clear mission. The major evolutionary contributing factor is an array of inconsistent precedents initiated during the tenure of directors Albright and Wirth, and considerably expanded upon during the last two decades. Another significant factor has been the loss of professional skills relative to that possessed by congressional staffs and traditional allies such as environmental groups.
The organization of the book is rather logical. The early chapters (2 and 3) analyze the history of the organization with a focus at the national level. It stops with 1980. Chapters 2 and 3 are followed by three chapters dealing with nature, history, and urban park policy. These chapters focus on establishing the bureau's limits of responsibilities. Chapter 7 deals with the bureau's responsibilities on lands it does not own.
While I appreciate the complexity of this latter topic I found the chapter slow reading. The concluding chapter I also found somewhat weak. There could have been a much better integration of earlier topics, especially their interactions.
Overall I found the text interesting and objective, but there is an inconsistency in the depth to which each topic (chapter) is addressed. Extensive footnotes are used, which document the sources of much of the information. These sources are listed in order of occurence following the appendices. The notes are especially helpful in relating information to source which, in turn, helps the reader diagnose individual chapter strengths and objectivity.
Foresta's main hypothesis, however explicit, is not new. The author contends that while the public's images of the National Park System are positive and tied into American memory, the organization is subject to the dilemmas of the times. Many close to the Service feel it is overwhelmed by current problems. Decision making lacks principles and consistent consideration of factors. Its actions over the last two decades seem devoid of purpose. Confusion over its mission suggests a basic uncertainty about its decisions. Some of the confusion is justified, for since 1960 there have been profound changes in the nation's attitude toward most things the Service does. The environmental movement is an example. No more is it generally assumed that civilization will reach equilibrium with nature, but that it will in fact significantly damage it. This has strongly challenged traditional Service resource management practices--especially those regarding natural areas. "Nature in the national parks was anthropocentric; it was scenery with a value based on human appreciation." Policies often advocated maintaining some pre-determined scene.
To insert some personal editorial opinion here, I think this is perhaps a key symptom of weakness in the Service's professional depth. For example, today as the Service initiates systematic ecosystem research in national parks we increasingly see that what we have, in reality, often is a "cultural" park rather than a natural area. Confusion over policy decisions has defacto resulted over time in most giving way to needs of people within and especially coterminous to national parks. Due in part to inconsistent policy decisions, historical parks, too, have suffered the penetrating influence of incompatible coterminous land use, and in some instances direct impacts.
Looking briefly at the individual chapters, those regarding the history of the Service (2 and 3) cover the period 1916 to 1980. Here the author gets into the politics and personalities of the directors. The ambiguity as to the purpose of the Service upon its establishment is brought out, but has been better treated by other authors (Adams, C. C. 1925. The Scientific Monthly 20:570-591). The contrasting personalities and styles of Mather and Albright are well documented. Mather, justifiably concerned by the very real threat of assimilation by the politically powerful US Forest Service, was skilled in guiding the Service into areas unique from other bureaus. By the end of Albright's tenure (1933) the Service was secure and there was some cohesiveness in management of the National Park System. However, to assist in this Albright in particular broadened to actions appropriate for the Service beyond those of Mather, who appeared to have more definite limits when pursuing efforts at expanding park popularity. As for the major question of balance between preservation and development Mather and Albright steered a middle course. However, many of the precedents set by Albright could have contributed to today's ambiguity of mission. There are some good case histories analyzed in these chapters.
Foresta's treatment of the modern era (1960-1980) is not overly interesting reading. I think this would have been an excellent place to analyze the Service's reactions to the environmental mandates of the period. The organization's responses in terms of policy and planning are, I think, excellent diagnostic tools for examining strengths and weaknesses in mission and management system. This is especially true for a bureau with the considerable administrative discretion enjoyed by the Service. This, however, is not examined in depth except possibly for wilderness. Early self-righteous posturing by the Service toward this mandate cost it much credibility. The fundamental philosophical conflict between Interior Secretary Udall and Director Wirth is good reading. The Park Service under Wirth was of little value to Udall, and the assumptions underpinning Mission 66 could not have been more out of step with the times.
In the opinion of the author this is the period when the Service began to suffer a severe erosion of power relative to that possessed by those who, up to then, had been traditional allies. Notably these included the congressional staffs and strengthened environmental organizations. Both groups increasingly had more technical expertise regarding key issues than did the Service. These enhanced institutions were not fully in place when Hartzog assumed office, and his performances before Congress often..."were models of finesse." He was liked and trusted on The Hill. The Service's power eroded rapidly after his tenure, however, with changes in the way Congress was organized and functioned, and a continued (and well documented by numerous outside assessments) absence of growth in appropriate professional expertise in the Service (chapters 4, 5, and 6).
Chapter 4 deals with natural resources management policies. It lacks the analytical detail of Chapter 5 on historic resources. This is perhaps due to the very limited interviewing by the author for Chapter 4. Not a single Park Service scientist is cited in the notes, and very few resource management personnel are mentioned. Much of the material apparently comes from the Conservation Foundation's "National Parks for the Future" (1972) which is now somewhat dated. The Park Service's inadequate funding for research, especially when compared to "sister" land managing bureaus, is again brought out, as is its inability to recognize that a major and unique "product" of natural resource management and research in the Service is "ecological maintenance."
The lack of ecological awareness began with inception of the Service, but the early directors can be excused, because the science of ecology (Leopold, Clements, then Odum) was not yet finding an audience. Unfortunately, even then (1930s) obsolete policies such as predator control, advocated by sister bureaus (Biological Survey, USDOI) with fundamentally different policies and mandates, would prevail in the Service almost to the present. This chapter again outlines the case for an expanded ecologically-oriented natural science research program within the Service to provide the technical information needed for carrying out its unique mandate of maintaining ecological integrity.
Chapter 5 on historic resource management and policy is perhaps the best written and clearly the most analytical. This opinion, of course, could be influenced by my relative ignorance of the discipline. It outlines the problems both within and outside the Service regarding the role of a professional discipline in what is now generally regarded as a very political organization. The author asserts that historians, in part due to their own insistent efforts, have not been accepted within the organization nearly to the degree the natural resource people have been. This is the result of career ladder bias, more Service personnel with a natural history background, and less interest by external groups in historical park issues. The chapter focuses on the 1972 National Park Service Plan for Historic Resources, which was an attempt to fill missing gaps in the System, and how Congress among others turned the plan against the original intentions of the Service. The result was a potpourri of sites nominated and passed for inclusion. It is a classic example of how being over-structured can, without keen perception, be a severe constraint.
Chapter 6 deals with urban parks. It is of particular value to those interested in the modern era. While the Service's traditional role in historic and natural resource preservation was never in question until the Service was forced to develop and execute its own policies in recent decades, its role in urban parks remains a basic question. Udall wanted an innovator (Hartzog) to replace Wirth and address the role of parks as an instrument in urban policy. While the Service's early planning concepts of mass recreation proved much too ambitious politically, the efforts of the Service's planners receive generally high marks. This is, and I think justifiably so, true throughout the book. This is a complex and at times subtle chapter, and is best appreciated with some preexisting knowledge of the times.
I did not find the final two chapters that good. Chapter 7 deals with the Service's role on land which is not federally owned. It is largely devoted to land use planning efforts on less-than-fee acquisitions, but is devoted to how such efforts can be used to carry out recreation-oriented activities. It does not consider to any extent how such might be used to protect existing park resources. This could be due to the fact that the first concise definition of the magnitude of external park threats was not released until 1980.
The concluding chapter could be better organized and much better integrated. There are meaningful recommendations on how the Service might go about redefining its mission in light of changing times, but these appear scattered. The author asserts that the progressive vision of the nation, which perhaps peaked during the 1970s, has lost its charm and freshness. Progress now appears more like "growth-o-mania." Director Wirth's sense of values and policies are clearly no longer sufficient, yet a coherent sense of mission has not emerged since his era. The author states that the Service must first develop a separate set of guiding principles for each area of responsibility. Then he takes each preceding chapter and suggests how appropriate principles might be arrived at. Unfortunately, things such as execution and responsiveness of a management system and the role of the professions in the process are not much considered.
But again emerges the need for policies based upon the true character (suitability) and role of the individual park site within the National Park System. To do this the Park Service must again become creative with equal energy devoted to experimentation in order to meet new social demands. If it succeeds it need not yet be put in a relic status within the Federal establishment.
To conclude, while this text is not negative it clearly is not flattering to the Park Service. Nevertheless, it is good reading for the student interested in evolution of the Federal bureaucracy. It is particularly good in diagnosing how an initially small, almost humble bureau can evolve into a highly politicised organization, in the process obscuring if not losing its national purpose. Several chapters are not light reading. But the book does analyze the totality of factors involved in at least some of the decisions made by the Service. This helps explain why there has been a loss of consistency in decision-making particularly over the last two decades. Implicit and explicit throughout the text is stated the need for the Service to have a diversity of disciplinary expertise in its primary areas of responsibility. Only such diversity will provide it with the needed creativity and courage to experiment.
Personally, I find there emerges a nagging question when such a book is read. Has the care and feeding (preservation) of the National Park Service become the mission rather than the preservation of the National Park System?
Robert Stottlemyer, Department of Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University, Houghton.
Analyzing Activity Areas: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Use of Space, by Susan Kent. 1984. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. xvi, 259pp. Figures and tables. $14.25 paper.
Larry Van Horn
This work is divided into two parts. The first is an ethnography of representative Navajo, Spanish-American, and Euro-American families in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma according to their use of domestic space. The second section deals with empirical and theoretical considerations in relation to archaeological inferences, based upon excavations in New Mexico and upon the ethnographic data in the first part.
With regard to her section on ethnography, Kent describes behavior only, stopping short of organizing that behavior into categories of culture such as values and rules of conduct according to a people's beliefs. Kent does this in spite of her recognition that "values and priorities vary among cultures" (page 142) and that social behavior must be interpreted "within a system of meaning...culture being that system" (page 12). A recent article by Anderson (1984:124) reinforces the need to consider symbol-dependent behavior in empirical research, especially when constructing a model of culture and environments as Kent does.
Kent in this instance does not make those she writes about come alive on her pages. We do not fully understand, as we should, their values, their constraints, nor their motives (Powdermaker 1966). Indicative of Kent's strictly behavioral approach is her constant use of the term sex-specific as in "sex-specific activity areas" (page 106). Gender as a term, rather than sex, implies cultural definitions of behaviors appropriate to certain social spaces.
Kent does make her point concerning the use of activity areas, namely that the assumptions of many archaeologists "are based on their own culture's spatial patterning" (page 132). We learn by comparison that the Euro-Americans she studied have more gender-specific and monofunctional activity areas than the Spanish-Americans, who have more than the Navajos ()page 185). And of importance to applied anthropology, we are reminded from Kent's use (page 164) of Portnoy (1981:213) that space-use studies of a people can contribute to improved "'living conditions through appropriate planning and design.'"
A minor note. Kent says that Euro-American mass-produced goods have had a "profound effect on the discard practices of different peoples around the world...[leading them to] discard materials away from activity areas" because of their bulk (pages 170-171). I can offer an exception to this generalization.
The Miccosukee Seminoles of Florida in times past have been characterized by on-the-spot disposal of food bits. Yet, aided by the freely roaming dogs and pigs they dept, the areas around their open-air thatched chickees or houses were known to be clean, cool and pleasant. Today, refuse heaps can be found adjacent to certain Miccosukee camps along the highway between Tampa and Miami called the Tamiami Trail, some of which are within Bog Cypress National Preserve, north and west of Everglades National Park. Now the living areas are not so clean because of these trash piles. With the advent of containers of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials, the nature of the refuse has changed, but apparently not the custom of on-the-spot disposal. The trash piles, as might be imagined, are a source of concern to park personnel who view the situation as a problem of sanitation and aesthetics. Close-to-camp refuse disposal seems to be a cultural survival, and knowledge of this fact is helping the park staff work with the Miccosukees towards a solution (Paige and Van Horn 1982:59-61).
Despite its shortcomings in cultural anthropology--its lack of emphasis on values as cultural criteria for desirable behavior among a people--Analyzing Activity Areas is an intriguing book because it uses the method of controlled comparison as a bridge between ethnography and archaeology. I recommend it to anyone interested in an updated example of Eggan's classic method of controlled comparison in anthropology (1954).
Anderson, Robert. 1984. The superorganic and its environments in White's science of culture. Journal of Anthropological Research 40(1):121-128.
Eggan, Fred. 1954. Social anthropology and the method of controlled comparison. American Anthropologist 56(5):743-763.
Paige, John C. and Lawrence F. Van Horn. 1982. An ethnohistory of Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida. National Park Service. Denver.
Portnoy, Alice. 1981. A microarchaeological view of human settlement, space and function. In: Gould, Richard and Michael Schiffer (eds.), Modern Material Culture: The Archaeology of Us. (Pp. 213-233.) Academic Press. New York.
Powdermaker, Hortense. 1966. Stranger and friend: the way of an anthropologist. W. W. Norton. New York.
Larry Van Horn, Cultural Anthropologist, National Park Service, Denver.