California coastal redwoods. Photo: US National Park Service.

When the National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1916, its mission was to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to…leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Nearly 100 years later, William C. Tweed, author of Uncertain Path, finds that it’s time to update this mission so it is relevant to the challenges of the 21st century.

In this National Parks Traveler article, Tweed discusses the crisis facing America’s national parks and weighs possible alternatives for their future. Times have changed since 1916, and human activities are impacting biodiversity everywhere, even deep in the national parks. Some argue that we should preserve as much as possible, while allowing for inevitable change. This position, which Tweed calls “managing for change”, says that “[r]ather than moving forward under the 1916 assumption that everything can and must be saved, managers would act within a mindset that tells them that everything is at risk and that much will likely be lost”, he writes.

William C. Tweed. Photo: Frances Tweed

Tweed notes that this proposal goes against the hands-off approach currently taken by the NPS, and would mean a major departure from the dominant strategy of the past century. It also raises the argument that interference in ecosystems could cause more harm than good. Finding a good solution will be a challenge, but national parks must adapt to survive, writes Tweed. He proposes a possible new vision to protects wildness and biodiversity while accepting change and maintaining public respect and celebration of these precious landscapes.

Read William C. Tweed’s article, An Idea in Trouble: Thoughts about the Future of Traditional National Parks in the United States, at National Parks Traveler.