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Science and the National Parks
and evaluation of prescribed fire. A synergy among management, public information, and research was found to be needed.
At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, intensive study of fire history began in the early 1980s. Scientists found that high-intensity, stand-replacing fires occurred at long intervals and affected large percentages of the study area in a single burn. Their description was published before the dramatic 1988 fires—and it is remarkable that the results produced a convergent picture with studies of those large fires. In fact, the research was an asset to park scientists and managers in dealing with the fires and is being used to shape new management policies.
Another example of the value of research on natural processes is evident today in how park units along the coasts are managed. When NPS began acquiring land for Cape Hatteras National Seashore (authorized in 1937) and for some time thereafter, its policies included expensive structural attempts to stabilize beaches, dunes, and shorelines. By the time more recent National Seashores such as Cape Cod (Massachusetts), Cape Lookout (North Carolina), Assateague Island (Maryland), and Cumberland Island (Georgia) were acquired in the 1960s, NPS's policies had begun to evolve toward more flexible approaches that recognized the natural dynamics of coastal systems. Even where historic structures are involved, NPS's policy now requires that ''control measures, if necessary, be predicated on thorough studies taking into account the nature and velocity of shoreline processes ...'' (NPS, 1978). The evolution of NPS's management of shoreline processes was based in part on the accumulation of scientific evidence that demonstrated the futility of trying to control beach erosion in these dynamic, ever-changing ecosystems.
ASSESSING THREATS AND MITIGATION MEASURES
At Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, off-road vehicles were blamed for serious dune erosion, visitor annoyance, and harm to the endangered piping plover, a bird that requires extensive sand beaches for nesting. A