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Science and the National Parks
transcends questions raised at individual parks. For example, the problems created by the gypsy moth affect many eastern parks, and control of kudzu, an introduced plant species native to Japan, is an issue throughout the south. The answers to still other research questions have nationwide implications. For example, air pollution, water resource management, and uses of the parks by visitors are issues in virtually all parks.
Baseline resource inventories and long-term monitoring of the status of park ecosystems are particularly important to all park units. The information is necessary to determine the current ecosystem structure and the nature and rate of change of these ecosystems. Research results can be used in models developed to predict future conditions in the parks, and such models can lead the way to management strategies. Through the monitoring of actual conditions, undesirable effects on resources and ecosystem processes can be detected as the first step toward mitigation. Park use patterns and impacts similarly need to be documented. Among the most serious issues is the need for documentation of the direct and indirect impacts of human activity on park resources.
In conducting this study of science in the national parks, the Committee on Improving the Science and Technology Programs of the National Park Service originally set out to perform a standard peer review of NPS research activities. However, the committee soon determined that the real problems in the NPS research program are not at the level of individual projects. Instead, they are more fundamental, rooted in the culture of the NPS and in the structure and support it gives to research. Thus, the committee concluded that the real need was for an assessment more broadly focused on the program and its place within the agency.
Levels of Authority and Functions
The national park system consists of 361 individual units administered by the NPS to maintain their intrinsic natural,