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US government-designated nature reserves

This is a subsection of Lands for Nature Preservation

All living beings should have unimpeded access to well-preserved, unspoiled nature. Nature preservation is a vital resource. This section will focus particularly on these variations of public access lands as examples:

  • US National Parks
  • National Monuments
  • National Forests
  • National Seashores
  • State and local parks
  • Wildlife refuges

Context within NORA

Relationships to other resources

See Lands for Nature Preservation

Relationships to needs

"Physical and mental health" – In 2006, Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois-Chicago found that 97.5% of the decrease in National Parks visitors in recent years is due to the increased time Americans spend plugged into electronics. As technology rapidly advances and becomes more prevalent in the lives of Americans as well as international visitors to America's natural public lands, access to public outdoor spaces and parks can be vital to one’s mental and physical health. The passion instilled in a young child who explores, grows, and learns firsthand in their natural environment cannot be fully replicated by any other medium. There are many known and potential benefits of spending more time in nature, especially for children. Simply put, direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. According to the Ohio governor's 2010 study (and countless other reports), there have been significant rises in cases of childhood obesity, asthma, diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, myopia, ADHD, and stress, all of which can be linked in part to the reduction in time spent outside. Concerning the link between nature-deficit and ADHD, use of stimulants for ADHD increased 600% between 1990 and 1995 in United States, and not coincidentally; video and computer games became exponentially more accessible during the 1990s than in previous decades, coinciding with a spike in ADHD cases. Richard Louv wrote that more time in nature – combined with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings – may go a long way toward reducing attention deficits in children, and, just as important, increasing their joy in life.

Being at home – Preserved natural spaces are vital for the wellbeing of humans, plants, and other animals. It is also important to note that all American National Parks and public lands were once the homes of indigenous peoples. This relationship should be respected. In essence, nature is a home that all human beings share in the commons.

Relationships to Organizational Forms

Nature reserves are on form of Natural Resource Management, in this case by the state.


Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity


A national park is:

…an area generally remarkable for its natural features, which on a relatively large territory offers one or several ecosystems left untouched, or almost untouched, by human exploitation, protected by a central government where its nationals and visitors from every other country in the world are permitted and even encouraged to stay for recreation, education, or cultural purposes – part of the world's total heritage to be enjoyed. (Curry-Lindahl and Harroy 9)

In 1872, the world’s first-ever national park was created: Yellowstone National Park. The idea of a national park was unprecedented at the time, but with the rapidly increasing industrialization of the 19th century, Americans became inspired to set aside majestic areas of land strictly for preservation purposes. Environmentalists like John Muir played a major role in the promotion of the idea of the National Parks and a return to wilderness. The National Park Service now owns 84,000,000 acres ( about 34 million hectares) of land and 4,502,644 acres (about 1.8 million hectares) of oceans, lakes, and reservoirs. For the most part, the Park Service has preserved the natural aspects of this land and water, though the creation of dams (as in Yellowstone’s Hetch Hetchy valley) and tourist attractions imposed upon the natural landscape do not keep the parks in fully natural states (as with the Grand Canyon’s glass-floored overlook, or the massive hole carved through the tree at the entrance of Sequoia National Park).

Preservation of habitats and species in National Parks

Habitat and species protection is an issue of great importance to the National Park Service. Wildlife is managed along with the other natural resources of a park in order to maintain all of the components and processes of naturally evolving ecosystems. This includes the natural abundance, diversity, and genetic and ecological integrity of the plant and animal species native to those ecosystems.

There are many success stories involving federally endangered species of plants and animals being helped towards recovery within the parks. One example is that of the Channel Island Fox population:

Listed in 2004 as a federally endangered species, the Channel Island foxes are approaching biological recovery on Santa Cruz and San Miguel Islands within Channel Islands National Park. Four of the six subspecies of island fox declined by over 90 percent in the late 1990s. The cause of the decline on the northern Channel Islands was predation by golden eagles. Since 1999 a total of 44 golden eagles have been live-captured and relocated to the mainland. Today, with over 1,800 foxes in the wild, the island fox population is on the road to recovery. (Source)

One of the most highly endangered species in North America, the black-footed ferret, was recently reintroduced into Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park. And after being hunted to near extinction in the earliest days of the National Parks, grey wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. In 1926, the last wolf within the borders of Yellowstone was killed. There are now 98 grey wolves in Yellowstone (as of 2011), and they have helped restore the balance of the natural ecosystem which had been altered substantially by an abundant population of elk.

Parks also play host to migratory species at various times throughout the year. Sea turtle breeding beaches, salmon spawning areas, and hibernation/feeding grounds for bats are found in certain parks.

Indigenous peoples and the National Parks

All American National Parks and public lands were once the homes of indigenous peoples. Though Native Americans were brilliant ecologists, conservationists, and sustainability-minded hunters, the National Park Service initially believed that land could not be properly preserved in the form of a park while native peoples were living there. Native peoples and their politics continue to be involved with the park service today. Many of these relations have been far from pleasant. Land allotments have been "given" to tribes only to be taken away a few years later. Sacred grounds and acres of land which were traditionally used for Native hunting, economic, and spiritual interests have been incorporated into the National Parks, sometimes through complicated treaties, but other times simply through the grabbing of land. However, the National Park Service has been reluctant to recognize Native American treaty rights within national parks. Today, the National Park Service has designated many historic sites, including some which commemorate Native American History, but the relationship between the NPS and Native Americans is not yet fully cooperative or mutually respectful.

National Park Service employees were not provided with methods to effectively consult Native Americans who had connections to parklands until 1987, with the publication of "Native American Relationships Management Policy" in the Federal Register. Early NPS ethnographer Miki Crespi focused on the importance of the application of cultural anthropology and tribal consultations in the park planning process. Crespi, named chief ethnographer of the NPS in 1981, focused on "contemporary living communities with histories, cultural identities, spiritual values, and symbolism attached to park landscapres, buildings, sites, and even natural resources with cultural value." This was a departure from previous management approaches within the park system, when park managers usually only thought of park visitors and archaeologists as people who felt connections to and associations with the parks. This new approach led to the unprecedented suggestions of the 1987/88 NPS management policies, which included not only references to Native Americans in the decision-making process, but also local communities and other park-associated groups.

A number of executive orders and Congressional acts focused upon strengthening government-to-government relations between the United States and Native tribes have been passed since the mid-20th century. The Native America Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 influenced the NPS to research and consult with Native American, Alaskan, and Hawaiian peoples, as well as take more anthropological approaches in park management. The Indian Reorganization Act improved the political power of many tribes, and began the process of reversing the effects of land allotment. In 1992, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 was amended, emphasizing  more dedication to working with “Indian tribes, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and national organizations, to preserve and protect resources and traditions that are of importance to Native Americans by strengthening their capabilities for operating sustainable preservation programs.”

Historic Preservation Fund grants are now given to federally recognized tribal organizations for five basic uses:

  • Locating and Identifying Cultural Resources
  • Preserving Historic Structures Listed on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Comprehensive Preservation Planning
  • Oral History and Documenting Cultural Traditions
  • Education and Training for Building a Historic Preservation Program


The National Park Service claims to pursue open, collaborative relations with Native tribes, as well as pursuing an understanding of the history and traditional management of places and resources that are now within national parks. Yellowstone National Park hired its first staff anthropologist (over 125 years after the park was created) to work with Native American tribes to identify, protect, and provide access to sacred and ceremonial sites within the boundaries of the park. Representatives from tribes have been given speaking positions at parks in the Southwest by the NPS, but this is just a small (and, not coincidentally, highly visible to the public) step in the process of sharing power in the National Parks. Outside of the United States, ownership of four Australian national parks was allocated from the state to Aboriginal tribes in 1985. From the tribal point of view, these relationships are slowly improving, but remain far from being perfect.

Issues of scarcity

Millions of acres of natural lands face a continued threat of being opened for development, oil and natural gas drilling, tar sands exploration, mining, road paving, loss of protected status, and other external impositions. Many of the equally pristine acres outside of the borders of Canyonlands National Park, for example, are not yet protected under federal law. Some elected officials in states with high proportions of federally protected natural lands have called for opening these pristine spaces in the pursuit of economic interests, no matter the environmental costs.


Approaches to creating greater abundance

The National Park Service states that the creation of a national park is an expression of faith in the future. It is a pact between generations, a promise from the past to the future. Listed below are some websites that are useful in considering the protection and preservation of natural land, as well as promoting a greater abundance of that land.

Greater Canyonlands

National Park Service – Protecting Ecosystems

Sierra Club

Ute Mountain Tribal Park – In terms of promoting abundance through restoring rights to Native Americans, the example of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park is useful. The Ute tribe allows for a small number of outside visitors (about 20,000/yr) to stay on their land in primitive campsites and tour the area during the daytime for a fee. Visitors are not allowed to explore the area without a certified Ute guide. Nobody resides within the park, similar to the early national parks model. The tribal park covers more than 25% of the entire Ute reservation, making it a huge commitment to cultural and ecological conservation. The Ute have "borrowed an idea from their white neighbors and adapted it to their own ends, permitting limited development within the park. Indian people have been honing such adaptive skills for  centuries. In their own modest ways, the Mountain Ute have claimed a piece of the Anasazi for themselves" (Burnham 265).

National Heritage Areas – The NPS states that National Heritage Areas "support the cultural preservation of tribes by addressing the interrelated issues of cultural preservation and socioeconomic development through activities that encourage community engagement."


Useful links

Yearly reports on Preservation Fund Grants

NPS Cultural Resource Management

Peace Parks


Burnham, Philip. Indian Country, God's Country. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. 2000. Print.

Burns, Ken. 2009. "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." PBS, Documentary.

Child, Brenda A. 2011. “The Absence of Indigenous Peoples in Ken Burns’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.Public Historian 33(2):24-29.

Connecting with Native Americans. National Park Service.

Curry-Lindahl, Kai, and Jean-Paul Harroy. National Parks of the World. New York: Golden Press. 1972. Print.

Encylopedia of Environment and Society: Volume 3. Edited by Paul Robbins. Sections used: National Parks, National Park Service. SAGE Publications, 2007.

Executive Order 13175 – Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments

Linenthal, E. T. 2011. “Ken Burns's The National Parks: America's Best Idea: Compelling Stories and Missed Opportunities.” Public Historian 33(2):13-18.

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2008. Print.

National Park Service.

"Report on Ohio's Initiative to Reconnect Children with Nature." Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Sept. 2010.

Ross, Ken. Pioneering Conservation in Alaska. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 2006. Print.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Protecting Utah's Redrock Country.

Spence, Mark D. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian removal and the making of the National Parks. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press. 1999. Print.

Wray, Facilee, Alexa Roberts, Allison Pena, and Shirley Fiske. "Creating Policy for the National Park Service: Addressing Native Americans and Other Traditionally Associated Peoples."

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