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Making the transition to the third era of natural resources management

January 1, 2014

We are entering the third era of National Park Service (NPS) natural resources management— an era defined by rapid and unprecedented global changes. This third era promises to overturn not only some of our most fundamental assumptions about parks and protected areas, but also many of the ideals we currently hold dear. A common initial reaction to the diverse challenges of this transition is to feel overwhelmed and adrift; I have certainly had such feelings myself. But these feelings carry the risk of reducing our effectiveness as resource stewards right when we can least afford to be less effective: during a transition that is demanding us to be particularly clear-headed and far-seeing. Here I briefly examine some of the challenges of this new era, focusing on those that can most often elicit feelings of discouragement. When we examine the challenges individually, they begin to lose some of their ability to cast gloom—especially when we consider them in the light of lessons from an earlier fundamental transition in NPS natural resources management, beginning a half-century ago. My perspective is shaped by my 35 years as a place-based scientist stationed in a large national park (Sequoia and Kings Canyon), and by my passion for national parks in general. While the discussion that follows is most relevant to large national parks set aside primarily for their natural features, several of the ideas are also relevant to other park units.