The Spirit of George Melendez Wright
The earliest science and stewardship activities by the National Park Service can be attributed to a small cadre of wildlife biologists led by George Melendez Wright. Wright, an assistant park naturalist at Yosemite and an independently wealthy biologist, offered in 1928 to fund a survey of national park wildlife. From his observations in Yosemite and other parks, Wright understood that the Service had no scientific understanding of its wildlife populations (Sellars, 1997).
From the earliest wildlife surveys, to the preparation of Fauna No. 1 and No. 2—which delved into guidance and the policy implications of managing wildlife and ecosystems in national parks—wildlife biologists were there to preserve the wildlife species that captured the imagination of the public.
These early wildlife biologists recognized a fundamental conflict in national park management: that efforts to perpetuate natural conditions would have to be “forever reconciled” with the presence of large numbers of people in the parks. George Wright argued against common practices at the time, including feeding bears in Yosemite and Yellowstone and killing of pelicans in Yellowstone (a practice undertaken to give anglers more fish to catch), and he questioned the killing of predators, noting its likely effect on ecosystems.
At a time when it could have gone either way—to preserving simply the beauty of the landscape, or preserving ecosystems intact—Wright reminded the National Park Service that the word “unimpaired” (from the NPS Organic Act) had real meaning.
Today the work of wildlife biologists in the National Park Service continues.