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The Environment and Public Administration: Natural Resources Management

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Andrew Vaz

Environmental management has been an important U.S. policy initiative to public administrators since the late 19th century. It can be argued that the 1871 expedition into Yellowstone National Park gave rise to natural resources management. This column will demonstrate the importance of the 1871 Hayden Geological Expedition on public administration, the difference between environmental and natural resources management and how the United States went forward to become one of the world’s leaders in the preservation of natural resources.

Public administrators have been very concerned about how policy affects environment issues, from air quality to fracking. The main reason for this has to do with the average citizen. Americans are very concerned about the effects policy will have on the environment for themselves and for future generations. While this may appear to show great concern for environment conservation, actually this presents Americans’ concern toward the government’s management of natural resources as well.

Many environmentalist groups have protested the government on several occasions, from Washington, D.C. to our nation’s fineries and beaches, hammering down on the lack of care toward both the environment and our natural resources. While protestors argue against the government’s lack of action toward environmental support, the government has played a pivotal role in the conversation of natural habitats throughout the country. The most notable action undertaken by legislators is creation of national parks—land masses designated by the federal government as historic, protected areas which contain ecosystems and endangered wildlife. Throughout the United States, there are 58 national parks, all accessible by the public and protected under federal law.

The Hayden Geological Survey and the Significance of Yellowstone National Park

yellowstone (Vaz)While each of the 58 national parks has their own historical value, there is no national park that bares more significance than the first national park—Yellowstone National Park. Founded in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, it was technically the first national park in the world. At the time of its inception, Yellowstone was an undiscovered ecosystem that avoided western migration and the gold rush. The park is located in what would become the state of Wyoming, spreading into Montana and Idaho. It is a habitat that largely attracted an American geologist by the name of Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, who led an expedition into the ecosystem in 1871. The expedition was called the Hayden Geological Survey and it was the first federally funded, geological survey.

The survey was comprised of Hayden, photographer William Johnson, a landscape artist named Thomas Moran and other scientists. They were also accompanied by other photographers and military personnel. Beginning in June 1871, the explorers traveled the uncharted region documenting their statuses along the way. Their findings were compiled in a 500-page report submitted to the United States Congress.

Hayden’s report titled Preliminary Report of the United States Geological Survey of Montana and Portions of Adjacent Territories; Being a Fifth Annual Report of Progress led Congress to create a bill, signed into law by President Grant that created the National Park in 1872. What that report presented to the legislators was the topography and geology that was the Yellowstone area. It also documented the various plant species that existed there through pictures, sketches and paintings. Hayden, with the assistance of his superiors at the U.S. Department of the Interior, would eventually motivate the legislators to move forward with the Park Bill of 1871. By the following March 1872, the bill landed on the desk of President Grant and was eventually signed. Thus making Yellowstone the first National Park in existence as it was deemed a public land.

In all, the combined efforts of Hayden, the superiors at the U.S. Department of the Interior, congressional representatives and the President of the United States, pushed forward one of the first legislative bills concerning the environment. It changed the way public administration looks at the environment in the United States in the late 19th century by expanding the public service devoted to environmental policy. What the 1871 expedition did was create two agencies: the United States Geological Service and the National Park Service.

Expanding Public Administration: The Creation of the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service

During the 19th century, geological expeditions into America’s heartland were conducted independently, with the exception of the Hayden survey. After Yellowstone was founded, the geological surveys conducted by Hayden and other geologists were to be discontinued. Congress formed the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 1879 under the Organic Act. Part of the Department of the Interior and according to the department’s website, the survey’s main mission is provide scientific information that is reliable to interpret the earth and thus, eliminate the loss of life and property from natural disasters, and manages all natural resources to improve the quality of life. According to the United States Geological Survey Manual, the 1879 Organic Act establishes that the USGS was to be involved in the “classification of the public lands and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain.”

The government expanded its role in the preservation of public lands, as what followed after was a movement to create an independent agency to regulate and maintain these parks. The National Park Service, which oversees every national park in the country, was founded in 1916. According to the National Park Service’s overview, the mission statement for this agency is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The creation of these two agencies expanded the public service, allowing the government to maintain the nation’s ecosystems, but also begin to manage our natural resources.

Environmental Policy and Public Administration Going Forward: Natural Resources Management

In the 20th and 21st centuries, our government’s efforts began transitioning from just only preserving our nation’s parks and ecosystems to our natural resources. Natural resource management (NPM) is very similar to environment conservation, but focuses primarily on our actions effect of quality of life in that habitat. Natural resources maintained under this principle include:

  • Animals.
  • Land.
  • Plants.
  • Soil.
  • Water.

Under environmental management, public administrators are responsible for natural resources management. The federal public sector works with the private sector, nonprofits and state and local governments to administer proper judgments and sustainable measures for natural resources management through its employees.

Many different agencies have been created within the system of environmental protection. The agencies under this apparatus include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Although the rest of the world has similar organizations involved in environmental management, the United States is the largest contributor to environmental and natural resources management across the globe and has the one of the highest numbers of government-operated environmental agencies.

In the last two decades, public administration in the United States has expanded its role in the management of the environment and natural resources. While there are numerous national and international agencies around the world, it can be stated that the conservation of natural resources by the federal government is truly an American idea.


Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.S., M.P.A. is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He has been admitted to the doctoral program in Public Policy and Administration at Walden University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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