Dave Shaver retired from the National Park Service last week. In the mid-1990s, Dave played a leadership role in the formation of the NPS' Geologic Resources Division. While Dave was not trained as a geologist, he contributed more to geologic understanding and management of our parks than anyone I can think of.
The Park Service needs to recognize the central role of geology in the nations parks, and fill Dave's position with someone who will be be either de facto or explicitly, the Chief Geologist of the NPS, with input at the most senior level of the organization.
[right: Grand Canyon, showing the entire Paleozoic stratigraphic section, courtesy USGS & AGI Image Bank]
Many of our most spectacular parks were initially set aside for their geologic qualities, but have no geologist on staff and geology is virtually absent from many park interpretive materials and park plannning. The numbers are a bit squishy, but there are only about 45 geologists in any positions in the NPS (including collecting entrance fees or repairing trails), while there are 900 biologists. No surprise then that the biological features of our parks tend to be emphasized over the geologic ones. In addition, Park managers are realizing the need for better identification of geologic hazards that threaten the parks and park visitors. The increased need for groundwater and places to dispose of waste also call for more geologic expertise in the Park system.
The GRD is making huge strides in preparing geologic evaluations of hundreds of park units across the country. Under Dave's leadership, the GRD partnered with the state geological surveys to systematically review the geologic resources and needs in each park in a state. I was fortunate to be invited to the first ever meeting of geologists from across the NPS a dozen years ago, along with Vicki Cowart, then the state geologist of Colorado. The partnership between state surveys and the NPS was developed at that meeting and continues to spread. That will be part of Dave's legacy.
Dave also took a risky stance when he challenged the Park Service hierarchy decision to promote a creationist book in the Grand Canyon visitor center that denies natural science and opposes the beliefs of many mainstream religions. The book controversy has attracted widespread attention and criticism. Dave put his persuasive arguments against the U.S. government getting into the position of promoting one religious viewpoint over others, in a letter to NPS management, but to no avail.
I hope whoever takes Dave's place in the Park Service will have the strength to continue to fight for the inclusion of good science in the management, interpretation, and preservation of these world-class geologic treasures.