Monday, September 14, 2009

Even fewer geologists now in the National Park Service

One of my pet peeves is the lack of geologists in professional roles in the National Park Service. The NPS Geologic Resources Division was not established until the late 1990s and instead of growing, they are shrinking. They are now at 20 people, down 9 in the past few years. Most parks that were designated so because of their geologic attributes do not even have a single geologist on staff. Compare this to something like 800 biologists in the NPS. [right, "geologic wonders in the national parks." Credit, NPS]

GRD budgets are not keeping pace with rising mandated costs, so in the next few years, the program will have to downsize even more unless there is a dramatic turnaround.

Recently passed legislation on paleontology resources is putting further pressure on NPS-GRD as they struggle to find the expertise and time to develop the new required regulations on fossils. A Park Service official we talked with this morning is hopeful that their rules and regs can be developed to be compatible with those on other federal lands managed by BLM (also in Interior Dept) and US Forest Service (in the Dept. of Ag.)


  1. Lee,
    Thanks for this post. You are right on. It's a travesty that the NPS has so few geologists. There are so many amazing geologic features in the parks. Plus, when I worked as a ranger, it amazed me how when geologists did do research in parks that they didn't have anyone to report that data to who could then provide the information to the public.
    Let's hope that we will see more geologists in the parks.

  2. Anonymous8:16 AM

    I am a geologist that works for the NPS. But not for resource protection. I am an interpretive ranger who gets to communicate the geologic wonders of our park to the public. We also have a Park Geologist. But you're right. There aren't enough geologists in the NPS. I would prefer to conduct the research, but sharing my knowledge is just as rewarding.

  3. Hi Lee,
    Do you know about the nascient "Geopark" movement in the United States? This is a UNESCO designation that is big time in other countries, but we have none here. I was at a Geopark meeting in China this past May and the Super from Zion NP was there - it is rumored that Zion will be the U.S.'s first Geopark wich will mean an enhanced emphasis on geology - exhbitis, personnel, etc.
    This is a good overview, with some official links:

    If you're going to GSA, there is a woman, Wesley Hill (GSA employee) that will be there in Portland who is the GSA Liaison for the Geopark effort - contact me, I can give you more information -

    Lynn Highland
    U.S. Geological Survey

  4. Anonymous3:40 PM

    I observed this trend back in 1991doing a project that encompassed part of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in AZ. I found there was little to no interest or support by NPS managment and I came away with the distinct impression that NPS was a very large jobs program for biologists.

  5. It's truly a shame. In a tour of the Western National Parks this summer, my fondest memory comes from a geology lecture at the Grand Canyon.

  6. I want research in this field, i am also geologist but can i help for there.i will ready.

  7. Jim Lindsay8:32 AM

    As a geologist working at Padre Island National Seashore, it is obvious to me that geologists are integral to meeting the mandate to manage the parks for climate change. Geology gives us the information to base predictions of future environmental conditions and land form changes.

  8. Anonymous8:01 AM

    Given the fact that many of the units of the NPS have been established primarily based upon their geologic resources - such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Hawaii Volcanoes, Glacier Bay, Death Valley, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, Petrified Forest, Great Sand Dunes, Lassen Volcanic, Badlands, Carlsbad Caverns, Devils Tower, Pictured ROCKS, Guadalupe Mountains, etc. - how is the NPS meeting its mandate for "Science-Based Decision-Making"????