Today we celebrate George Melendez Wright, an El Salvarodian-American biologist who conducted the first scientific survey of fauna for the National Park Service.
From the George Wright Society:
After graduating in 1927, Wright joined the National Park Service, and until June of 1929, he worked as an Assistant Naturalist in Yosemite National Park. During this period—and based on several summers exploring the parks of the West, including an expedition to Mount McKinley (now Denali) National Park in 1926—Wright became very concerned about what he would come to call “the problems caused by conflict between man and animal through joint occupancy of the park areas.” Specifically, the transplanted and unnaturally penned tule elk in Yosemite Valley were disturbing to Wright, as was the elk and buffalo situation in Yellowstone National Park.
And, throughout the park system, he was alarmed and worried about the overall scarcity of predators, marauding bears being fed at garbage at park “shows” as part of accepted policy, and the severe consequences of uncontrolled hunting and trapping within and outside of parks’ boundaries. Science-based wildlife research and management was not taking place in any of the national parks.
In 1929 (with the help of several mentors, including Joseph Dixon), Wright convinced National Park Service Director Horace Albright to approve a ground-breaking survey of wildlife and wildlife issues throughout the national parks in the western U.S., approximately 14 parks at that time. During these early years of the Great Depression, Wright personally funded the multi-year survey, and paid for the salaries of his two colleagues, Dixon and Ben Thompson. George Wright was 25 years old at the time of the survey’s beginning.
This formative work led to recommendations that were published in 1933 as Fauna of the National Parks of the United States, a Preliminary Survey of Faunal Relations in National Parks, which became the first of the important “Fauna” series—publications detailing the results of surveys and research, and recommending various management procedures to maintain natural conditions in protected areas. Their follow-up Fauna publication, Wildlife Management in the National Parks, published in 1934, was soon adopted as official National Park Service policy.
In 1933 Wright became the first chief of the newly-formed Wildlife Division of the Park Service, and under his leadership (and with funds provided by President Roosevelt’s CCC program) each park started to survey and evaluate the status of wildlife on an ongoing basis in order to identify urgent problems. Recommendations for restoration were generated, and special attention was paid to rare and endangered species, conflicts, and sources of problems.
Geroge Melendez Wright wrote in 1934:
If we destroy nature blindly, it is a boomerang which will be our undoing . . . . Consecration to the task of adjusting ourselves to [the] natural environment so that we secure the best values from nature without destroying it is not useless idealism; it is good hygiene for civilization. In this lies the true portent of this national parks effort.
Fifty years from now we shall still be wrestling with the problems of joint occupation of national parks by men and mammals, but it is reasonable to predict that we shall have mastered some of the simplest maladjustments. It is far better to pursue such a course though success be but partial than to relax in despair and allow the destructive forces to operate unchecked. — George Melendez Wright, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States, Vol 1, 1934