Helpless Giants: The National Parks and the Regulation of Private Lands

While intrusive private activities have increased all around them, park managers have stood by nervously, sensing that they were caring for helpless giants. The Park Service is aware that Congress has given it very little explicit authority to regulate private lands, but underlying Park Service hesitancy to act is a more profound concern about the constitutional power of the federal government to control private land uses near and within the parks. These constitutional doubts, though largely misconceived, arise out of a complex set of issues that need to be clarified. This article first describes current administrative practice and existing legislation pertaining to the regulation of private lands. Next, it reviews the events that have convinced the Park Service that its regulatory authority is severely restricted. There follows an examination of the constitutional questions that increased federal control of private lands would raise. The article concludes by suggesting a method for dealing with the various intrusive private uses that now plague the Park Service.