archival photo of climbers on Mt. Whitney

America's Best Idea at UC Berkeley

In 1915, Stephen T. Mather (UC class of 1887) and Horace M. Albright (UC class of 1912) gathered a group at the young University of California Berkeley campus to plot a future for the country’s existing and evolving national parks. The result was legislation establishing the National Park Service in 1916. Mather became the first director of the park service, Albright was the second. UC Berkeley has been closely involved with the parks ever since. Professors Joseph Grinnell and Joseph Le Conte led early research on Yosemite’s natural history, trained the first cohorts of National Park Service biologists and connected generations of students with the parks.

In 1931, UC alumnus George Meléndez Wright started the National Park Service Wildlife Division in Hilgard Hall, in what is now the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources.

In 1967, UC Berkeley Professor A. Starker Leopold, son of the eminent conservationist Aldo Leopold, served as the Chief Scientist of the U.S. National Park Service. Dr. Leopold had led the publication, in 1963, of a report setting forth the scientific basis for the fundamental resource management goal of the U.S. national parks.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of the Interior, with the U.S. National Park Service as lead agency, established the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit to provide research, technical assistance, and education to address natural and cultural resource management in California.

In 2015, UC Berkeley welcomed the U.S. National Park Service Principal Climate Change Scientist to an office in Mulford Hall, in a collaborative effort to provide robust science on climate change impacts and solutions to U.S. national parks.

UC Berkeley is continuing its century-long connection with the U.S. National Park Service and extending its expertise to national parks and protected areas around the world.

Science for Parks, Parks for Science Summit

Image of the Parks Next 100 Summit at UC Berkeley

In March 2015 UC Berkeley convened science leaders for a summit to help launch a second century of stewardship for parks.

The goal of the summit, “Science for Parks, Parks for Science,” was to envision and contribute to strategies for science in, about, and for using parks for the coming decades by building on the historic linkage between the National Park Service and scientists at leading universities and other organizations around the world. This collaboration is crucial to nurture the future health of parks and protected areas worldwide and biodiversity conservation. The summit re-dedicated that partnership in a forward-looking way by examining the mission of the National Park Service and its relevance today, the scientific and management implications of this mission in a changing world, the social and cultural dimensions for advancing this mission, and the future of science for parks and parks for science.

Presented in conjunction with the summit, on March 26, 2015, a conversation between U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, President of the University of California Janet Napolitano, and Historian and Author Douglas Brinkley took place as part of the ongoing Horace M. Albright Lecture in Conservation series.

Establishing the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity

On October 24, 2017, the University of California, Berkeley, established the Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity, to continue and advance the legacy of the unviersity in providing science and solutions for national parks and protected areas. The UC College of Natural Resources hosts the Institute and colleges across the university provide Faculty Affiliates and expertise.

Generous grants from the Resources Legacy Fund and the Nathan M. Ohrbach Foundation made the establishment of the Institute possible.

Jonathan B. Jarvis, who served as Director of the U.S. National Park Service from 2009 to 2017 in a career of 40 years with the national parks, was the inaugural Executive Director, from 2017 to 2019. He now serves as Chair of the Board of Advisors.

Patrick Gonzalez, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley, 1997), a forest ecologist and climate change scientist, started as Executive Director in December 2022. He previously served as Principal Climate Change Scientist of the U.S. National Park Service and Assistant Director for Climate and Biodiversity of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.