Benjamin H. Thompson (1904–1997)

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In the early 1930s, Benjamin H. Thompson became a biologist in the National Park Service’s newly created Wildlife Division, working  for  Division Chief George Wright. In 1934, Thompson wrote to the soon to be NPS director Arno Cammerer about the importance of setting aside supposedly pristine park areas solely for scientific study. He accompanied close colleagues and fellow University of California graduate George Wright and Joseph Dixon on the first wildlife survey of the national parks and later helped to establish the biological research and management program in the NPS. The three men began their field survey in May 1930. By the following spring they had completed a 150-page report, formally published in 1933 as Fauna of the National Parks of the United States: A Preliminary Survey of Faunal Relations in the National Parks.

In the early 1950s Thompson was head of the NPS recreation planning division under Assistant Director for Research and Interpretation Ronald F. Lee.  A few years later, he assumed responsibility for the cooperative activities division under the NPS assistant director for operations. In the late 1950s he served as the head of the division of recreation resources planning.  In the 1950s under Director Conrad Wirth, Thompson was NPS director of land planning and made a substantial contribution to the Service’s Mission 66 program to rehabilitate national park infrastructure.

In 1961, Thompson who had long been in charge of the NPS’s program of new park establishment was made assistant director of resource planning. He redoubled the efforts of his staff to justify an increase in the research budget. This increase made possible a total of 47 research projects for 1964 that were either wholly or partially funded by the NPS. Thompson retired from the NPS In December 1964 after a year of strenuous effort to ramp up the Service’s biology program.

Thompson played a key role in establishing the NPS Biological Research and Management program and was a leader in highlighting the important role of science in protecting park resources while making them accessible to the public.

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