By Ruffin Prevost
With the first 10 days of 2013 already history, at least a few of us have probably broken a few New Year’s resolutions. But what about Yellowstone National Park? What goals should the nation’s first national park set for the coming year?
While it may seem silly to imagine a national park making New Year’s resolutions, it’s worth remembering that a big part of public land management is resolving conflicts. Those who manage the parks on our behalf would do well to have a few resolutions they’d like to see accomplished this year.
So in the spirit of self-improvement, here are (in no particular order) 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2013 in Yellowstone National Park.
1) Settle Winter Use: For more than a decade, the National Park Service has faced court challenges, public disagreements and political wrangling over snowmobiles and other aspects of winter travel in Yellowstone. The latest plan pitches “transportation events” as a new twist aimed at breaking the deadlock. Ultimately, it will be up to various interest groups to decide if this issue is resolved or gets kicked back to the courts yet again.
2) Improve Hiker/Bear Safety: After two fatal grizzly bear maulings in 2011, park managers are focusing on trying to get day hikers to carry bear spray and avoid hiking alone. With plenty of grizzlies and people wandering the backcountry, will educational efforts and voluntary compliance with common-sense guidelines be enough to keep hikers (and bears) safe?
3) Protect Cultural Resources: Yellowstone is known for its wildlife and scenery, but the park has a rich cultural history that many visitors never learn much about. A partnership with the Yellowstone Park Foundation is helping to preserve the Million Dollar Room, once the office of legendary park concessioner Charles A. Hamilton, who papered the walls with hundreds of cancelled checks totaling $1,839,105. But there are plenty of other worthy projects that could use funding and attention.
4) Improve Bison Management: In the harshest winters, bison from the park’s northern herd migrate along the Yellowstone River north past Gardiner, stirring up concern among some local residents and cattle ranchers. As the herd continues to grow beyond management target ranges, some progress has been made on carving out additional space where they can roam outside the park. But there’s still plenty of work to be done in managing herd sizes and movements as well as public expectations about the conflicts that come with this seasonal wildlife migration.
5) Fix Nine Mile Road: Much of the eastbound lane along a section of road known as “Nine Mile,” between Lake Butte Overlook and Sedge Bay, was washed away in May 2011. Cody business leaders are anxious for a permanent fix to the road, which park officials say has been delayed because of budget and logistics complications.
6) Improve Visitor Experience: Anyone who has spent the lunch hour at Old Faithful in August know that Yellowstone often seems like the last place in the world to “get away from it all.” Accommodating more than 3 million annual visitors in a way that balances their desires for “natural serenity” while also “doing it all in one day” remains one of Yellowstone’s most intractable conundrums.
7) Monitor a Dynamic Environment: Invasive species and the effects of climate change—particularly in the broader ecosystem around the park—represent a wide range of unknown factors that could spark unforeseen changes in the complex ecological systems within Yellowstone. Monitoring them all, much less addressing their effects, is likely to become an increasingly challenging job.
8) Award a Concessions Contract: A new lodging concessions contract will be awarded at the end of this year, setting up a 20-year period that will see a wide range of changes in how Yellowstone’s overnight accommodations are managed. Which company is awarded that contract is likely to play a major role in how visitors perceive their experiences in Yellowstone for the next two decades.
9) Deal With Wolf Hunts: The Park Service hardly controls its own destiny in how gray wolves are hunted just across Yellowstone’s boundaries. But this past year’s wolf hunt has shown that a path forward on the issue is likely to be an emotional and divisive one, as well as something that can affect research within the park as collard wolves are killed by hunters. Yellowstone managers and scientists will have to carefully consider the new wrinkles that arise with hunts as part of their broader work with wolves.
10) Keep Killing Lake Trout: Again with help from the Yellowstone Park Foundation, progress is being made on lowering the number of invasive lake trout in Yellowstone Lake. Meeting and maintaining target numbers for lake trout reductions is likely to be a complex and costly long-term goal, but an important one that can’t be ignored.
If you’ve got a few “resolutions” of your own—thoughts about how to make Yellowstone better, places you want to visit, or activities you want to try—send them along. We’d love to read them.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].