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How Do We Prevent Wild Greater Yellowstone from Unraveling?
On its present trajectory, with a rapidly expanding human development footprint being cemented on private land, soaring outdoor recreation pressure on public land, and deepening negative effects from climate change, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, experts say, is at high risk of losing its healthy, world-class wildlife populations.
November 29, 2022
How Do We Prevent Wild Greater Yellowstone from Unraveling?
Special report: What can be done to save the Yellowstone ecosystem? If we're serious and want to have a reason for hope, here are several big ideas for how to do it
by Todd Wilkinson
On its present trajectory, with a rapidly expanding human development footprint being cemented on private land, soaring outdoor recreation pressure on public land, and deepening negative effects from climate change, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, experts say, is at high risk of losing its healthy, world-class wildlife populations.
The prime culprits: destruction of secure habitat due to proliferating human presence and disruption of wildlife migration corridors. On top of it, climate change is altering the hydrology of the region and fostering conditions ripe for exotic weeds and invasive species to flourish, which further compromises the ability of the land to sustain native animals and plants.
In its reporting, Mountain Journal has continuously identified the challenges. In turn, readers have asked what positive steps can be taken now to prevent Greater Yellowstone from following the same patterns that resulted in species extirpation or population-level declines elsewhere. Many of the easy and convenient things—including having blind faith that the free market and lack of regulation will yield adequate wildlife conservation—have either failed or proved to be woefully inadequate in the face of proliferating growth impacts.
Below are several big ideas, not pie in the sky notions, that could be pursued.
Grizzly 399 and her first set of triplets. Nature tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies and one of the biggest drivers is wildlife watching. Two of the top attractions are grizzly bears and wolves in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. However, those two national parks are not large enough, by themselves, to sustain wildlife that migrates and has large home ranges. The health of public wildlife depends on the ecological health of private lands surrounding public lands. "Teton Rush Hour" photo courtesy Thomas Mangelsen. To see more of his collectible photography go to mangelsen.com
Truth: Wildlife, not outdoor recreation or resource extraction opportunities, are what sets Greater Yellowstone apart as the cradle of American wildlife conservation. Without a plan to protect native species, declines are inevitable.
Greater Yellowstone is the only ecosystem left in the Lower 48 that still has all of its native species that were present in 1491, including large mammal populations and predators and prey that can still roam widely across unfragmented landscapes. The good news is that public concern for wildlife is ubiquitous and a powerful focal point that brings people together.
The superstructure of 21st-century cross-boundary thinking would be a unified strategy that prioritizes the protection of wildlife, the habitat it needs and vital migration corridors that exist at scale nowhere else. Such a plan would make wildlife protection a top goal and it would involve federal and state land management agencies that oversee 18 million acres of public land coming together with elected officials in towns and 20 counties that influence the development patterns on six million acres of private land.
Other necessary advocates include representatives of the conservation, agriculture, business and recreation communities embracing a game plan for the three-state region. Without a strategy, there is little hope that present uncoordinated fragmented decision making can protect enough vital lands to sustain Greater Yellowstone's amazing array of species. Every day, windows of opportunity to advance conservation are closing.
This elk migration map, produced by the Wyoming Migration Initiative, shows the seasonal movements of a dozen different wapiti herds in Greater Yellowstone. There are other maps showing how mule deer, pronghorn and other species migrate, too. The reason why such migrations can still occur in Greater Yellowstone is because the landscape remains conducive to long-distance travel; in most of the Lower 48 species have either been lost or migratory populations have dwindled because of fragmentation caused by natural resource extraction and private land development. Image courtesy Wyoming Migration Initiative
Any GYE grand strategy must be informed by reliable data
Myth: Wildlife can adapt and still thrive amid relentless urbanization, suburbanization and exurbanization of landscape. History proves otherwise. One way forward in creating a conservation roadmap is letting wildlife tell us what habitat it needs. How to do that? Wildlife doesn’t speak human languages. A solution: In the near term, put more GPS collars on animals and use DNA wildlife censusing techniques.
Wildlife agencies need to put a lot more GPS tracking collars on a lot more animals so that their movements can inform public officials where wildlife goes at certain times of year. Once the information is gleaned, it should be put on maps and have them widely distributed to all land managers and elected officials. This would allow decisions to be based on science and not speculation or hearsay. The Wyoming Migration Initiative is a world-class model for how information about wildlife movements and habit can be consolidated and made available to the public.
Even as a red state, Wyoming has been a leader in thinking about large landscape conservation. For whatever reason, Montana and Idaho lag far behind the curve. In addition to tracking wildlife, cutting-edge technology enables researchers to take water samples from rivers and lakes and identify DNA material to show what kinds of species live in a given watershed. One vital rule of thumb: If you don’t know something exists, or deny its presence, it’s hard to incorporate smart conservation into your decision making.
In the Gallatin Valley of Montana, elk are competing for survival against trophy homes. Indeed, on private land in Greater Yellowstone counties and others up and down the Rockies, vital wildlife winter range and other habitat is rapidly being lost to the impacts of exurban sprawl, particularly as ranches are replaced by subdivision. It's happening and in many places county commissions are doing little to stop it. Photo courtesy Holly Pippel
Enforceable zoning must be a necessary component of land-use planning
Zoning needs to stop being treated as a taboo topic. Zoning is the foundation of enlightened modern land management, wildlife conservation, open space and water protection, enhancing the viability of farmers and ranchers to stay on the land, and giving predictability to landowners and the business community.
The three states, half dozen major public land-management agencies and 20 counties, along with local cities and towns in Greater Yellowstone, must act in sync. Other models worth referencing are regional watershed protection plans like those pertaining to Chesapeake Bay and Lake Tahoe. Undeniable is that fragmented or thoughtless planning results in fragmented, degraded landscapes unfit for wildlife and agriculture. Part of the approach to dealing with intense growth and development issues must necessarily involve land-use zoning which has been an effective tool in protecting priceless things in other states. Together, wildlife migrations and zoning can work in tandem in identifying and protecting vital wildlife habitat and identifying the best places where human development on private lands should occur. Part of the challenge is debunking the myth that all growth and development is good.
Sadly, in Bozeman and Gallatin County, Montana—capital of Greater Yellowstone—no mayor or county commission, conservation organization or land-management agency, has ever held public meetings focused on celebrating and protecting the area's biodiversity. Bozeman and Gallatin County aren't alone.
Zoning, which addresses the inability of the free market to protect the persistence of a public good like wildlife, is a necessary part of the conservation tool kit and can be implemented with incentives. This is an issue for sportsmen and sportswomen, too. Who wants to hunt big game in a subdivision? Did you know a grizzly bear will avoid a section of private lands that has just one home? To learn more about the dangers of exurban development on grizzlies read this study and this one. And read this investigative report by MoJo, featuring the perspective of longtime national grizzly bear recovery coordinator Dr. Christopher Servheen (now retired) on how sprawl beyond protected areas is destroying bear habitat long thought secure. The same forces that rob grizzlies of secure habitat affect lots of other species.
The human footprint consumes both wildlife habitat and the ability of farms and ranches to operate at scale. There are many different forms that a nature consumption tax could take with the proceeds applied to buying conservation easements, incentivizing clustered development, keeping agrarians on the and, having a revenue source for affordable housing and helping local governments maintain infrastructure. See a few of them below. Photo illustration courtesy Shutterstock/ID 1212292750
Public officials and conservationists often invoke lack of money as an obstacle to visionary thinking. And yet it's vision that attracts investment
New funding sources for land protection exist in plain sight. They can be found in taxing tourists, newcomers, land users and those who profit off healthy environments. Money and new funding sources could be a game-changer in not only incentivizing zoning but creating a war chest that enables land trusts and other conservation entities to pay ranchers and farmers to stay on the land, protect habitat and open space, and prevent key parcels from being bought up and subdivided. Money would enable incentivized conservation to proceed faster at a time when the expanding human development footprint is fast outpacing land protection. Some of the possible funding sources are:
Chris Boyer's aerial photo is worth a thousand words. It's impossible to ignore the obliteration of once-exceptional wildlife habitat that existed in Big Sky, Montana before industrial strength outdoor recreation and billions of dollars' worth of real estate were carved into the valley enwrapping Lone Mountain. Steadily, wildlife have been displaced in Big Sky and it is exacting huge negative spillover effects on adjacent public lands. Today, only upper class people can afford to buy property in Big Sky. Were a real-estate transfer tax in place, a large sum could be generated for conservation to buffer nature from the resort community's ballooning negative impacts. Photo courtesy Christopher Boyer. To see more of his collectible photographs go to kestrelaerial.com
A. Implement a real estate transfer tax
At present, state legislatures prevent the creation of a real estate transfer tax, which is a modest tax applied whenever real estate is bought and sold. The idea is that people buying up large parcels and building trophy homes are in a financial position where they can afford to pay. Think of a real estate transfer tax as a habitat and open space "consumption tax" in that development consumes wildlife and scenic views valued by the community. Since the arrival of Covid, billions of dollars' worth of real estate has changed hands in Greater Yellowstone. A modest tax of even 1 percent would over a short time generate hundreds of millions of dollars that be applied to conservation, affordable housing and existing infrastructure challenges in towns and counties dealing with rising maintenance costs owed to growth. And, in some towns and counties, the money could help reduce property taxes. Realtors and land brokers need to stop standing in the way. They, who have benefitted so much from land development, need to support funding sources that benefit nature.
Hikers in Yellowstone wander down a trail that skirts Osprey Falls. A backpack tax would apply to all outdoor clothing and gear, the same way that hunters and anglers currently pay a small excise tax on guns, ammo and fishing gear, generating huge sums that protect wildlife habitat and help fund federal and state game agencies. Photo courtesy Jacob W. Frank/ YNP
B. Implement a national "backpack tax" that applies to all outdoor gear
The time has come and there’s no time to waste. The outdoor recreation industry and manufacturers proudly state every year that outdoor recreation is approaching $1 trillion in economic worth. For many decades, hunters and anglers have been assessed modest taxes whenever they purchase gear, ammo, tackle and other products related to their pastimes. Those taxes have been an incredibly important funding source for both habitat protection and helping to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state game and fish agencies that today are cash strapped amid huge budgetary challenges. A modest backpack tax, which is a tax that would be levied on all outdoor products, from apparel to backpacks, skis and other recreation gear, would generate billions over time.
Proponents of such a tax, which was beaten back by companies affiliated with the outdoor recreation industry in the late 1990s, say it is only right that recreationists pay a tiny tax that helps support protection of the landscapes where they like to play. Vote with your wallet. Support gear and product makers—or any business—that embraces the backpack tax and who make wildlife conservation a central part of their investment in community. A 2021 analysis of the benefits of a tax concluded:
"This comparatively small tax would generate an estimated $4.6 billion in revenue per year, about 45 percent above current annual funding levels for the National Park Service and more than four times the amount generated by existing taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. We estimate that the average consumer would only pay about $12 in taxes each year, and the tax would generate an excess burden of only 4 percent of tax revenues."
C. Impose modest enplanement fees at GYE airports
and on commercial bus tour operators
Many airports in the country levy enplanement fees, or small taxes on air travel. People who can afford to fly can afford to pay a modest surcharge when they land or take off. The revenues of this fee would be dispersed. Between the airports at Bozeman and Jackson alone, which are the busiest in Montana and Wyoming, around 1.5 million passengers come and go annually. If a $5 landing and a $5 departure fee were levied at just those airports, it would generate $15 million annually that could be spread around in the region to incentivize conservation, help create affordable housing and pay for infrastructure challenges. In addition, impose a tax on commercial bus tours, which every year carry hundreds of thousands of passengers to Greater Yellowstone. Some of the money generated could go to building more wildlife overpasses and underpasses.
D. Increase impact fees on developers,
especially development that harms Nature
Should local citizens through property and other taxes subsidize the profits of developers? There is spartan evidence that backs up assertions from the building and trade, commercial real estate and development communities that higher impact fees imposed on business that bring burdens on local services would cause a significant economic slowdown in high-growth counties.
Growth is already taking a serious toll on wildlife and habitat. More development has increased traffic problems and road maintenance costs, exacerbated employee shortages and the affordable housing crisis, and resulted in higher taxes to pay for new schools, expanded police, fire, emergency services and water treatment costs, elevated water concerns, and impacted local quality of life. If taxes keep going up and are imposed on property owners who do not like watching their communities undergo dramatic changes, then it's another sign that growth is not paying for itself. Profits are being internalized by developers yet the costs of doing business are being externalized on the community.
E. Allow—and be more creative with—transfer of development rights
Get state legislatures to authorize the use of transfer of development rights whereby rural landowners who do not develop important wildlife habitat can sell those rights which would facilitate denser development in existing urban and suburban areas. It would also allow rural landowners to consolidate subdivision lines and cluster development in ways that prevent sprawl.
F. Emulate the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust
In Wyoming in 2005, the state legislature and governor appropriated $200 million to create this special trust fund account, making money available for wildlife and natural resource enhancement projects. In 2023, Montana is forecast to have a historic $1.7 billion surplus and conservationists of all stripes are asking the state legislature and Gov. Greg Gianforte to follow Wyoming's lead, and create the Montana Legacy Trust. Funding to protect habitat is particularly important given the pace private land being converted to development and subdivision. Learn more about it by clicking here. Groups also are pushing to have some of the surplus directed toward addressing the affordable housing crisis.
G. Allow citizens and communities to approve a sales tax
Contrary to claims that a sale tax would penalize working-class people, certain essentials could be exempted such as groceries. Instead, the sale tax would be aimed at the millions of visitors who wouldn't think twice about paying a modest tax on lodging, eating out in restaurants, car rentals and tourism services. Millions would be generated annually.
Reject or disincentivize building in the wildland-urban interface
Prevent homes and new subdivisions from being built in areas known as the wildland-urban interface where private lands meet public lands. That zone provides important edge habitat for wildlife. The wildland-urban interface has a high percentage of homes that are more prone to burning in wildfires. Half of the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget is spent on firefighting costs and an overwhelming percentage of that on protecting structures on private land. Such a building prohibition would be no different from bans on building in river flood zones. A key component is insurance companies refusing to provide coverage for structures in the WUI. In addition, development should be steered clear of river flood plains and the “flood fringe” because riverine corridors and their riparian areas are some of the richest wildlife habitats on the landscape. To understand the magnitude of the problem relating to building in the WUI and wildfire danger, read this eye-opening comprehensive report from Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics.
In high growth areas, make lower ag tax rates and subsidies available only to farmers and ranchers who agree to conserve their land
In lots of valleys, farmers and ranchers enjoy lower tax rates compared to what urban property owners pay. Many of the same agrarians also enjoy public subsidies such as federal disaster relief if crops fail and droughts, blizzards and wildfires happen. In addition, they receive valuable ag services, predator control, and below market value grazing rates on public land. Such benefits exist as a way of society rewarding those who grow food and fiber. And yet many farms and ranches, which were able to remain economically viable because of public generosity, see wildlife habitat and open space obliterated when those properties are sold to land developers. Some suggest that in order for agrarians to continue to receive subsidies they ought to give back to the public in turn by attaching development restrictions to the deeds of their property.
Another issue is death taxes. In recent years, Congress has markedly elevated the dollar amount pertaining to exemptions the heirs of farmers and ranchers can claim when their parents die. In 2022, the estate tax exemption figure rose to $12.06 million.
Establish urban growth boundaries
Follow the example of Oregon where decades ago, under the leadership of a Republican governor, the state enacted urban growth boundaries in every town. This concentrates growth inside urban areas and protects farm and forest land outside the boundaries. It has enabled local officials to better plan for growth, it yields predictability for developers and agrarians, and it results in lower costs of services that skyrocket in rural areas where counties have to provide expanded services such as law enforcement, fire protection, road maintenance, school bus routes, emergency responders, and eventually sewer and water. Again, soaring costs of suburban and exurban development have demonstrated in many studies that growth does not pay for itself and most often the bill is footed by all taxpayers. Read more about urban growth boundaries in these Mountain Journal stories featuring nationally-renowned planning expert Robert Liberty. Learn about what Oregon did by viewing the short video below and remember that Portland does not have the wildlife values we still do in Greater Yellowstone.
Consolidate public land management into
a regional approach for Greater Yellowstone
Reorganize Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the five different national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands into one management region. A remarkable ecosystem like Greater Yellowstone is worthy of special status. This reorganization would allow different agencies that now report to regional bosses in different states and would reconcile conflicts that exist in "multiple use" philosophy. Land managers, local communities and counties need to do a far better job of understanding negative cumulative effects instead of turning a blind eye.
Heinrich Berran created this map of Yellowstone looking southwesterly toward the Tetons and into Idaho for the National Park Service decades ago. While the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee is supposed to be leading the way in ecosystem thinking, many of its member agencies remain entrenched in their bureaucratic silos and have been absent in tackling issues like sprawl and industrial recreation that is negatively affecting public lands.
Bringing agencies together around a bioregional strategy would prevent them from working at cross purposes (which wastes tax dollars), would save money through greater efficiency, and allow them to better harness resources. Agencies, gateway towns and counties should be financially incentivized to work together. A key component: the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee, which comprises the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies needs to take a leadership role in acknowledging and assessing the negative impacts of private land development on adjacent public land. To date, GYCC has failed to do that.
More Valleys in Greater Yellowstone and Rockies Should Learn From Wild Livelihoods
is based on Paradise Valley, Montana north of Yellowstone and it is comprised of businesses that make their living from sustainable nature tourism, specifically wildlife watching. It's website states, "Every business owner near Yellowstone National Park knows that many of our customers are here to see Yellowstone. Our businesses benefit by operating near the Park. What many may not know is that "wildlife watching" is the #1 activity those visitors come to experience. And, they pay to do it. We have an opportunity as local businesses to service this demand and support sustainable wildlife populations at the same time. Of course, "wildlife watching" is not the only activity visitors spend money on, but it is the dominant one. Hunting and fishing are also sought out, both of which have had a profound impact on conservation."
A study reveals that over $239 million is spent in Park County, Montana by out-of-state travelers and visitor spending creates 3,270 jobs. A major contributor to that surrounds people's desire to see wildlife.
Don't Surrender A Single Congressionally-designed Wilderness Study Area
To Multiple Use Management As Practiced by Forest Service and BLM
Wilderness study areas represent some of the most important wild country in Greater Yellowstone and the rest of the West that remain. There isn't any more high-quality natural land like this being made and once it's gone, it's gone for good. Yet there are some who would like to open up these areas to traditional resource extraction of old, along with road building and industrial strength outdoor recreation—all that could at the expense of wildlife.
In a paper written by R. Travis Belote, a conservation biologist working for The Wilderness Society, he noted how some of the Wilderness Study Areas in Montana are more ecologically intact and therefore valuable to wildlife than 90 percent of national parks and wilderness areas combined. The same characterizations could be made of WSAs in Wyoming and Idaho. Wilderness Study Areas are themselves the result of compromise; while they were designated, a lot of other ecologically important land was exploited for commercial uses and human-focused desires. Almost always, wildlife has gotten the short end of the stick.
Right now there is a proposal from the US Forest Service and an entity called the Gallatin Forest Partnership to do away with the 155,000-acre Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in the Gallatin Mountain Range between Bozeman and Yellowstone Park and replace it with about 100,000 acres of designated wilderness and a pair of new less protective land classifications. The Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn is home to one of the most complete and intact mammal populations left in the Lower 48, including grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, bighorn sheep, moose, bison, native trout and the world-famous Gallatin elk herd. Ironically, maintaining the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn as a Wilderness Study Area guarantees better protection for wildlife than doing what the Forest Service and Gallatin Forest Partnership propose. Wilderness study areas also hold tremendous value as buffers against the effects of climate change and suburban development squeezing the ecological function of public lands.
At a time when large sums of money are being spent elsewhere trying to recover biodiversity and wildness that has been lost, and in an age when wilderness-caliber lands are coming under increasing human pressures, why would anyone want to leave lands that make Greater Yellowstone a beacon for the world with less protection?
If you can't protect it, don't promote it (Part 1)
OK, answer this question honestly: With soaring visitation to Greater Yellowstone’s national parks (Yellowstone and Grand Teton); an expanded tourist season; rising levels of outdoor recreation that leave trails, rivers and campgrounds crowded; increasing numbers of air travelers; hotel rooms and rentals hard to come by; and affordable housing for locals in crisis, does the region really need more tourism promotion? Between the three states, millions are spent annually in national and international PR campaigns touting Yellowstone as a destination. In addition, local lodging taxes in gateway communities require that a certain percentage of the revenue be earmarked for telling more people to come. And then there are TV shows like "Yellowstone" and other catalysts driving visitation and growth. At what point will local officials admit that we are loving the region to death? How much is enough?
If you can't protect it, don't promote it (Part 2)
The real estate industry needs to reflect on the consequences of its constant, sometimes shameless promotion of land development and speculation—and be held accountable. Do brokers not realize that rural lands are home to wildlife? In addition, those outdoor folk with an addiction to posting on social media need to stop sharing the locations of “secret” fishing holes, less-used hiking trails, and backcountry skiing spots because it only leads to a lot more people beating a path there. Some places are equipped to handle lots of people; others are not. Protect the latter by keeping the memories of your adventures to yourself.
If you can't protect it, don't promote it (Part 3)
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which have been the biggest promotors of industrial strength outdoor recreation in the Greater Yellowstone region, admit they don't know what the cumulative effects of rising recreation pressure are on wildlife. This is surprising because the body of scientific literature is clear. Consider what's happening in Colorado with elk and intense outdoor recreation pressure.
Putting more people and more uses into secure habitat for wildlife negatively impacts the species living there. The Custer Gallatin National Forest recently approved a management plan that sets the stage for a lot more people using its trail system in the years ahead, yet forest officials readily admit they don't know what the current impacts of outdoor recreation are on wildlife. And further, they acknowledge they do not have enough backcountry and law enforcement officials on staff to deal with the problem of illegal trespass and proliferation of user-created trails.
Expanding human recreation does not equate to better wildlife conservation; in fact, in most cases, exactly the opposite. In addition, many environmental/conservation organizations in Greater Yellowstone have become allied with the outdoor recreation industry in pushing for more recreation infrastructure, trails and more access, and have remained silent in the face of the rising controversy over "user-created" trails. Right now, Grand Targhee Resort is seeking approval from the Caribou Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho to expand its operation on public land. Yet many conservation organizations are missing in action, the same as when they were in confronting the expansion of Big Sky in the Madison Range, more recreation-related facilities in Bridger Canyon, and more trails in sensitive habitat on Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole.
Ignorance is not bliss
Be informed: Local governments, as part of their strategy for dealing with growth, need to hire wildlife ecologists to assess impacts of human development on nature.
Towns and counties in high-growth areas ought to have a professional wildlife ecologist on staff who is seasoned and an expert in large landscape conservation. The scientists would need to be given free rein, much like an internal auditor who is protected from political interference and pressure from developers. The person could provide honest assessments on impacts of proposed development and help educate elected officials, members of planning staffs, and the public about the location of key wildlife habitat. Ecological issues don’t factor into decision making if they don’t have visibility. Such knowledge could be the cornerstones of truly enlightened planning.
A statement of protest in Park County, Montana against sensible land use planning and zoning. There's universal agreement in rural valleys around Greater Yellowstone that they don't want to end up like Bozeman, the Gallatin Valley and Jackson Hole. Ironically, those who fight against planning are only accelerating their potential destiny to become just like the sprawl-filled Gallatin Valley which is dealing with lots of growth challenges, including the loss of its wildlife and sense of place.
Mandate education for those creating the biggest impacts on landscapes
Compel those having the biggest impact on the landscape to at least be knowledgeable about ecosystem issues. State regulatory agencies could require that people involved in the building and trades, real estate and architecture industries take remedial classes in wildlife ecology as part of their business-license renewals. The cause of raising awareness and enhancing public ecological literacy extends to all of us who recreate. Remember, there are animals living in the places where we go to play and they have no other home. We can leave and we have plenty of places to have fun or work out; wildlife does not, and its habitat is finite.
Teach the unique importance of Greater Yellowstone in schools
Living in Greater Yellowstone ought to be a source of regional identity and pride. And an investment should be made in reaching groups that have felt excluded or unwelcome. Make classes that highlight the unique nature of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem part of the essential core curriculum of education in the public schools from elementary onward into college. Give every student an ecosystem wall map to take home to their families.
Adapt the "Code of the West" into a wildlife-oriented
version for Greater Yellowstone
The Mountain Neighbor Handbook: A Local's Guide to Stewardship in the Tetons. There ought to be one of these in every rural valley.
Destructive attitudes can change if ecological ignorance is confronted
Citizens need to tenaciously show up at public meetings, write letters and elect people who understand and tout the uniqueness of Greater Yellowstone in the world—people who have the courage to do the conservative things to advance its conservation. Conservation, ironically, has been the most potent engine for Greater Yellowstone’s 21st-century economy. Greater Yellowstone is not going to grow its way to having a better nature of place. Wildlife in the Upper Yellowstone River Valley adjacent to Yellowstone National Park is worth far more than the amount of money generated through agriculture. And its value will only grow as more of the natural world becomes transformed by humans. A recent study showed that wolf watching alone generates at least $83 million annually; certainty, grizzly watching generates much more; in fact, one analysis showed that visitors to Yellowstone would be willing to pay twice the entrance fee if they knew they could see a grizzly.
GYE towns, counties need to gather often and share info
Why isn’t this happening already? An easy move is to initiate regular planning and information-sharing sessions at least once a year between towns and counties dealing with high population growth. At present, leaders in Bozeman/Gallatin County, Montana, and Jackson/Teton County, Wyoming, almost never get together and certainly not without all commission members and planning staffs present. There's a lot of intelligence and hard lessons that could be shared. Plus, there is a lot that adjacent areas such as Teton Valley and Island Park in Idaho; Park County in Wyoming; Big Sky, Livingston/Gardiner/Paradise Valley in Montana, along with Madison, Beaverhead and Carbon counties, and others could learn from each other.
Value indigenous knowledge
Universities and schools should make classes that blend together the insights of indigenous wisdom about landscape with science part of their core curriculum. This has huge potential positive implications for wildlife conservation, local native food systems, and engendering respect among people with different cultural perspectives. There are insights ready to be applied and they predate the creation of Yellowstone National Park, in 1872, by thousands of years. Indigenous people promoted cultural values that frowned upon opulent displays of material possessions and helping those in need. To learn more about how tribes in the Pacific Northwest incorporated this into their lifeways, read a ceremony known as the potlatch.
Lakota gather at a giveaway in which those with more material forturne share with those who have lesss and are in need.
Conservation and business need to come together
Do this on a massive scale. There should be regular, centralized meetings of conservation and hunting organizations and business leaders to both harness their insights and strengths and fine tune approaches that revolve how healthy environments support healthy economies and vice versa. NOTE: Greater Yellowstone urgently needs more conservation groups working in the space of land-use planning. Why aren't more doing it? While it is among the hardest work, it has the most important implications for saving the region. Imagine if all of the national, regional and local conservation organizations together touted the need for a Greater Yellowstone vision and devoted themselves to scrutinizing private land development and holding local cities and counties accountable for bad decisions that are destroying wildlife and their community way of life.
Pass open space bonds and support your local land trust
Land trusts need your support, as do other conservation organizations that specialize in habitat protection like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and land trusts set up by ag groups or the state, like the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. They’re not hard to find. In addition, give to un-meek groups that are truly rising to the challenge of attempting to prevent the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from becoming like everywhere else and losing its biodiversity to development. Voters in Gallatin County, Montana have gone to the polls a couple of times and passed open space bonds that fund conservation easements. The modest levy is assessed to property owners. Read more about it here.
Below the plane wings are some of the 122 conservation easements in southwest Montana overseen by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. Land trusts throughout Greater Yellowstone and the West are doing extraordinary work but the rate of acquisition, because of limited funds, is not keeping pace with amount of ground lost to sprawl. Photo courtesy Gallatin Valley Land Trust.
State legislatures need to get out of the way
and stop their rhetorical hypocrisy
While state legislatures in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho claim that they support local control and governance that happens closer to the ground, they have hamstrung the ability of local communities to tax the millions of tourists who are bringing impact and using the best planning tools available.
Support Mountain Journal
We're both sincere and serious when we say this: Mountain Journal is dedicated to help save Greater Yellowstone by keeping it ecologically healthy and intact for future generations to enjoy. MoJo is using journalism as an important tool in educating the public and reminding readers what’s at stake in Greater Yellowstone and the implications for other regions. No other media entity is doing this. Our inspiring stories and investigative reports about Greater Yellowstone are original, they are free and they are resonating with people in other regions, too. An educated public is the best defense in saving a world-class ecosystem which has Yellowstone as its geographic heart. In these urgent times, help us cover more and get to more places. We also identify groups doing good work. Find us at: mountainjournal.org. Until the end of the year, any contribution you make will be doubled via NewsMatch, a program that supports the leading nonprofit news organizations in the country.
Have fun, be inspired, but give back to wildlife by not poaching habitat
Getting outdoors is good for our physical and mental health. People who care about wildlife are more inclined to protect it. You don’t have to live, visit or play in Greater Yellowstone to be an advocate for protecting the animals that live here. Sometimes the most profound thing we can do is a little thing, such as setting aside space for wildlife and not having to take it for ourselves. People don’t need the permission of others to care about the survival of wildlife. To all young people out there: Get involved, run for public office and challenge the status quo by bringing brave new ideas forward. We need you!
Everything we do ripples, for good or bad