National Geographic : 2016 May
142 national geographic • may 2016 acts, heroic efforts, mistakes, corrections, happy accidents, and good decisions, we have it in 2016. Superintendent Dan Wenk told me that he thinks Yellowstone National Park, for all its problems, might be in better overall shape now than at any time since 1975, the year the grizzly bear’s decline was recognized with federal protection. Hallac, notwithstanding his concern with the creeping crisis, agreed. Whether the same can be said of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosys- tem—that it’s in better shape now than for many decades past—is more questionable. Have we vastly improved this great area since the bad old days of commercial poaching and vandalism, governmental neglect, Wild West brigandage, and railroad dreams—or have we already gone a long way toward making it a big, boring suburb with antler-motif doorknobs? The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a focus of many angers, in part because it contains so many different expectations governed by different interests. Some hunters are angry that there aren’t enough elk. Some ranchers are angry that there are too many. Some wolf lovers are angry that wolves, including those that spend much of their year within Yellowstone Park, now may be hunted or trapped when they roam be- yond the park boundaries. Some landowners in Gardiner, Montana, are angry that bison migrate out of the park in winter and into their yards. Some stockmen are angry that migrating bison carry brucellosis, which might be passed to their cows, although not a single case of bison-to-cow transmission has been documented. Some wildlife activists, including those of the Buffalo Field Campaign, are angry that bison from the park, once they migrate out, may be corralled and shipped to slaughter. Some range scientists are angry about overgrazed grasslands in the two parks, resulting from too many bison and elk. Some fishermen are angry about the slaughter of lake trout. Somebody somewhere is probably angry about coyotes. Scarcely a season passes, in the gateway towns of Cody and Jackson and Bozeman, without several public meetings, called by the various agencies, at which people express these angers. One such meeting occurred this past December in a hotel confer- ence room at Jackson’s ski resort. Roughly a hundred people crowded in, interested citizens filling rows of chairs, some standing at the back, to hear scientists and managers deliver updates to an interagency committee charged with overseeing the Yellowstone grizzly bear. The atmosphere was tense and adversarial. Many people in the room had fought one another over this issue for decades. The crowd heard Chris Servheen, coordinator of grizzly recovery under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (a position he has held for 35 years), explain that the Yellowstone population had reached its benchmarks—“ We consider the bear recovered”—and that his agency soon would propose remov- ing it from the “threatened” list under the Endangered Species Act. How soon? Very, but indefinite. Delisting means that the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho would be free to issue licenses to hunt grizzlies for the first time since 1975. Frank van Manen, head of an interagency science team that studies the bear, made a dispas- sionate presentation, which included encouraging data on current grizzly numbers and their distribution throughout the ecosystem, and Fish and Game Rack Up the Bucks Hunting is prohibited within Yellowstone, but it’s big business in the areas that host animals such as elk when they migrate outside the park. Montana, for instance, charges out-of-state residents $1,001 for a yearly license to hunt elk, deer, and certain birds, and to fish. Anglers come from around the world to cast for trout in the region’s pristine rivers. The park does allow fishing in some areas, for a fee.