National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in
the National Parks
SOME ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH NEEDS OF YELLOWSTONE
TETON NATIONAL PARKS
(Excerpts from the Minutes of the Committee's Meeting at Grand
Teton - Yellowstone Park, June 14-16, 1963)
The Committee found that a comprehensive research program for both the
Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, stressing the ecological
approach, had been outlined in the general direction of the Committee's report.
The Committee also found, however, that neither the scientific staff nor funds
for the research necessary -- if the parks' management is to comply with the laws
and regulations governing the areas -- are available.
The following outlines of research needs in these two parks were presented by
local Parks officials to the Committee:
Yellowstone National Park
I. Ecology of the Northern Yellowstone Winter Range
A. Justification. In many parts of the Park the activities of modern
man, in altering ecosystems and causing a severe loss of soil, have created an
imbalance between the ungulate populations and their habitat. The areas most
seriously affected are the northern Yellowstone and Gallatin ranges where these
animals congregate in the winter. Although the management is energetically
attempting to improve unsatisfactory conditions on the northern Yellowstone
range, its program is rather crude and is based on inadequate information.
Moreover, not enough is known about what management is doing, what changes and
refinements are needed, or for that matter, what the purposes are.
1. To describe ecological condition on the northern Yellowstone winter range
before the advent of modern man. The description, to provide a basis for
evaluating current conditions, should include:
a) Climate, geology, and soils;
b) The mosaic of plant and animal communities;
c) The interrelationships of plants and animals, particularly in relation to
dominant species like ungulates.
2. To describe current ecological conditions in detail, including:
a) Current climate and climatic trends;
c) The vegetation mosaic and the factors creating it;
d) Successional patterns in the various biotic communities and their dynamic
e) Interrelationships of dominant animals like elk, deer, bighorn sheep,
moose, buffalo, antelope, and beaver with their habitat;
f) Interspecies and intraspecies relationships of dominant animals
(competition for food, space, etc.).
3. To describe and evaluate:
a) How and to what degree current ecological conditions vary from the
b) The factors that have caused deviations from original conditions, and how
they have operated;
c) The extent to which it is practicable or possible to re-create original
ecological conditions where ecological damage or deterioration (like soil loss)
4. To formulate a management program designed to restore original ecological
conditions as nearly as practicable.
The proposed ecological study of the northern Yellowstone winter range would
provide much information directly applicable to other critical winter range areas
in the Park (such as the Upper Gallatin winter range and Hayden Valley).
Moreover, the approach and the techniques developed would be a guide for research
in other areas of the Park where ecological problems are somewhat different, and
so would lead to continuing coordination and integration of research effort
throughout the National Park Service. A study of the ecology of ungulate summer
range, though of lower priority than winter range studies, is needed also; a
comparable research approach would certainly be required for it.
II. The Ecology of the Black Bear in Yellowstone National Park
A. Justification. Although bears are in general tolerant of human
beings and their activities, so that most Park visitors have an opportunity to
see and photograph them, they do, every year, cause a significant number of
injuries to visitors and a considerable amount of damage to property. Therefore,
management and control of the bear population are essential. The current black
bear management program is not based on adequate knowledge of its effect on the
1. To understand over-all black bear ecology in the Park, with emphasis on
determining bear numbers and distribution and on describing population
2. To describe and analyze the behavior of bears toward visitors.
3. To devise methods for evaluating the effects of management and control
measures on the bear population.
4. To develop an effective management program designed to maintain the black
bear population in its "natural" ecological role, while providing visitors with
opportunities to view black bears and still keeping injuries and property
damages at an acceptable minimum level.
III. An Evaluation of the Park's Aquatic Resources with Emphasis on
A. Justification. National Park Service objectives concerning
fisheries resources require the maintaining of native fish populations in
as natural a condition as possible while providing recreational fishing at a
level compatible with the natural ability of the fisheries to support
themselves. On many Park waters the pressure of demands for fishing facilities is
heavy and growing heavier. Little information is available about natural
conditions in most Park waters or the effect that fishing is having on them. The
factual basis for sound management of most Park waters is lacking.
An adequate problem analysis is needed. This, with subsequent delineation of
specific projects and objectives, should be made by capable aquatic ecologists
and fishery biologists if over-all program coordination and maximum results are
to be attained. Objectives should include sufficient study of aquatic ecology,
fish population dynamics, and associated fishing demands to permit evaluation of
the effects of fishing and recognition of undesirable ecological conditions. The
most heavily used or otherwise ecologically sensitive Park waters should be
studied first. Efforts should be made to determine the "fishing load" that
specific Park waters can support without deterioration of aquatic ecosystems. The
findings of the studies should be synthesized into sound management programs for
specific Park waters with emphasis on methods of collecting information needed
for routine management and innovations for regulating and distributing the
IV. Research Needs of Lower Priority include:
A. The ecology of forest vegetation. Here the objectives should be:
1. A description and evaluation of the pattern of forest vegetation that
should be sought in relation to the pattern now existing.
2. Description of successional patterns in forest vegetation especially in
relation to the effect of:
a) Control of forest fires
b) Insect and disease control programs
c) Climatic factors
3. Formulation and testing of management techniques designed to accomplish
B. An evaluation of the direct effect of visitors on important natural
Consideration of Park problems by the proposed ecological research "planning
team" would result in changes in and additions to this list of needed research
projects. It is proposed that these and other projects relating to specific Park
needs be well planned, well coordinated, and well directed, but that additional
research by individuals or groups into problems of specific interest to them,
even though it may not seem to pertain to Park problems, continue to be
encouraged. In the long run, the results of such studies will add to our
understanding of the Park's ecology.
Grand Teton National Park
The most pressing research needs in Grand Teton National Park may be classed
as biological, geological, archeological, and human history. Basic research is
needed in all these fields to provide a background of information for
application in management and interpretation operations. Considerable applied
research in the biological field is also needed to identify management problems,
test solutions to problems, and develop criteria and standard methods for
Practically all research on Park biota and physical features would be of
value for increasing the effectiveness of interpretive and management operations,
but the research jobs that should have the highest priority involve situations
where problems are either apparent or suspected. A listing of such high-priority
A. Biological Research
1. An ecological classification of the vegetation of Grand Teton National
Scope: A quantatative classification of natural vegetative units.
Purpose: To provide an organized description of all natural vegetative units
that will serve as a foundation for detailed autecological and synecological
research on both plants and animals and will permit more effective communication
in interpretive and management operations.
2. Plant ecology.
Scope: Autecological and synecological research on the vegetation within
Grand Teton National Park.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on plant ecology to serve as a
foundation for animal-habitat interrelationship research, management operations,
and interpretive work.
3. Moose ecology.
Scope: Integrated quantitative studies of the life habits of moose, their
population dynamics, their habitat interrelationships, and their relationships
to other animals.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the moose, to identify factors
regulating population numbers, and to suggest practices needed for the management
of moose populations and their habitat.
4. Ecology of the Snake River Cutthroat Trout within Grand Teton National
Scope: Life history, population dynamics, ecology, and management of the
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the cutthroat, to identify
factors regulating populations, and to suggest needed management practices.
5. Bighorn sheep ecology.
Scope: Integrated quantitative studies of life habits of bighorn sheep,
their population dynamics, their habitat interrelationships, and their
relationships to other animals.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the bighorn sheep, to identify
factors limiting population increases, and to suggest practices needed for
management of bighorn populations and their habitat.
B. Geological Research
1. Pliocene paleontology.
Pliocene mollusks, ostracods, diatoms, pollen, and vertebrate fossils range
from common to prolific. They have been studied in only a few places, and no
extensive collections have been made. Collection and identification of these
assemblages should properly be a long-range study involving specialists in each
field. Material is well preserved. The data would be useful not only in
interpreting climate and environment during Pliocene time but also in charting
the evolution of plant and animal life in this area during the last 10 million
years and in determining how it was affected by the rise of the Teton Range and
the foundering of Jackson Hole.
2. Late Tertiary volcanism.
Geochemical and petrographic studies should be made of Miocene, Pliocene, and
Pleistocene pyroclastic and igneous rocks in the Teton Park area. The Miocene
rocks comprise the thickest (7,000 feet) nonmarine sequence of that age anywhere
in North America. They are mafic and derived from local vents in and adjacent to
Grand Teton National Park. The Pliocene rocks are felsic in composition, are
about 7,000 feet thick, but represent a completely different volcanic cycle.
This study should be integrated with a similar one in Yellowstone National Park.
The combination of data from the two areas would be of great value in determining
the why and when of both volcanic and tectonic events in the region.
3. Carboniferous paleontology.
4. Rock age determinations.
The Mississippian and Pennsylvanian faunas of the Berry Creek area, in the
northern part of Teton Park, are exceptionally well preserved and abundant. They
consist chiefly of marine brachiopods and corals. Their study is of regional
significance, for they will supplement data on the distribution of faunas in
other national parks and adjacent areas in the Rocky Mountain region.
The Precambrian, Cambrian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Cenozoic rocks contain
biotite, glauconite, potash feldspars, and other minerals suitable for either
rubidium-strontium, potassium-argon, or lead- alpha age determinations. About a
dozen are now available on Precambrian rocks of the Teton Range and one on the
middle Pliocene. Many more are needed. This would be an expensive undertaking,
but it is important because Teton Park and adjacent areas have the most complete
sedimentary record known in North America and it seems likely that a remarkably
precise time scale could eventually be compiled.
5. Determination of continuing crustal movement.
Tiltmeters should be installed along several lines extending across the floor
of Jackson Hole and into the Teton Range, both in and adjacent to Teton Park.
They would given quantitative data on the rapidity of the sinking of Jackson Hole
and the rising of the Teton Range and also disclose whether all or some of the
movement is along the Teton fault. Army Engineers have spent many millions of
dollars during the last 10 years in trying to keep the Snake River from moving
westward, adjacent to Teton Park. The tiltmeter program would help to determine
whether this expenditure is economically justified and also whether the movements
of the valley floor could affect proposed adjacent reclamation projects that
could be detrimental to the natural values of the Park.
6. Gravity survey.
A gravity survey of this seismically active area should be made and correlated
with the surface geological data.
7. Effects of glaciers on flora.
Ancient stumps, now far above timberline, are known in this area. The types of
trees that grew, and their carbon 14 age, should be determined so that the
postglacial, but pre-recent, altithermal time can be bracketed. This information,
in turn, can be used in plotting climatic variations and the rate of return of
floras after the last ice age.
C. Archeological Research
1. Jackson Lake artifacts.
A study of artifacts along the shore of Jackson Lake and adjacent areas,
supplemented by Lawrence, Nelson, Stewart, and other collections from Jackson
Hole (including also material in possession of the Park Service), would
contribute to an understanding of the Indian cultures of the Park. Nothing along
this line has ever been attempted.
2. Travel routes of the Indians.
A study of the artifacts along travois trails and migration routes, with
special reference to the Conant Pass route around the north end of the Teton
Range, should be made before the artifacts are picked up by amateur collectors or
the trails obliterated by time.
D. Historical Research
1. Post fur trade history.
A study and documentation as complete as possible should be made of the period
from about 1840 to the present time. The purpose of this job would be to provide
information for background interpretive material and to document the information
before it is completely lost.
The committee took no formal vote on these two Park research programs but
considered that they were valid and should be carried out.