Beyond Boundaries

A group of people listen to a presenter
Managers from local, state, and federal agencies across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem make efforts to coordinate the management of public land and cross-boundary issues, and seek scientific guidance.

NPS

 

Managing Resources and Impacts Across Political Lines

Despite the size of the ecosystem, Greater Yellow- stone’s biodiversity is not guaranteed. Many of its plant and animal species are rare, threatened, endangered, or of special concern, including more than 100 plants, hundreds of invertebrates, six fish species, several amphibian species, at least 20 bird species, and 18 mammal species. These are estimates because comprehensive inventories have not been completed. A healthy Yellowstone is important for meeting the park's mandate to preserve resources and values in a manner that provides for their enjoyment by people. At the same time, a healthy Yellowstone enhances the lives of people living outside the park, by providing sustainable resources such as clean water, wildlife populations, and vegetation communities.

Several factors strongly influence the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its management:

  • The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem spans different climate regimes and vegetation zones, crosses multiple jurisdictional boundaries, and is the last remaining large, intact native ecosystem in the contiguous United States.
  • The park’s geographic location also attracts humans who want to occupy increasing amounts of space in the ecosystem. This leads to habitat modification, which poses a serious threat to both biodiversity and to ecosystem processes. For example, when homes are built close to wilderness boundaries, they fragment habitats and isolate populations of plants and animals, cutting them off from processes necessary for survival.
  • Yellowstone National Park was created before the surrounding states existed, which makes its relationship to its neighbors different from many national parks. This park has exclusive jurisdiction over managing wildlife within the park boundary; wildlife management is driven by National Park Service mission and federal mandates, rather than state wildlife management objectives. However, the National Park Service recognizes ecological boundaries do not match the social and political boundaries established in the ecosystem. Thus, most managers in the park have established relationships with neighboring agencies to coordinate actions that, in some cases, are quite different on each side of the park boundary. The park works with the states on most issues, including wolf and bison management.
  • Time also affects how this ecosystem changes and at what pace. What are the intervals between volcanic eruptions? Between fires? How has forest composition changed in the past 100 years? How will climate change alter these patterns? These are the types of “time” questions that influence management of Yellowstone.

Ecosystem managers face these challenges by addressing the whole ecosystem, including preserving individual components and their relationships and linkages between them. Maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems preserves species more effectively than do emergency measures to bring back threatened species from the brink of extinction.

Partners

Effective management also requires strong partnerships. Several management and research partnerships exist among state, federal and tribal agencies to help focus resources and provide collaborative problem-solving on regional issues. Many of these partnerships include academic and non-profit institutions as well.

Greater Yellowstone Network

The Greater Yellowstone Network (GRYN) was established by the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program in 2000 to help enhance the scientific basis for stewardship and management of natural resources in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Teton National Park (including John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway), and Yellowstone National Park. The GRYN is one of 32 units nationwide that group some 270 national parks into networks based on geographic similarities, common natural resources, and resource protection challenges. This collective approach to inventory and monitoring helps to facilitate collaboration and information sharing between the parks and with other natural resource management agencies and interests. For more information about this program, visit science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/gryn.

Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit

The Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit brings together the region’s best scientific talent and scholarship to help manage resource problems across social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental arenas. The Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit conducts research, education, and technical assistance on both agency specific issues and on issues concerning areas of mixed ownership. This information is made available to those who need it, including land managers, and political and industry leaders. For more information about this program, visit www.cfc.umt.edu/cesu.

Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee

In 1964, the managers of the national parks and national forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem formed the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) to seek solutions to common issues. One of the nation’s earliest land management partnerships, the GYCC reportedly first signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1964. In 2000, national wildlife refuge managers joined the committee, and the Bureau of Land Management joined in 2012. The GYCC now includes managers from two national parks, five national forests, two national wildlife refuges, and the Bureau of Land Management in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. The GYCC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.

During its five decades, the GYCC has provided guidance and decisions for managing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The GYCC managers set priorities for interagency coordination, and allocate staff and funding to advance these priorities. Interagency staff and partners collaborate on topic-specific committees to address priority issues and to coordinate operations such as wildfire management. Current GYCC priorities are:

  • Ecosystem health: air and water quality, invasive species management, species on the brink (bears, cutthroat trout, whitebark pine) and climate change adaptation
  • Connecting people to the land
  • Greater Yellowstone landscape integrity
  • Sustainable operations

Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative

The Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative is an alliance of conservation partners with common landscape conservation goals for building ecosystem resilience within the Great Northern geographic area, extending from the Columbia Basin, Rocky Mountains, and Sage Steppe of the Interior West in the United States and Canada. The partnership shares data, science, and capacity and works across boundaries and jurisdictions. The cooperative links local resource needs with national conservation priorities. For more information about this program, visit greatnorthernlcc.org.

 
GIS specialists prepare maps for fire fighters and fire managers.

Fire Management

Balancing the benefits and threats of fire.

An aerial view of the Gallatin Valley of Montana in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Land Use

How land is used outside the park can disrupt ecological processes within the park.

 

Resources

Ashton, I.W., et al. 2010. Observed and projected ecological response to climate change in the Rocky Mountains and Upper Columbia Basin: A synthesis of current scientific literature. Natural Resource Report NPS/ROMN/ NRR—2010/220.http://www.fedgycc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NRR_Ecological_Synthesis_FINAL_high.pdf

McWethy D.B., et al. 2010. Climate and terrestrial ecosystem change in the U.S. Rocky Mountains and Upper Columbia Basin: Historical and future perspectives for natural resource management. Natural Resource Report NPS/GRYN/NRR—2010/260. http://www.fedgycc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/McWethy_et_al_2010_NPS_NRR260_Climate_Terrestrial_Change_RockyMtns_UprColBasin.pdf

Olliff, T. et al. 2010. A Science Agenda for the Greater Yellowstone Area. Yellowstone Science 18(2):14–21.

Schullery, Paul. 2010. Greater Yellowstone Science: Past, Present, and Future. Yellowstone Science 18(2):7–13.

Last updated: November 17, 2017

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

(307) 344-7381

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