Land Use

A wide view of sprawling roads intermixed with fields and natural areas
Exurban development (top right) and forest dieback (bottom left) in the Gallatin Valley of Montana, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Courtesy Andrew Hansen

Yellowstone's boundary and surrounding public land with private development around the edges
Rural housing and landownership in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


How land is used outside the park can disrupt ecological processes within the park. Though still sparse in the early 2000s, the population in Greater Yellowstone has grown steadily since 1970. Data compiled by the Greater Yellowstone Inventory and Monitoring Network show that from 1990 to 2010, the population in and near the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem increased nearly 50% (approximately 220,000 to 323,000). About 27% of land in the counties that comprise the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is privately owned. Much of the growth occurred in rural residential areas. Development density is expected to increase, but with rural residential development continuing to dominate. The distribution of population growth on private land in recent decades is having a larger impact on the ecosystem than the population increase itself.

Private land in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is primarily located in valley bottoms and flood plains, which generally have longer growing seasons and higher plant productivity than the higher elevation areas that are protected as public land. In addition, new homes have been disproportionately located in areas that are important for biodiversity, especially grizzly bear habitat, bird hot spots, and riparian zones. The percentage of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem used for agriculture remained rela­tively constant from 1920 to 1990, but has declined slightly since then to about 18%. Agriculture is still a significant use of the land. In 2007, the percentage of agricultural crop land in the counties in and near the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem ranged from less than 5% to more than 50%.


Source: Data Store Saved Search 3628. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Bison grazing in the grassy areas around a hot spring with snow covering part of the ground.
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Yellowstone is the heart of one of the largest, nearly intact temperate-zones on Earth.

Last updated: July 30, 2019

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Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168



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