A Federal Court Could Save Yellowstone’s Grizzlies From the Trump Administration


Wednesday, January 10, 2018    By Mike Ludwig

A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration’s decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list — a move that has paved the way for trophy hunts of the iconic animals.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are endangered and qualify for special federal protection. However, last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that carved out the bear population in the Yellowstone region and removed it from the endangered species list. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee who oversees the wildlife agency, personally announced the change in June 2017.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land outside of the national park system, and Wyoming officials are already making plans to propose grizzly bear hunts later this year.

“We’re not anti-hunting, but we are certainly not excited about trophy hunting of grizzly bears in one of the last few places where they continue to exist,” said Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the legal request, in an interview with Truthout.

“Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter.” — Timothy Preso, Earthjustice

Preso said some hunters in the region hunt elk and other large game for food, but grizzly bears are likely to be hunted as trophies. Yellowstone grizzlies are much more valuable as icons that draw tourists to the region and as “ambassadors of wildness,” as Preso put it, than as trophies in a big-game hunter’s private collection.

“Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter,” Preso said.

A number of environmental groups and nine Native tribes sued Zinke and the Interior Department last year for removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a designation that has helped protect their habitat from logging and oil and gas development. Zinke is aggressively working to lift restrictions on development and fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

US Fish and Wildlife is now reviewing its decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies and is asking for public comment in light of a recent court ruling that returned federal protections to wolves in the Great Lakes region. Officials have left the rule delisting the bears in effect while they reconsider it, allowing state game wardens to move ahead with hunting plans.

Preso said the move by US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the decision without withdrawing it altogether is unusual. His coalition is asking a federal judge in Missoula to restore the endangered species protection to the Yellowstone grizzly bears while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their delisting decision, which they have promised to do by March 31.

Taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

“The Yellowstone region’s grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision,” Preso said in a statement.

The environmental coalition argues that US Fish and Wildlife’s effort to review its own rulemaking is proof that the agency “did not complete its homework” before removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. For example, conservationists say officials must research how delisting could impact the total population of endangered grizzly bears across the West.

Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service. However, environmentalists warn that grizzlies across the rest of the lower 48 states have not done as well, and taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they clearly have not recovered.

“Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies’ poor status overall is simply ludicrous,” Greenwald said in a statement.

Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, but it is allowed outside the park boundaries, where wildlife is managed by state agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming officials are currently considering public input on a management plan for bears that would potentially include hunting within federal limits, according to local reports.

As predator populations slowly recover from deforestation and loss of habitat caused by human development, their territory increasingly butts up against ours. In 2016, wildlife managers captured 39 grizzly bears in Wyoming to resolve “conflicts” with humans, according to a state report. These “conflicts” typically involved bears killing livestock, eating pet food or foraging in someone’s garbage. Twenty-two of the captured bears were killed, often for having a history of “conflicts” with people and their property.


Montana won’t recommend Yellowstone grizzly hunting this year

Grizzly bear (copy)

Grizzly bears were protected from hunting for mover 40 years while listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Public Domain/Neal Herbert via NPS

Not this year.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Thursday that it won’t ask the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve a hunting season for the recently delisted Yellowstone grizzly bears this year.

The bears were protected from hunting for more than 40 years while they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Those protections were lifted in 2017, which opened the door for a potential hunting season. 

In a news release, FWP director Martha Williams said the decision is meant to reinforce the state’s commitment to the grizzly bear’s long-term survival.

“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said.

FWP will make the recommendation to its governing board at its next meeting Feb. 15.

The announcement comes weeks after Wyoming Game and Fish gained permission from its governing board to draw up grizzly bear hunting regulations, the first time since the 1970s that either state has had the legal authority to do so.

Removing Endangered Species Act protections for the bears gave more management responsibility to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Prior to the delisting, each state had to create a framework for a potential hunting season, which was included in the final conservation strategy.

Part of the strategy is meant to limit the number of bears that are killed by humans. It created a level of “discretionary mortality” based on a population estimate. An agreement lined out before delisting split the allowable bear deaths between the three states.

The official government estimate puts the Yellowstone grizzly population at about 700 bears. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for FWP, said the allowable deaths for the three states was calculated to be 17.

Wyoming gets most of the allowable deaths, with the numbers this year being 10 males and 1 female. Idaho’s allowance is one female. Montana’s allowable mortality is 0.9 females and 5.8 males.

Montana will still retain its portion of allowable deaths, meaning the numbers for the other two states would remain the same whether the state decides to hunt bears or not.

FWP cited the ongoing legal challenge to the delisting as another reason it didn’t want to propose a hunting season.

At least five separate lawsuits over the delisting were filed by environmental groups and Native American tribes. They argue the bears shouldn’t have been removed from the list because the animals still face threats from climate change and shifts in their diets that result in more human-bear conflict.



grizzly bear
A grizzly bear roams through the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on May 18, 2014. Conservation groups have slammed the decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act.JIM URQUHART/REUTERS

The decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of endangered species has been called “a gift to trophy hunting” by conservation groups.

Related: Killing of famed Yellowstone grizzly intensifies protection debate

The bear has enjoyed protected status for 42 years, during which time its numbers grew to more than 700 from just 136. On Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said it is now time to call the operation a success and to remove the bear from the Endangered Species Act, instead allowing states to take control over its future.

“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Zinke said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

The move, which was first proposed by the previous administration of President Barack Obama last year, will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the federal register. At least immediately, it will not lead to open season on grizzly bear hunting. As well as being restricted to the bears that travel outside of the park’s boundaries, hunts will only be allowed if the number of bears remains above 600.

However, many conservationists argue that Thursday’s decision adds yet another threat to the future survival of the bears, whose habitat they say is already endangered by climate change.

“The Trump Administration’s delisting maneuver is a gift to trophy hunting and oil and gas interests,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, tells Newsweek in an email. “The bears continue to face an array of threats, and the last thing they need are wealthy elites chasing them down and shooting them for trophies.”

The action will not affect the nearly 1,000 grizzlies inhabiting Glacier National Park in Montana. But experts have said protections for those bears could soon similarly be removed, according to The New York Times.

Prior to the 1850s and the onset of widespread hunting and trapping, grizzly bears across North America numbered around 50,000. And some conservationists have argued that placing their conservation back in the hands of states, which can use hunting as a form of population control, is an unnecessary risk. Indeed, Tim Preso, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice, has said that legal action to prevent the change is already being considered.

“We’re certainly prepared to take a stand to protect the grizzly, if necessary,” he told the Associated Press. “There’s only one Yellowstone. There’s only one place like this. We ought not to take an unjustified gamble with an iconic species of this region.”

In addition to conservation groups, the move has also been opposed by Native American tribes, for whom the grizzly bear is a sacred animal. A treaty opposing hunting of the bear has been signed by 125 tribes.

Zinke, a former senator from Montana, has a lifetime score of just 4 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, with the group indicating that of 73 votes on bills with environmental impact, only three were pro-environment.

Trump’s two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are known to be fond of big-game hunting and have previously attracted criticism for posing for photos alongside dead animals, including a leopard and an elephant.

What went so wrong with Trump sons that they could kill this beautiful creature

Unnatural Disaster: Will America’s Most Iconic Wild Ecosystem Be Lost To A Tidal Wave Of People?



Does the "M" on the Bridgers stand for Minneapolis? When projected out at a three percent growth rate, Bozeman/Gallatin Valley will reach the present-day population of Minneapolis in half a century.  In fact, Bozeman/Gallatin is growing at four percent, meaning it will be Salt Lake City-sized in 18 years and Minneapolis sized in 36 years. Composite photo of Minneapolis skyline and Bozeman created by MoJo staff

Does the “M” on the Bridgers stand for Minneapolis? When projected out at a three percent growth rate, Bozeman/Gallatin Valley will reach the present-day population of Minneapolis in half a century. In fact, Bozeman/Gallatin is growing at four percent, meaning it will be Salt Lake City-sized in 18 years and Minneapolis sized in 36 years. Composite photo of Minneapolis skyline and Bozeman created by MoJo staff

The problem is that the Lords of Yesteryear never disappeared as we were promised and the challenges of the New West are far worse than we were promised. I don’t want a West of man-camps and gas field booms, nor a West of precious tourist towns that exist to feed a global cowboy/mountain man/Disney/ski resort/New Age fantasy, surrounding by busted towns that are ghettos for workers.” —Luther Propst

In the stillness of a summer morning, haze from wildfire smoke thickening the air, Randy Carpenter arrives for a hike up Sypes Canyon in the pastoral northern outskirts of Bozeman, Montana. Ascending into the Bridger Mountain foothills, we talk about how “crazy” it feels these days “in town”, how quickly new subdivisions are springing up in fields that a year ago were covered with wheat.
And then Carpenter starts in, reciting some jaw-dropping statistics that seem abstract until we reach an overlook and gaze clear-eyed into an uncertain future.
Before us, and stretching for nearly 40 miles to the next muted horizon is the Gallatin Valley, one of the fastest-growing semi-rural settings in America. Carpenter, known for his work as a career land use planner, says it won’t be long, given current trend-lines, before the vast chasm of space fills in with exurban development.
Yes, it’s a fact in the Anthropocene: places grow and inevitably change. I’ve been fortunate to view some of the more spectacular undiscovered ones firsthand in my reporting around the world, but what Carpenter says has radically altered the way I think about the place I call home—the place that I assumed given the huge base of public lands would always be protected.
It’s made me realize no other models from elsewhere can be imported to resolve what’s currently happening rapidly in Greater Yellowstone, the wildest corner of the Lower 48 states.
The Gallatin Valley is rapidly filling in, with scattershot sprawl sweeping across rural areas of the county. “Before a baby born this year graduates from the new high school in Bozeman, she will watch the valley where she’s growing up add the equivalent of a Boulder, Colorado to the landscape," Randy Carpenter says.  Photo courtesy EcoFlight (ecoflight.org)

The Gallatin Valley is rapidly filling in, with scattershot sprawl sweeping across rural areas of the county. “Before a baby born this year graduates from the new high school in Bozeman, she will watch the valley where she’s growing up add the equivalent of a Boulder, Colorado to the landscape,” Randy Carpenter says. Photo courtesy EcoFlight (ecoflight.org)

Rather, the paradoxical challenge, Carpenter says, is that Greater Yellowstone’s own salvation depends upon it becoming the example other regions with wildlands in their backyards emulate. But it means achieving something that’s seldom been accomplished in the modern world—defying human nature.

Bozeman/Gallatin County presently is inhabited by around 105,000 human denizens. One of every ten Montanans dwells here. But within 24 years, given a three percent growth rate, the number will double.
It means that Bozeman/Gallatin, by 2041, will equal the size of Salt Lake City proper (minus its suburbs).  Even more sobering, in less than half a century, 2065, based on the same rate of annual growth, there will be a population of 420,000 (equal to all the residents of the entire Greater Yellowstone today).
That’s a concentration of people, to put it in perspective, Minneapolis-sized, consuming much of the open space between the Bridgers and the distant ranch/farmlands around Three Forks, the town so named because it’s where the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers converge to form the birthplace of the Missouri.
Many Bozemanians, Carpenter admits, probably find the prospect of us becoming Salt Lake and then Minneapolis inconceivable, especially those boosters of growth who have steadfastly fought progressive planning and zoning, impact fees, placing conservation initiatives on the ballot for voters to decide and anything else they find to be restrictive of individual liberty.
Point of fact and this is the shocking part, Gallatin County is actually growing at better than a four percent rate—not three. (Recently, I spoke with a local public health official who serves on a committee addressing the shortage of doctors in southwest Montana and the demographic data they are using suggests the growth rate for Bozeman/Gallatin is actually eight percent, meaning the scenario above could happen twice as fast).
Carpenter uses three percent to be conservative—indisputable and very conservative, it turns out, given still other wildcard factors that could make the growth projections seem quaint. He makes his calculation using the “rule of 72” in which the constant growth rate is divided into 72 and it provides the number of years it takes a locale to double in population. (Ironically, the same formula can be used for calculated return on investment).  A three percent annual growth rate means Bozeman/Gallatin will double in 24 years.  A four-percent rate, meanwhile, means it would only take 18 years to reach Salt Lake City and 36 years (or the year 2053) to match the population of present-day Minneapolis proper.
Growth, some opine, is always good, that it’s better to be booming in the West instead of busting. But the questions are: good for whom, good for what, and how are growth’s real impacts and hidden costs really being manifested? Most importantly, who is paying for them?
Bozeman, as the largest community in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, could be regarded as its capital city yet it does not exist in isolation; its trends have huge implications for every corner of the region.

Bozeman/Gallatin, by 2041, will equal the size of Salt Lake City proper (minus its suburbs). Even more sobering, in less than half a century, 2065, based on the same rate of annual growth, there will be a population of 420,000 here, equal to present-day Minneapolis proper. And Carpenter says that could actually be a conservative estimate, with this scenario arriving faster than people think.

While the effects of climate change are considered so amorphous, that, for now, they’re difficult to wrap one’s mind around, projections for growth, based on extrapolations of hard existing data, are impossible to dismiss.
There is today a palpable sense of social unrest welling up in Bozeman related to the multiplying impacts of growth. It is accompanied by a widespread perception that developers, especially speculators who made fortunes in real estate development in states like California, Utah and Colorado, have moved in for the kill, taking advantage of naive, provincial-minded planning staffs that are increasingly overwhelmed and codes that are lax compared to where the developers came from.
There’s no denying the physical manifestations transforming a landscape like the Gallatin Valley that, since in the 1860s, has held some of the richest farmland in the state while providing key wildlife habitat for species synonymous with the ecosystem.
“The impacts of growth are not only accelerating. The effects are compounding,” Carpenter says. “This isn’t just another boom that will eventually be mitigated by another bust.”
The eruption of development is unprecedented, permanent and the impacts irreversible, he notes. Unless leaders in the region, from public land managers to city and county elected officials, become consciously aware of what’s happening and try to get ahead of it, the consequences will be severe, ecologically and economically, he says.
Planner and growth expert Randy Carpenter of FutureWest standing on public lands in the Bridger Mountains with Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley unfolding to his back. Todd Wilkinson photo.

Planner and growth expert Randy Carpenter of FutureWest standing on public lands in the Bridger Mountains with Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley unfolding to his back. Todd Wilkinson photo.

Carpenter, who works for the non-profit think-tank FutureWest, which advises rural communities on how to remain vibrant while preserving their character and sense of place, is not known for speaking in platitudes.

If and when the anticipated future lying before us arrives, scientists and planners like Carpenter, who have witnessed the results of runaway growth elsewhere, say a vital part of Greater Yellowstone, the most heralded complex of still-wild terrain in the West will be lost.
“In the middle of a boom, we rarely hear about downsides,” Carpenter, a native of Iowa, says. “The boosters don’t want to hear it. They choose to live in denial and their attitude works as long as it’s not challenged. I’ve seen a lot of farms and wildlife habitat disappear but I’ve never seen a subdivision vanish. Concrete, asphalt, roads, traffic, noise pollution—they are forever. What we forget is that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem isn’t just uncommon. It is an American treasure and the only one of its kind in the world.”
Whether one is Republican or Democrat, a political conservative or liberal, Carpenter reckons that few enjoy paying higher taxes. One prominent expert on land use planning has described growth as essentially a Ponzi scheme by which the economic costs associated with frenzied growth in the present are paid for by receipts generated from growth in the future. The implication is that citizens unknowingly subsidize the very kind of costly growth and profits for special interests they don’t want to pay for.
What’s at stake? In a word, wildness; more specifically, a rare quality of wildness capable of sustaining the survival of an unsurpassed assemblage of free-ranging wild creatures. This—wildlife— is the superlative that sets Greater Yellowstone apart from any other region in the Lower 48. It has every major species that was here before Europeans arrived on the continent, most notably grizzly bears and wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, deer herds, moose and a huge diversity of bird and other mammals, including wolverines, black-footed ferrets Canada lynx, trumpeter swans and sage grouse.
What makes Greater Yellowstone eminently distinct is that the large ungulate herds still move across the landscape along ancient migration pathways between seasonal summer habitats in the mountains, where mothers give birth to their young, and winter ranges. The routes used by elk, mule deer and pronghorn are among the longest in North America. Such migrations have vanished everywhere else due to habitat fragmentation caused by human activities. Why do conservation biologists liken Greater Yellowstone to the wildebeest migration across Africa’s Serengeti Plain? This is why. See map below.
This map created by the Wyoming Migration Initiative identified the long-distance elk migrations that spiral in and out of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It's one of the things that make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem extraordinary in the world.. Map courtesy Wyoming Migration Initiative (http://migrationinitiative.org)

This map created by the Wyoming Migration Initiative identified the long-distance elk migrations that spiral in and out of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It’s one of the things that make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem extraordinary in the world.. Map courtesy Wyoming Migration Initiative (http://migrationinitiative.org)

What has spared Greater Yellowstone is its relative geographic isolation, the fact that it does not have a major urban area like Salt Lake City, Denver, or Boise parked on its doorstep. Indeed, the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies and the Wasatch Front are perhaps the poster children of how true wildness in the West has eroded and suffers in the age of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene being a term describing the era in which human presence wields such influence that it not only causes climate change and species extinctions but fundamentally alters the function of nature itself.

Bozeman is positioned on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s northern flank but by dint of setting it is also a wildlife crossroads between wildlands to the south and north, east and west. (Mountain Journal will explore the vital importance of having functioning biological corridors between other ecosystems in future stories).
The 20 contiguous counties comprising Greater Yellowstone are, put together, the fastest growing rural region in the country. It’s vital to note the caveat that not all of Greater Yellowstone’s counties have significantly growing populations, but the ones that do have created a spillover effect that impacts their slower-growing brethren.
The growth in Bozeman/Gallatin is actually a harbinger, experts say. Parallel growth scenarios are playing out around the region—astride the Tetons in adjoining Teton County, Wyoming and Teton County, Idaho; the booming state highway 20 corridor between Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Island Park, Idaho; the southern tier of Jackson Hole stretching toward Hoback Junction and Star Valley; a triangle of topography formed by Cody, Wyoming, Red Lodge, Montana and Billings.  More people also are pouring into Paradise Valley between Livingston along the Yellowstone River and Gardiner, that is itself the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
How will the wild character of Greater Yellowstone be changed when Bozeman/Gallatin Valley hold as many people as present-day Minneapolis? What happens to the Teton region when the corridor between Idaho Falls-Rexburg and Teton Valley-Jackson Hole is covered in Salt Lake City-style sprawl?

How will the wild character of Greater Yellowstone be changed when Bozeman/Gallatin Valley hold as many people as present-day Minneapolis? What happens to the Teton region when the corridor between Idaho Falls-Rexburg and Teton Valley-Jackson Hole is covered in Salt Lake City-style sprawl?
Conservatively, if the growth rate of the past 30 years continues, the overall population of the Greater Yellowstone region is expected to surge, in just 13 years’ time, from the current 450,000 denizens, to 677,000. That translates on the ground, he says, to another100,000 homes. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t grow faster than that,” Carpenter says.  (The population of the entire state of Wyoming is 585,000; Montana a little over 1 million; and Idaho1.7 million)
The average number of people per dwelling in Greater Yellowstone homes is about 2.3, half the number of two generations ago. Yet even with fewer inhabitants, homes are being built with more square footage; many are going up in the forested wildland-urban interface where they are more likely to burn in a wildfire and residents expect to receive expensive taxpayer-subsidized firefighting services. Others, craving views, will unknowingly and with no context provided by realtors, site their dream casas in important wildlife winter range or near riparian areas (river corridors) considered biodiversity hotspots.
The space claimed by those homes in exurbia is not merely the envelope of the structure itself but it includes access roads and driveways, outbuildings, gardens and lawns fenced to keep wildlife out, barking dogs, housecats preying on songbirds, mini horse pastures and ground disturbance to accommodate essential services such as electricity, plumbing and septic.

Conservatively, if the growth rate of the past 30 years continues, the overall population of the Greater Yellowstone region is expected to surge, in just 13 years’ time, from the current 450,000 denizens, to 677,000. That translates on the ground to another100,000 homes.

Once infrastructure is bulldozed in for one subdivision, it fuels more adjacent access roads, and thus more infrastructure, accelerating the pace of exurban development and results in rising costs for counties, e.g. taxpayers, to provide public services. “Bozeman/Gallatin isn’t considered a metro area yet but by the middle of the next decade it will be and if we know anything about development trends nationwide, areas located at the edge of metro areas are growing fastest,” Carpenter says. “Before a baby born this year graduates from the new high school in Bozeman, she will watch the valley where she’s growing up add the equivalent of a Boulder, Colorado to the landscape.”
The current 450,000 population figure for Greater Yellowstone’s population does not include the 160,000 people currently living in nearby Billings/Yellowstone County located just 20 miles beyond the official northeast edge of the ecosystem. This is important because with Gallatin and Yellowstone counties bookending 140 miles of U.S. Interstate 90 between them, in-fill of development on the landscape is expected to be rapid and some have speculated that by the middle of this century there could be between 800,000 and 1 million people living between Three Forks and Billings..

The growth in Bozeman/Gallatin is actually a harbinger of parallel growth scenarios playing out around the region—astride the Tetons in adjoining Teton County, Wyoming and Teton County, Idaho; the booming state highway 20 corridor between Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Island Park, Idaho; the southern tier of Jackson Hole stretching toward Hoback Junction and Star Valley; a triangle of topography formed by Cody, Wyoming, Red Lodge, Montana and Billings. More people also are pouring into Paradise Valley between Livingston along the Yellowstone River and Gardiner, that is itself the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

Beyond Bozeman’s coming sprawl, there is another stunning reality. Within a decade or two, the population in the resort community of Big Sky could be approaching the size of Jackson Hole’s and will result in a complete biological east-west decapitation of the north-south running Madison Mountain Range. The Madisons have been an important passageway for wildlife. Big Sky, already bursting at the seams along the Gallatin River will be spilling westward out across the forested mountains into the Madison Valley. The enclave of Ennis will at least double. All of these figures do not include the large and increasing number of second home owners who do not claim Greater Yellowstone as their primary residence with the U.S. Census Bureau.
Within a few decades, the connect-the-dots corridor of Idaho Falls/Bonneville County, Idaho (currently 110K people) -Rexburg/Madison County, Idaho (40K)-Driggs/Victor/Teton County, Idaho (10K)-Jackson Hole/Teton County, Wyoming (24K)-Afton/Star Valley/Lincoln County, Wyoming (20K)-Pinedale/Sublette County, Wyoming (10K) will hold its own greater Salt Lake City equivalent of sprawl. Cody/Park County will hold a Bozeman-sized population. The Upper Yellowstone River Valley, between Gardiner and Livingston, will also be approaching Bozeman of today. Further, Billings/Laurel will be spilling into Red Lodge.
What is happening in Gallatin County, as just one example, does indeed have huge spill-over effect implications for the Madison and Paradise valleys, and the open space defining Bridger Canyon and even the Shields Valley along the western face of the Crazy Mountains. Several ecologists told me that even if public land remains unchanged and not significantly impaired—an impossibility with climate change and energy development—the effects of private land development will doom the major wildlife migration corridors.
While Greater Yellowstone is still ecologically intact, the way humans relate to it is multi-dimensionally fragmented.  Again, among wildlife professionals there is widespread agreement that unless leaders (including public land managers, county commissioners, state legislators and mayors) think big and cohesively, making conscious effort to avert destructive patterns of sprawl that have degraded natural environments elsewhere, Greater Yellowstone is destined to follow the same fate.
On top of the inward population migration of permanent and part-time residents, the front-country areas of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, already choked with summer traffic, have broken visitation records almost every year for the last decade. Escalating recreation pressure is happening too. Mountain biking and ATV users on national forests and BLM lands accounts for some of the largest growth in backcountry users and they are reaching remote places considered important and safe refugia for wildlife.
Some mountain biking advocates are working with the Utah Congressional Delegation, which has amassed a notorious anti-environmental voting record, to amend The Wilderness Act and open existing wilderness to bikers. Conflicts are erupting between differing user groups on both land and water.
The majority of Greater Yellowstone’s public landscape is administered by the U.S. Forest Service which oversees five different national forests that report to three different regions. There is presently no cohesive framework within the Forest Service  for assessing what the rapidly cumulative impacts of expanding recreation are on wildlife or what they’ll be in the future. The Forest Service claims it is both too understaffed and underfunded. to generate the data it needs to make truly informed decisions.
Correspondingly, a complaint being more frequently leveled against some regional and national environmental groups in Greater Yellowstone is that those organizations are happy to fundraise by highlighting the threats of resource extraction activities such as mining and energy development. But, critics of those groups say, they are unwilling to call out the impacts of recreation or scrutinize private land development for fear of alienating donors or losing popularity in the communities where they work. Is that true? Mountain Journal will examine it in future stories.
As damaging as intensive energy development is to habitat for sensitive species on public lands such as sage grouse, and as disruptive as it is to migrating wildlife such as pronghorn and mule deer, eventually it goes away, allowing rehab specialists to try to restore the land's ecological function. But the impacts that private land subdivisions have on wildlife are forever and they can negatively affect the health of species living on public land..  Photo of the Pinedale Anticline/Jonah Field complex courtesy EcoFlight (ecoflight.org)

As damaging as intensive energy development is to habitat for sensitive species on public lands such as sage grouse, and as disruptive as it is to migrating wildlife such as pronghorn and mule deer, eventually it goes away, allowing rehab specialists to try to restore the land’s ecological function. But the impacts that private land subdivisions have on wildlife are forever and they can negatively affect the health of species living on public land.. Photo of the Pinedale Anticline/Jonah Field complex courtesy EcoFlight (ecoflight.org)

Another major problem is that local and regional media has largely been missing in action in writing about growth. To date, there has not been a single journalist or publication devoted to covering the big-picture issues of the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem full time. Truth be told, the stories that have been written about growth in the region have been lacking in depth and analysis.

How can the public engage in informed discussion about what’s at stake if the media—which reaches the greatest number of people—examines growth myopically? In cases where the media has covered stories, the reporting has been misleading or notable for the questions that aren’t being asked.
Here’s an example: On March 30, 2017, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the largest newspaper of record in Greater Yellowstone, published the findings of a report assembled by a Bozeman-based economic development organization called the Prospera Business Network. Growth stats in the Prospera report were based on projections from the state of Montana which, in turn, came from numbers provided by a national consulting firm. Chronicle journalist Lewis Kendall referenced Prospera’s own description of its research as being “a comprehensive description of the regional economy.”
Gallatin County, Kendall wrote, is expected to hit 145,000 residents by 2060.  But Prospera’s projections and Kendall’s reporting, were off. Way way off, in fact, by several times what the actual growth rate is.  The data used by Prospera and the state calculated growth in Gallatin Valley at .8 percent when, again, it is closer to 4 percent in Bozeman/Gallatin.
“I found their publishing of this data to be bizarre,” Carpenter said.  The problem with the Prospera report, besides the faulty algorithms used to calculate the growth rate, is that elected officials have pointed to it in their assertions that growth isn’t an issue.  In fact, some vocal individuals claim that protecting public lands and planning and zoning on private land that safeguards open space and the environment are impediments to job creation.
As data being crunched by another Bozeman-based think-tank Headwaters Economics suggest, healthy wildlands and wildlife populations (indicated by the elk migration map above) are, far from inhibiting economic development, Greater Yellowstone’s most potent engines for prosperity. Nature is Greater Yellowstone’s golden goose.

“The big issue is just the level of disturbance being caused by constant, rising levels of human activity and it gets complicated for wildlife pretty fast. By the time you recognize a problem, it can be too late.” —Brent Brock

Together, the two national parks at the heart of Greater Yellowstone—Yellowstone and Grand Teton—infuse $1 billion in annual commerce driven by nature tourism to the region, with the marquee attractions being grizzlies, wolves and big game animals. The prospect of seeing wildlife attracts people from around the world.  Bozeman has become the state’s busiest commercial airport, as has Jackson Hole’s in Wyoming.
Nature tourism has yielded sustainable commerce more reliable than the proceeds in recent years generated by the other pillars—agriculture, logging, hard-rock mining and coal (subject variously to the whims to weather and markets).
The magnetic appeal of wildness in Greater Yellowstone’s 22.5 million acres of land, an area equal to the size of South Carolina, and the preponderance of it taking the form of federal public lands, has a net annual economic value of more than $4 billion, suggests Headwaters Economics founder Ray Rasker.
Even U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, when he operated RightNow Technology (since acquired by Oracle), told me in a story I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor that Bozeman/Gallatin’s clean and healthy environment was a major enticement for luring top-flight computer programmers to work for his company here.
But should Bozeman or even the governor of Montana be trying to aggressively recruit Silicon Valley firms to move their operations? What would be both the upshot and the downside to landscape and the livability of the Gallatin Valley if, say, 1,000 new, high-paying tech jobs were suddenly created?
No one, of course, is suggesting that good-paying jobs aren’t good, but most of those jobs would likely go to outsiders and families relocating here, further taxing schools, roads, eating up more land.  Were the prospect presented, would it be wise for city/county/state leaders to encourage it to happen, essentially pressing the accelerator on a speed of growth that is already explosive but being met with no coherent plan to deal with it?

In a recent study with several authors, Andy Hansen, a conservation biologist and director of the Landscape Biodiversity Lab at Montana State University in Bozeman, noted that the  number of private land tracts with no homes or few homes in Greater Yellowstone is declining. Meanwhile, the number of parcels with one home per 40 acres increased 328 percent from 1970 to 2010.

In 2013, 30 percent of Greater Yellowstone was considered “developed,” and some wildlife migration pathways were believed to be imperiled. By 2020, between 5 and 40 percent of the ecosystem’s most biologically rich habitats will undergo conversion from ranch and farmland to exurban development, he told me in a story I wrote for National Geographic.

Biologist Brent Brock, who operates a consulting business, HoloScene Wildlife Services, in Bozeman, thinks about the implications of human population pressure already being exerted on wildlife that inhabits both the front and backcountry. “The big issue is just the level of disturbance being caused by constant, rising levels of human activity and it gets complicated for wildlife pretty fast. By the time you recognize a problem, it can be too late,” Brock says. “For the longtime survival of species at a population level, such as wolverines and grizzlies, maintaining connectivity between wild lands inside Greater Yellowstone and beyond is essential and it necessarily includes wildlife being able to get safely through gauntlets of development in river valleys and across highways.”
The renowned guru of conservation biology, Reed Noss, has said nothing impacts the fabric of wildness more than roads or even recreation trails carrying heavy volumes of people. Based on his own research, Brock concurs.
“The effects are insidious because impacts might seem minor in the beginning but they can escalate,” he says. “Traffic volumes can cause animals to avoid moving through areas and they increase the probability of conflict. With development occurring in wildlife habitat or recreationists flooding into an area it’s the same thing. Either you are taking habitat directly away from wildlife or indirectly because the infrastructure brings in more people and it diminishes the carrying capacity and creates population sinks. People might see wildlife around for a while but offspring aren’t surviving so eventually the animals just disappear. The wildlife that do adapt become ‘mid-wild’ or habituated or it might mean, given the level of disturbance, that elk don’t migrate anymore.”
For those Greater Yellowstone residents who are indifferent to such impacts, unbridled growth has consequences for the very quality of life people are fleeing other areas to come here.
As Carpenter and I stand on the flanks of Sypes Canyon peering into the wood smoke from forest fires, he mentions that as Bozeman/Gallatin fledge into a full-fledged metro area, the beloved views of the Bridgers could, within a decade or two, become shrouded by smog that rivals Salt Lake City, seriously impairing air quality (and not including bad air made worse by forest fires).
That’s not good news for asthmatics but the most precious natural resource in Greater Yellowstone is water. A few years ago, a working group examined water use in Bozeman and arrived at this conclusion: By the year 2036 or when Bozeman reaches a population of 62,000—whichever comes first—the population of the city will outstrip the capacity of its existing water supply that takes the form of three reservoirs.
Bozeman’s population already is sailing through 50,000 and could reach the 62,000 threshold early in the 2020s, a full decade ahead of that prediction. Then what? “The water needs of the next fifty thousand people cannot be accommodated with the practices that supplied the first forty-five thousand,” said Bozeman city employee Lain Leoniak in a piece she wrote for the city’s website.
Carpenter says water could become a limiting factor that cools Bozeman/Gallatin’s growth.
For those who say the answer is simply to build more reservoir capacity by damming more mountain streams, climatologists note that the outlook for climate change effects are for hotter and drier summers and earlier or less winter snowpack. (In  future stories, coming soon, I will address the consequences of that and resorting to groundwater pumping).
But this, too, raises another tantalizing question: If Bozeman, which sits near the headwaters of a major river system, is looking at water challenges, what is going to happen in major urban areas like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver and Tucson? Will water shortages and nearly unlivably hot temperatures there result in an exodus of people?
Bozeman City Commissioner Chris Mehl, who is running for mayor in the fall, works as an analyst at Headwaters Economics and previously served as a Congressional aide..  He is frustrated by the knee-jerk anti-government sentiment that proliferates in the rural West—based on the trope that “big government” is trying to rob individuals of their freedoms.
But should the costs of an individual’s right to do business on private land be passed along to taxpayers and do individuals who are transforming landscapes have any responsibility to help protect assets valuable to the common good, such as wildlife?  It is clear that the free-market and laissez-fair capitalism has never resulted in a wild ecosystem like Greater Yellowstone staying protected.
In fact, there’s compelling fiscally-conservative argument that can be made for planning and zoning because it highlights predictable impacts and allows for crises to better be averted, like those that arise when towns run out of water, or a subdivision in the county discovers that its individual wells are contaminated by someone’s raw sewage due to septic systems put in on the sly and the cheap.
Mehl believes the only way that wildlife issues will resonate is if the threats are made tangible, not only in the eyes of citizens but the decision makers they elect. The media plays a crucial role. Paradoxically, at a moment in time when Greater Yellowstone most needs her residents to rally around a common vision, ideological divisions are at their deepest.
“To think more broadly and longer term cuts against the grain of human nature in some people,” Mehl said. “Frankly, I’m seeing a decline in the willingness of people to think long-term. It’s hard to get them out of their narrow mindset when they are scrambling to pay the bills.”
Click to enlarge photo: While the viewsheds on the east side of the Tetons are protected by the presence of Grand Teton National Park, the west side of the iconic mountains is experiencing a huge spillover effect from Jackson Hole. Teton Valley, Idaho also is facing growth pressures emanating from Idaho Falls and Rexburg.  Composite photo of Teton Valley, Idaho facing the Tetons created by MoJo staff

Click to enlarge photo: While the viewsheds on the east side of the Tetons are protected by the presence of Grand Teton National Park, the west side of the iconic mountains is experiencing a huge spillover effect from Jackson Hole. Teton Valley, Idaho also is facing growth pressures emanating from Idaho Falls and Rexburg. Composite photo of Teton Valley, Idaho facing the Tetons created by MoJo staff
If Bozeman/Gallatin is one of the main pistons in Greater Yellowstone, then Jackson Hole/Teton County, Wyoming is the other. Teton County is, per capita, one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. because of the high concentration of uber-wealthy individuals who live there permanently and seasonally. For years, severe housing shortages have resulted in high home prices and rents so expensive school teachers and firefighters can’t afford to live there.
Part of the blame is because 97 percent of Teton County is federal or state land and just three percent is privately owned.  Growth proponents have suggested that public land be divested to accommodate more development. But the truth is that the highway system in Teton County is already racked by urban-like congestion.
Today, more hotel rooms in Jackson Hole are being added to bring in more visitors who are shelling out hundreds of dollars a night while the service workers making the visitors’ beds have to make long commutes in and out of the valley. At the same time, multi-million-dollar, 10,000-square-foot homes are being built not only in Jackson Hole (but also, up north in Big Sky, Montana) exacting huge footprints and many are only inhabited for the equivalent of a few months out of every year. Meantime, development continues to fracture what remains of wildlife habitat with one indicator of the effects being a significant number of road-killed animals along the highways.
Packing more people into Teton County, critics of growth say, is not going to resolve any problems related to the impacts of sprawl and will only exacerbate the domino effects radiating in all directions.
“For better or for worse, Jackson Hole is the economic engine for Teton Valley, Idaho,” says Shawn Hill, executive director of Driggs, Idaho-based Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. His valley is located westward just over Teton Pass from Jackson Hole. “When Jackson overheats, we’re the release valve – especially when it comes to housing. However, over half of the housing units in Teton Valley now sell to second homeowners or investors, which soaks up much of the already limited housing inventory here.”
FutureWest, Teton Valley Advocates for Responsible Development and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance are three of the very few conservation organizations in Greater Yellowstone aggressively working on private land growth issues.
A number of excellent land trusts are protecting land by brokering conservation easements in Greater Yellowstone, and an effort called the High Divide Collaborative is collaborating with ranchers and farmers to protect agrarian land, but none really engages in the contentious trenches of shaping public policy. Moreover, the pace of development is far outstripping the scope of protection being achieved by land trusts alone.
The High Divide, so named because it applies geographically to the path of the Continental Divide as it runs from Wyoming into Idaho and Montana, represents the western flank of Greater Yellowstone.
It’s a microcosm of the big picture. In the past 50 years, according to Headwaters Economics, 51 percent of new homes were built outside of town centers in unincorporated portions of High Divide counties. Since 2010, this trend has increased and 63 percent of new homes were built outside of towns.
“This trend of an increasing amount of development occurring outside of town centers will impact and compromise the future of important working lands, scenery, and wildlife habitat for many of the iconic wildlife species associated with the High Divide, including elk, pronghorn antelope, grizzly bears, and wolverine,” Headwaters stated in a report.
Dispersed homes also restrict hunting opportunities, limit scenic vistas and open spaces, and increase potential conflicts with agricultural land owners.
Among High Divide counties, high degree of variability exists in the amount of out-of-town growth. For example, in Jefferson and Madison Counties in Idaho, 19 percent of homes built since 2000 were built out-of-town. By contrast, in Madison County, Montana, one of the agrarian jewels of Greater Yellowstone, 91 percent of new homes put up since 2000 were built out-of-town.
In the past 50 years, the number of new homes in the High Divide built in the Wildland-Urban Interface, prone to burning by wildfires, has increased by more than 300 percent, from 2,187 homes in 1963 to 8,915 in 2013.  Who is paying for the costs of defending structures built in vulnerable places? The public. Sprawl is wreaking havoc on the budgets of some counties struggling to pay for law enforcement, fire protection, emergency services, roads and their maintenance, planning staff, and transportation for such things as school buses.
In the next 10 years, nearly 150 square miles of currently undeveloped private land on the west side of Greater Yellowstone is forecasted to experience low-density creeping “exurban” development.
“Teton Valley, Idaho will not only be challenged by growth pressure, but also by correcting the mistakes of the past,” Hill said. “When it comes to managing growth, the Teton Valley community is often characterized by its divisions, but the vast majority of its residents want to protect its quiet, rural atmosphere. My biggest fear is that we’ll make the same mistakes again because we’ve lost sight of why we all choose to live here.”
If county commissioners in Greater Yellowstone aren’t together addressing the costs and impacts of growth extending beyond their jurisdictional boundaries, and federal and state agencies aren’t unified in addressing impacts on and beyond their public land boundaries, what are the options?
“There is a prevailing mentality that we as a region can deal with challenges the same way we handled them 20 to 30 years ago, and it’s incredibly shortsighted,” Carpenter says. “There is nothing preventing us from being smarter. It’s really a test of whether our leaders have the will and the courage to show they are capable of consciously avoiding the destructive patterns that have wrecked other places. Of course, it really comes down to the quality of the people citizens elect.”
As Bozeman/Gallatin races toward becoming Minneapolis and the valleys straddling the Tetons turn first into Bozeman and then Salt Lake City, Carpenter says it is recent events elsewhere that keep him up at night.
Greater Yellowstone does not exist in isolation from what’s happening in the rest of the world and that is the frightening wildcard. “This is what’s been haunting me,” Carpenter says. “I worry about  the deepening impacts climate change not just in the region with water and wildfires, but how events from afar impact us. Will hardship elsewhere drive significant numbers of people here?”
Scientists have been discussing the consequences of an ice shelf the size of Delaware breaking off Antarctica, melting and raising sea levels a foot along coastal areas where half of the population in the U.S. presently lives, he said.
“And then you look at Houston and Hurricane Harvey and Florida and Hurricane Irma, and Phoenix broiling in 120-degree heat, the water shortages coming to cities in the desert Southwest, and the fires in southern California,” Carpenter says from the slope of the Bridgers. “The current explosive growth in Greater Yellowstone is happening because the region is attracting a lot of people coming here with a lot of money wanting to live quieter lives closer to nature. They are the first big wave.”
That alone, he says, is creating a nightmare of cascading growth-related issues, to which leadership in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is either unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to confront.
“But how are the counties and towns going to handle a potential flood of climate refugees on top of the current inundation?” Carpenter asks. He doesn’t even need to speak the answer.
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Drone illegally buzzes grizzly bears in Grand Teton Park

OUTLAWS —  The battle against aerial harassment of wildlife continues as Grand Teton National Park rangers investigate the illegal use of a drone that buzzed a grizzly bear and her two cubs in the northwest Wyoming park on Wednesday.

Park spokeswoman Denise Germann tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide that rangers and others saw the drone hover close to the grizzlies.

But whoever was piloting the drone managed to retrieve it and flee without being seen.

Drone use is illegal for photography or any other public use on National Park Service property, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

State laws also prohibit their use in for aiding hunters.

Illegal drone use was also reported in Grand Teton during the total solar eclipse Monday, but Germann was unaware of anyone being cited.

She says there were instances of drone pilots preparing their drones for flight but being confronted by rangers before they launched.

A few related stories as wildlife managers march through this new technological invasion:


Rich Landers


The HSUS goes to federal court on behalf of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears

Sixty days ago, The HSUS told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that we’d see him in courtif his agency did not reconsider a wrong-headed decision to strip federal protections from grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We made good on that promise today.

Joined by our affiliate The Fund for Animals, The HSUS filed a complaint in the federal court for the District of Montana in Missoula. The complaint alleges multiple violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act – the latter a statute that provides a critical backstop to ensure that federal agency decisions are well-reasoned and that they properly evaluate scientific data.

Litigating this case in Missoula has special significance because it lies within the corridor connecting the two largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). Before they were nearly wiped out in the early 20th century, grizzly bears numbered in the tens of thousands and roamed across much of the North American continent. ESA protections beginning in 1975 rescued grizzlies from the precipice of extinction. But the fact is that much work remains. The GYE population still numbers fewer than 700 grizzlies, fragmented populations are disconnected, and staple foods like whitebark pine nuts and cutthroat trout remain in sharp decline. Each of the last two years saw record numbers of bears poached, run over on highways, and killed by state agents in so-called “management actions” as the bears have been forced to range further and further outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in search of food.

There is clear scientific evidence to necessitate maintaining protections and continued federal monitoring for the grizzly bear population. But instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored expert data and conducted a tortured statutory analysis to turn over management of bears to states eager to align with the narrow interests of trophy hunters, ranchers, and other consumptive users of our nation’s shared natural resources. Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have already begun the process of planning trophy-hunting seasons on bears, just as they have done after federal protections for the gray wolf were removed. Now, with federal protections eliminated for the Great Bear and hunting seasons looming, serious-minded scientists honestly wonder whether Yellowstone’s bears will ever again connect with populations in northern Montana and Idaho and establish a viable population of grizzly bears in the United States.

While the decision to strip protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears is rickety as a matter of law and science, it’s also wrong on economics and the values of America’s great majority of citizens. As I’ve argued in this context and others, grizzlies are more valuable alive than dead. They are responsible for bringing in tens of millions of dollars into local economies in and around the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The GYE states, acting through unelected and unaccountable game commissions, are shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring the guides, photographers, hoteliers, and small business people whose livelihoods depend on live grizzlies. Recently, the newly elected government in British Columbia, relying largely on a concern for animal welfare and for the economic health of rural communities, pledged to bar the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in the province by the end of November.

Delisting and trophy hunting this iconic species is more than just an attack on principles of conservation, science-based decision-making, indigenous rights, government accountability, and animal welfare. It’s an assault on one of America’s most iconic species, situated in America’s most storied ecological region. The HSUS is proud to stand with an enormous range of stakeholders to defend the grizzly bear.


The Wolf at Trout Creek


The bison are in rut at Alum Creek.

Two or three hundred of the shaggy beasts are crowded in the little valley. The bulls have left their normal bachelor groups and joined the big herds of cows and calves to parry each other for  preferred mates. They are antsy, kicking up dust devils that swirl around them like brown mist.

I walk slowly up the creek to a group of five dark bison, three females and two males. One of the bulls looks ancient. His eyes are crusty, one of his black horns broken. He is large, but unsteady on his legs, which look too thin to support his bulk. He sucks breaths deeply and raggedly. His lower lip is extended and quivering as he approaches one of the young cows. He shakes his head, his tongue flicks repeatedly at the air, as if tasting the estrus.

As the old patriarch struggles to mount the cinnamon-colored female, a young bull rushes over, butts him in the side, nearly knocking him down. The young bull kicks at the ground, snorts aggressively. The old bull stands his ground for a moment, drool stringing from his mouth. Then finally he turns away from what will almost certainly be his last summer. He staggers downstream towards me, his head hung low, flies gathering at his eyes.

I am less than a mile from Yellowstone’s main road through the Hayden Valley, an artery thickly clogged with vans, mobile homes and the leather-and-chrome swarms of weekend motorcycle ganglets. There is no one else here in the pathway of the great herds. Even the metallic drone of the machines has faded so that I can hear the heavy breath of the bison in their annual ceremony of sexual potency.

Even bison, the very icon of the park, aren’t safe here in their last sanctuary. The shaggy bovines are victims of rancher panic and a gutless government. Like cattle and elk, bison can carry an infectious bacterium that leads to a disease called brucellosis which can, rarely, cause cows to abort fetuses. There’s no evidence that Yellowstone bison have transmitted the disease to Montana cattle, grazing cheaply on public lands near the park. But as a preventive strike, all bison that wander outside the boundaries of the park in search of forage during the deep snows of winter are confined in bison concentration camps, tested  and either killed on site or shipped to slaughter-houses.

Not to worry. Ted Turner is coming to the rescue.  I read in the morning paper that Turner is offering to liberate the bison quarantined at Corwin Springs, ship them to his 113,000 acre Flying D Ranch south of Bozeman, fatten them on his vast rangeland grasses and serve them up for $18 a plate at his restaurants.

Suddenly, the old bull turns my direction, angry and frustrated. He snorts, paws at hard dirt and feigns a charge.

I retreat and stumble south across the slope of stubborn sagebrush, over a rounded ridge and down into the Trout Creek valley, leaving the bison to settle their mating preferences in peace.

I’m leaking a little blood. The day before I took a nasty plunge down the mossy face of an andesite cliff at a beautiful waterfall in the Absaroka Mountains, ripping the nail off my big toe.

Each time my foot snags a rock an electric jolt stabs up my left leg. I stop at a at the crest of the ridge, find a spot clear of bison pies, and sit down. I ease off my boot and bloody sock, untwist the cap from a metal flask of icy water and pour it over my swollen toe, already turning an ugly black.

Even in late summer, the valley of Trout Creek is lush and green with tall grasses in striking contrast to the sere landscape of the ridges and the broad plain of the Hayden Valley. The creek itself is an object lesson in meander, circling itself like a loosely coiled rope on its reluctant path to the Yellowstone River. Once acclaimed for its cutthroat trout, the creek has been invaded by brookies, rainbows and brown trout—though these genetic intrusions are viewed with indifference by the great blue heron that is posing statuesquely in the reeds, waiting to strike.

Fifty years ago, Trout Creek was an entirely different kind of place. This valley was a dump, literally, and as such it was then thick with grizzly bears. The bears would assemble in the early evening, after the dump trucks had unloaded the day’s refuse from the migration of tourists to Fishing Bridge and Canyon and Tower Junction. Dozens of grizzlies would paw through the mounds of debris, becoming conditioned to the accidental kindness of an untrustworthy species.

The bears became concentrated at the dump sites and dependent on the food. This all came to a tragic end in 1968 when the Park Service decided to abruptly close the Trout Creek dump, despite warnings from bear biologists, Frank and John Craighead. Denied the easy pickings at the trash head that generations of bears had become habituated to, the Craigheads predicted that the grizzlies would begin wandering into campgrounds and developed sites in search of food. Such entanglements, the Craigheads warned, would prove fatal, mostly to the bears.

And so it came to pass. The dump-closure policy inaugurated a heinous decade of bear slaughter by the very agency charged with protecting the bruins. From 1968 to 1973, 190 grizzly bears in Yellowstone were killed by the Park Service, roughly a third of the known population. That’s the official tally. The real number may have been twice that amount, since the Park Service destroyed most of the bear incident reports from that era. Many bears died from tranquilizer overdoses and dozens of others were air-dropped outside the park boundaries only to be killed by state game officials.

The situation for the great bear has scarcely improved over the last forty years. There are more insidious ways to kill, mostly driven by the government’s continued lack of tolerance for the bear’s expansive nature. New park developments have fragmented its range, while cars, trashy campers, gun-totting tourists and back-country poachers rack up a grim toll. And now the climate itself is conspiring against the grizzly by inexorably burning out one of the bear’s main sources of seasonal protein, the whitebark pine.

Yellowstone is a closed system, a giant island. Genetic diversity is a real concern for Yellowstone’s isolated population of bears. So is the possibility of new diseases in a changing climate. The death rate of Yellowstone grizzlies has been climbing the last few years. The future is bleak. So, naturally, as one of its opening shots, the Trump and his wrecking crew move to delist the Yellowstone population from the Endangered Species Act, stripping the bear of its last legal leverage against the forces of extinction.

During the very week I was hobbling around Yellowstone one of Montana’s most famous grizzlies was found by a rancher, shot and killed on the Rocky Mountain Front near the small town of Augusta. He was a giant, non-confrontational bear who weighed more than 800 pounds and stood more than seven-and-a-half feet tall. He was beloved by grizzly watchers, who called him Maximus.  His anonymous killer left his corpse to rot in a field of alfalfa in the August sun. The government exhibited only its routine apathy at this illegal and senseless slaying. Let us pray that the great bear’s DNA is widely disseminated across the Northern Rockies and that his killer meets with an even more painful and pitiless end.

I catch a flash of white circling above me. Osprey? Swainson’s hawk? I dig into my pack and extract my binoculars and am quickly distracted by a weird motion on the ridgeline across the valley. I glass the slope. Four legs are pawing frantically at the sky. It is a wolf, rolling vigorously on its back, coating its pelt in dirt, urine or shit. Something foul to us and irresistible to wild canids.

The wolf rolls over and shakes. Dust flies from his fur. He tilts his head, then rubs his neck and shoulders onto the ground. He shakes again, sits and scans the valley.

His coat is largely gray, but his chest is black streaked by a thin necklace of white fur. He presents the classic lean profile of the timber wolf. Perhaps he is a Yellowstone native. He was certainly born in the park. His neck is shackled by the tell-tale telemetry collar, a reminder that the wolves of Yellowstone are under constant surveillance by the federal wolf cops. He is a kind of cyber-wolf, on permanent parole, deprived of an essential element of wildness. The feds are charting nearly every step he takes. One false move, and he could, in the antiseptic language of the bureaucracy, be “removed,” as in erased, as in terminated.

This wolf is two, maybe three years old. His coat is thick, dark and shiny. There is no sign of the corrosive mange that is ravaging many of the Yellowstone packs, a disease, like distemper and the lethal parvo virus, vectoring into the park from domestic dogs.

It has been more than 20 years since thirty-one gray wolves were reintroduced into the park, under the Clinton administration’s camera-ready program. With great fanfare, Bruce Babbitt hand-delivered the Canadian timber wolves to their holding pens inside the high caldera. Of course, it was an open secret — vigorously denied by the Interior Department — that wolves had already returned to Yellowstone on their own—if, that is, they’d ever really vanished from the park despite the government’s ruthless eradication campaign that persisted for nearly a century.

These new wolves came with a fatal bureaucratic catch.  Under Babbitt’s elastic interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, the wolves of Yellowstone were magically decreed to be a “non-essential, experimental population.”  This sinister phrase means that the Yellowstone wolves were not to enjoy the full protections afforded to endangered species and could be harassed, drugged, transported or killed at the whim of federal wildlife bureaucrats. Deviously, this sanguinary rule was applied to all wolves in Yellowstone, even the natives.

The Yellowstone packs, both reintroduced and native, are doing well, but not well enough considering the lethal threats arrayed against them, even inside the supposedly sacrosanct perimeter of the park.

This young wolf might well be a member of the Canyon pack, a gregarious gang of four wolves frequently sighted at Mammoth Hot Springs on Yellowstone’s northern fringe, where they dine liberally on the elk that hang around the Inn, cabins and Park Headquarters. This close-up view of predation-in-action agitated the tourists and when the tourists are upset, the Park Service responds with a vengeance. The federal wolf cops were dispatched to deal with the happy marauders. When the wolves began stalking the elk, Park Service biologists lobbed cracker grenade shells at them and shot at the wolves with rubber bullets.  Finally, the small pack left Mammoth for less hostile terrain, showing up this summer in the Hayden Valley, throbbing with elk and bison.

But the non-lethal warfare waged on the Canyon pack wolves came with a bloody price. The wolves lost their litter of pups, a troubling trend in Yellowstone these days. Pup mortality in Yellowstone is on the rise. Last year, on the northern range of the Park only eight pups survived. Several packs, including the Canyon and Leopold packs, produced no pups. Over the last few years, the wolf population inside the Park has dropped by 30 per cent. Even so, the Bush administration decided to strip the wolf of its meager protections under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho, opening the door for wolf hunting seasons in both states. Then Judge Donald Molloy, a no-nonsense Vietnam Vet, placed an injunction on the hunts and overturned the Bush administration delisting order.

Revoltingly, the Obama administration redrafted the Bush wolf-killing plan and again stripped the wolf of its protections under the Endangered Species Act. So now both Montana and Idaho are set to kill hundreds of wolves each in state authorized hunts—unless Judge Molloy once again intervenes to halt the killings. Both states have brazenly threatened to defy the court if Judge Molloy rules in favor of the wolf. The putatively progressive governor of Montana at the time, Brian Schweitzer, was especially bellicose on the matter, vowing: “If some old judge says we can’t hunt wolves, we’ll take it back to another judge.”

In Idaho, the state plans to allow 220 wolves to be killed in its annual hunt and more than 6,000 wolf gunners have bought tags for the opportunity to participate in the slaughter. Up near Fairflied, Idaho rancher vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands. Six wolves from the Solider Mountain pack in the wilds of central Idaho were killed, probably from eating a carcass laced with poison. Don’t expect justice for these wolves. Rex Rammell, a Republican from Idaho, has placed wolf eradication at the top of his political agenda. Rammell also made repeated quips about getting a hunting tag for Obama. After catching some heat for this boast, Rammell sent out a clarifying Tweet: “Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C.” Welcome to Idaho, where Sarah Palin got educated.

Across the valley, the wolf is standing rigid, his ears pricked by the bickering of a group of ravens below him on the far bank of Trout Creek. He moves slowly down the slope, stepping gingerly through the sagebrush. He stops at one of the looping meanders, wades into the water and swims downstream. He slides into the tall grass and then playfully leaps out, startling the ravens, who have been busy gleaning a bison carcass. Earlier in the morning a mother grizzly and two cubs had feasted here, I later learned from a Park biologist. Perhaps the Canyon wolves had made the kill, only to be driven away by a persuasive bear. Perhaps it was an old bull, killed during the rut.

The wolf raises his leg and pisses on the grass near the kill site.  He sniffs the ground and paces around the remains. Then he rolls again, twisting his body violently in mud near the bison hide and bones. The ravens return, pestering and chiding the wolf. He dismisses their antics and grabs a bone in his mouth.

I lurch down the hillside for a better view, bang my aching foot on a shard of basalt and squeal, “Fuck!”

The wolf’s ears stiffen again. He stares at me, bares his teeth, growls and sprints up and over the ridge, his mouth still clamped tightly on the prized bone, and down into the Alum valley, where he disappears into the dancing dust of mating bison.

This essay is excerpted from Heatstroke: Earth On the Brink, forthcoming soon from CounterPunch Books.

Yellowstone wolf family tree and genealogy available online

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Her parents may have been killed by her mate and his family. Her daughter was shot. Now she’s dead and her killing is under investigation.

Although the details may sound like the story line for a soap opera, a Shakespearean play or even the historical dirty deeds of Europe’s competing monarchies, it’s actually the tale of one of Yellowstone National Park’s well-known wolves — the white alpha female of the Canyon pack. Now, details of the park’s individual wolves and their inter-relatedness can be found in one place: online at Ancestry.com, a website formerly reserved for rooting out human family trees.

“People love their wolves,” said Jim Halfpenny, the founder of the Yellowstone Wolf Genealogy Family Tree.

That’s a sentiment Yellowstone officials have recognized, as well.

“I am amazed at the interest level in Yellowstone wolves,” said biologist Doug Smith, who leads the Yellowstone Wolf Project. “It’s insatiable.”

He noted that questionnaires distributed by the park in the early 2000s revealed that about 300,000 come to Yellowstone hoping to see wolves. Park interpreters annually talk to anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people a year about wolves.

It’s easy to see why there’s such an interest, Smith told The Billings Gazette.

“If you come to Yellowstone and put in a few days, you can see a wolf — and that’s pretty remarkable.”

The popularity of his genealogy charts became apparent to Halfpenny, a Gardiner-based biologist, after he started recording the lineage of Yellowstone’s wolves when they were first reintroduced to the park in 1995 and 1996.

“Through the years I’ve produced these laminated charts, selling about 4,000 a year,” he said. Now folks can order them online.

He updates the data yearly, using information gathered from multiple sources, including the Yellowstone Wolf Project. That’s no small task considering there can be more than 100 wolves scattered across the park’s 2.2 million acres (890,308 hectares) each year. At their population peak there were more than 170 wolves inside Yellowstone.

“We started out trying to do it by volunteers, and it was too overwhelming,” Halfpenny said.

So using a Kickstarter project to fund development — 273 people contributed more than $26,000 — Halfpenny was able to “put online the lives, pedigrees and genealogy of the Yellowstone wolves for access of all fans,” according to the website. The digital information is “enormous in scope and the first of its kind in the world.”

Those interested can go to www.wolfgenes.info to learn more about the project. Perusing Ancestry.com requires the payment of a membership fee. The information is also now available on a cellphone app allowing wolf devotees to carry the data with them into the field.

Smith said he hadn’t been able to check out the website yet but noted that building family trees and genealogy for wolves that have never been captured and had their DNA tested — such as the white alpha female from the Canyon pack — means some of the data isn’t scientifically valid. Each year about 40 percent of Yellowstone’s wolves are captured and have DNA samples taken.

“For scientific purposes, this probably is not the place to go,” Smith said. “For avid wolf watchers this is great. And he’s probably right most of the time.”

But the park has to be more conservative in its approach to linking individuals, he added.

Halfpenny admitted that observations by even hardcore wolf watchers are sometimes incorrect. For example, a wolf spotted in 2007 was believed to be a female. When found dead it turned out the wolf was a male.

Although the stories of known wolves are presented on the website, Halfpenny said it is the “interconnections that are just amazing” to him.

Take the earlier mentioned alpha female of the Canyon pack as an example. She was found seriously injured inside the park near Gardiner on April 11.

Park officials euthanized the white wolf because her injuries were so severe.

A necropsy later revealed she had been shot. Two $5,000 rewards, one from the National Park Service and another from a private group, have been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the wolf’s killer.

Even before her tragic death, the 12-year-old wolf had led a life worthy of an epic poem. Two years after being born into the Hayden pack her parents were killed by the rival Mollie’s pack. This is known as intraspecific mortality, when wolves kill wolves, and accounts for about 42 percent of all wolf deaths in Yellowstone — more than any other single factor.

The white female is believed to have later bred with an unknown black wolf from Mollie’s pack — the same wolves that had killed her parents.

For some reason the white alpha female’s first pairing didn’t last, and she found a new mate, who also was a member of the Mollie’s pack — 712M. Together with another Mollie’s male in 2008 they formed the Canyon pack in the center of the park.

It took two years for the Canyon pack to successfully raise a litter of three pups past a year old. One would later become the white alpha female of the Wapiti Lake pack who would eventually displace her own parents from their Canyon pack homeland.

In 2011 the Canyon pack produced two more pups, one of which was a female that seemed especially enamored with her father, earning her the nickname Daddy’s Girl. At age 2 this female wolf was shot by a rancher north of Gardiner.

“In 2016 this amazing alpha pair produced two more pups in their new denning area at the advanced ages of 11 and 10 (the Canyon Alpha Female was the older of the two),” according to the Yellowstone Wolf Genealogy site. “2016 also represented another milestone: the Canyon Alpha Female and 712M had been together as an alpha pair for eight years, making them the longest mated pair on record for Yellowstone wolves.” The female is believed to have given birth to at least 13 pups over the course of her life.

There’s rarely a happy ending in a wolf’s short life, though. Rejected by her own pack this past winter, the alpha female was seen roaming the Gardiner area alone, sometimes feeding on roadkill. Her mate, “712M was last seen in January 2017 just east of Mammoth Hot Springs. He would be 11 years old in April 2017,” the website noted.

The oldest known wolf in Yellowstone, 478F, lived to age 12.5. The average lifespan for park wolves is two to three years.

“I’m fascinated with it, following the family lines,” Halfpenny said.

The intrigues include female wolves mating with their fathers, grandfathers and even brothers.

“There are all sorts of complexities to this,” he said.

For each wolf recorded on the website there is a life story to be read, as well as facts and a photo gallery if shots are available. Adapting such complex family relations to a website was a challenge since the Ancestry.com formula was set up for humans who give birth to about one offspring a year, not 4.4 a year, which is the average litter size for Yellowstone wolves.

“So we had to work around problems like that,” Halfpenny said.

He compared the information to tracking the Smith family tree for all of North America.

‘White Lady’ wolf shot dead prompts Yellowstone reward


  • 15 May 2017
  • White LadyImage copyrightYELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Image captionThe so-called White Lady was a hit with tourists

A $5,000 (£3,900) reward has been put up for information on how a rare white wolf at Yellowstone National Park was shot dead.

The female was one of three white wolves in the park and had 14 living pups, wildlife officials say.

The reward comes after initial results of a necropsy show the so-called White Lady was shot around 10 April.

“She was one of the most recognisable wolves and sought after by visitors to view and photograph,” the park said.

“Due to the serious nature of this incident, a reward of up to $5,000 is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for this criminal act,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk.

At 12 years old, she had lived for more than twice the average lifespan of a wolf in Yellowstone, officials say.

The Canyon Pack Alpha, as she was known to wildlife researchers (and as The White Lady to tourists), was found by hikers on 11 April.

Wildlife officials were not able to save its life, and the wolf was put down.

Her remains were brought to a US Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon for a necropsy, where officials determined that it had been mortally wounded by a hunter’s rifle.

As of 2014, researchers had documented at least 104 wolves in 11 packs located within the park.

White wolfImage copyrightYELLOWSTONE/ FACEBOOK
Image captionShe had birthed 20 cubs, 14 of which lived past the age of one

The wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995, having been eradicated by hunters.

Advocates of wolves say the presence of predators helps balance the ecosystem, and leads to healthier populations of other wild animals.

Opponents say they are a threat to humans, pets and livestock.

Read more

Media captionHere’s how the bison have been reintroduced into the wild

Wildlife advocates see wolves as ‘best natural defense’ against chronic wasting disease


  • BRETT FRENCH For the Star-Tribune
  • Apr 17, 2017

BILLINGS, Montana – Wolves are the perfect animal to help reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease among elk, deer and moose, wolf advocates told the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission last week during the board’s meeting in Helena.

“And it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies.

Cooke’s comment Friday was later endorsed by former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gary Wolfe, who was once the program leader for the CWD Alliance, which tracks and provides information on the fatal disease.

“I would have to agree that wolves can be an effective control,” Wolfe said. “They are the best natural defense Montana has.”


The comments come as the Montana Legislature is considering Senate Joint Resolution 9, introduced by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, that would request a study of the potential impacts of and methods to prevent chronic wasting disease in Montana. The measure already passed the Senate and is now moving through the House.

Phillips also introduced SJ8, which would have asked Wyoming to discontinue artificial feeding of elk, a place where diseases like CWD could quickly spread. That resolution was tabled in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee after clearing the full Senate with a 50-0 vote.


Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread in Montana’s neighbor to the south. In late March the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported officials had detected CWD in a female mule deer found dead near the Pinedale airport in February, the first case of CWD found in Sublette County, which is home to 13 elk feedgrounds.

CWD map

“This deer was found in Deer Hunt Area 139, where CWD has not been previously discovered, and is not adjacent to any other positive CWD deer, elk or moose hunt areas,” according to a WDGF news release.

The discovery prompted the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter and to issue a public plea this week to “begin phasing out winter feeding of elk to prevent the rapid spread of disease among elk densely concentrated on feed lines for months each winter,” the groups wrote in a press release.

“It is incumbent upon state officials, as well as managers of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, to implement a realistic plan to phase out artificial winter feeding now,” said Roger Hayden, WWA executive director. “Once CWD reaches feedgrounds we likely will have a more serious problem on our hands. We need to act now.”

Elk fears

CWD was first discovered in Wyoming in 1985 when a mule deer in the southeastern corner of the state tested positive. Since then the disease, which affects the animals’ brains and is always fatal, has slowly spread north and west.

“Over the past 20 years surveillance data has shown an increase in prevalence and distribution of CWD in Wyoming, particularly in deer,” according to the WGFD. “CWD is now found across the majority of the state, with new detections suggesting continued westward spread of the disease.”

CWD has never been detected in wildlife in Montana, except in a captive elk herd that was destroyed. However, the disease has been discovered in the Dakotas and Canada, as well as Wyoming, which all border Montana.

Could wolves become an unexpected ally in protecting Montana’s most popular big game animals? That would be a hard reality to swallow for some hunters and hunting groups who have long opposed the large canines’ reintroduction to Yellowstone and spread into Montana.