Montana State University

New book focuses on Yellowstone's changing ecology, management

March 19, 2013 -- MSU News Service

More than 30 contributors, including several MSU faculty members and alumni, were involved in this new book about changes in Yellowstone National Park.    High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN -- A new book that focuses on the changing ecology and management approaches in Yellowstone National Park has been published by Harvard University Press.

"Yellowstone's Wildlife in Transition" incorporates the expertise of more than 30 contributors. Among them are Montana State University faculty members in two departments -- the Department of Ecology and the Department of Earth Sciences -- and several MSU alumni who work for the National Park Service or other federal agencies.

Cindy Goeddel, an MSU undergraduate student and professional photographer, took and donated all the photos in the 368-page book.

"The book has a big MSU footprint," said MSU ecologist Bob Garrott, one of its three editors.

Garrott is a professor in the MSU Department of Ecology and director of MSU's Fish and Wildlife Ecology and Management Program. The other two editors work for the National Park Service. P.J. White, a long-time collaborator of Garrott's, is chief of wildlife and aquatic resources at Yellowstone National Park. Glenn Plumb is chief wildlife biologist in the Biological Resource Management Division of the National Park Service.

Famed naturalist Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard and presenter of an annual award in his name at MSU, wrote the foreword.

The book describes in layman terms how management policies have evolved since Yellowstone National Park was created in the 1870s. Basically, intensive management to protect and propagate large-bodies mammals has given way to an approach that focuses on restoring and preserving ecological processes.

"Recognizing the importance of natural occurrences such as fires and predation, this more ecological informed oversight has achieved notable successes, including the recovery of threatened native species of wolves, bald eagles and grizzly bears," the editors wrote.

At the same time, Yellowstone is a system under strain from three overriding stressors: invasive species, such as blister rust, lake trout, brucellosis and mountain goats; private-sector development of unprotected lands; and a warming climate.

Garrott said earlier policies dictated that the park should be managed to maintain the conditions encountered when Europeans first described the park. Many adults today can understand that sentiment. Those who visited the park when they were youngsters may want their children to experience Yellowstone the same way they did.

Large ecosystems change, however, and the public shouldn't be surprised when changes occur, Garrott said. Therefore, forest fires aren't disasters. Reintroduced wolves bring about fundamental changes that should be embraced.

The changing approaches to Yellowstone management are appropriate, Garrott said. He added that ecologists in the park have conducted "phenomenal science" over the past 30 years and their findings have influenced decisions and public opinion for the benefit of society.

Wilson wrote in his foreword that the book's intent is to translate that science into 21st century stewardship.

Besides describing change and scientific discovery in the park, the book makes recommendations on how to confront challenges in American parks and conservation areas worldwide. For example: "Strategies to preserve key natural resources should include monitoring to detect problems leading to ecosystem degradation; research to evaluate and inform alternate management actions; strategic planning to explore possible consequences of decisions, consider plausible futures, and avoid undesired conditions; and an adaptive management framework to decide if, when and how to initiate corrective management."

The authors noted that, "Perhaps the most difficult decision managers will face is whether to intervene with active management, such as assisting migration, culling animals, lighting fires, restoring native animals and vegetation, spraying weeds and thinning forests."

The authors recommended that managers consider historical fidelity, ecological integrity, and resilience when deciding on the type and extent of management intervention to pursue. The authors also suggested that managers consider diverse approaches ranging from nonintervention to active transformation.

For more information on the book, go to

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or