Montana State University

MSU professor Jerry Johnson publishes book on natural resource management in Yellowstone

November 17, 2016 -- By Jessianne Wright for the MSU News Service

MSU political science professor Jerry Johnson pays tribute to a new generation of natural resource managers with his recent publication of the free eBook “Wisdom of the Elders.” The book is one of a three-piece set in the collection “Explorations in Greater Yellowstone,” which has been published online in order to celebrate Yellowstone National Park’s centennial. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Montana State University political science professor Jerry Johnson pays tribute to a new generation of natural resource managers with his recent publication of the free eBook “Wisdom of the Elders.” The book is one of a three-piece set in the collection “Explorations in Greater Yellowstone,” which has been published online in order to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service .

Johnson’s work is accompanied by photography, tables, charts and video and is an interactive way to learn about management practices in Yellowstone National Park. “Wisdom of the Elders” offers one interpretation on how we understand the Yellowstone region—a vast as well as diverse piece of land set aside in 1872 by the U.S. Congress to be enjoyed by the people and to conserve the spectacular landscape and ecology of the Yellowstone region. In this book Johnson, who is a professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Letters and Science, focuses predominantly on the management practices of the past 50 years.

A long line of superintendents has overseen management in the park, and according to Johnson, there is a lot to be gained in understanding the approach of successful park managers like former superintendent the late Bob Barbee, former fishery biologist John Varley and current superintendent Dan Wenk.

Johnson crossed paths with Barbee through his personal research on the West’s changing political economy. He was interested in predator management and turned to Barbee. During Barbee’s 11 years in Yellowstone, he witnessed the 1988 fires, grizzly bear recovery and help lay the early groundwork for the reintroduction of grey wolves.

“How did this guy approach that really difficult job?” Johnson asked. “The nation was his clientele.”

According to Johnson, the recent generation of managers has shown that managing parks is as much about managing people as it is about managing wildlife.

“Parks are not only ecologically complex. They are socially complex,” Johnson said. “[As a superintendent] you have to understand people…that’s the recipe for enlightened management.”

Inspired by Barbee’s career as well as those of men like Varley and Wenk, Johnson hopes “Wisdom of the Elders” will not only inform, but also help “build appreciation for these people who are really good at what they do,” he said.

“If you didn’t have people like Barbee and Varley in the National Park Service, the U.S. wouldn’t be a leader in national park management,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s work was published at the beginning of September. Barbee passed away on Oct. 2 at the age of 80—22 years after leaving Yellowstone.

Wisdom of the Elders” was supported by the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment. It may be downloaded from the project’s website.

Jerry Johnson (406) 994-5164, jdj@montana.edu