Montana State University

Scientists tell Yellowstone's story in Johnson's new book

September 30, 2010

MSU political scientist Jerry Johnson edited, "Knowing Yellowstone," a book about Yellowstone National Park's scientific wonders written by scientists, many based at MSU. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Jerry Johnson has long been fascinated at some of the work being done by his Montana State University colleagues in Yellowstone National Park. The chairman of the MSU political science department thought that much of the research was so interesting that it would make a great book

"We are the University of the Yellowstone," he said. "All these people in the field (with MSU connections) are very highly regarded scientists."

The result is "Knowing Yellowstone: Science in America's First National Park," published this summer by Taylor Trade Books. Johnson edited the book, which includes 10 chapters written by scientists working in the park. Many of them are members of MSU's faculty, including: Andy Hansen (ecology), Cathy Whitlock (Earth sciences), Scott Creel (ecology), Bruce Maxwell (Land Resources and Environmental Sciences), Mark Young (Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology), Chuck Schwartz, Paul Cross and Mike Ebinger (Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center at MSU), Alexander Zale (ecology), Lisa Rew (Land Resources and Environmental Sciences), Jennifer Fulton (microbiology) and Elizabeth Shanahan (political science).

"I've been thinking about (a book) for a while," said Johnson. "What would it look like so that it would be useful to visitors and faculty?"

He said he contacted his colleagues about the project and all were enthusiastic. Everyone he contacted was interested in contributing a chapter. The resulting chapters range in topic from understanding grizzly bears to elk and fishery science, from heat-loving microbes to the role of policy in the park's history. Johnson believes it is fascinating reading.

The book's forward was co-written by John Peters of MSU's Thermal Biology Institute and John Varley of the Big Sky Institute, also based at MSU.

"Montana State University has factored strongly in the makeup of Yellowstone-centric research across all disciplines of science," they wrote. "The close proximity of the Park to MSU's home in Bozeman attracts world-class investigators to join our faculty and the renowned centers of excellence that have been established."

Johnson concurred in his introduction to the book. "All of the researchers in these chapters share a passion for a part of the world unique in its geography and natural history," he said.

Johnson shares that passion for geography and science of the area. He has two undergraduate degrees from Idaho State University -- one in political science and one in ecology. His own research projects have involved ecology, agriculture and business. In fact, he said that he has worked collaboratively and helped write grants with nearly every college on campus. His work on researching tourism, a collaboration with faculty in the College of Business, impacted the book. He believes that contemporary tourists want more of a visit to the park than bringing home a stuffed bear. They are influenced by the growing interest in ecotourism, and they are curious about science of Yellowstone's environment.

Johnson said that he found many topics of the book intriguing, but was also taken by surprise when he saw that nearly every chapter dealt with climate change in one way or another.

"I specifically didn't put a climate change chapter in the book because that wasn't the intent," Johnson said. "It's just that the topics that the researchers are looking at have been heavily influenced by climate."

Johnson's future plans are to build on the work found in the book, and he would like to write another book or two on science in the park.

"These are the kinds of topics visitors to the park want to know more about," Johnson said.

"Knowing Yellowstone" is available in Yellowstone National Park. It is also available in bookstores in Bozeman and the Greater Yellowstone region.

Jerry Johnson (406) 994-5164,