National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks: The Robbins Report
Appendix 2: Some Ecological Research Needs of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
(Excerpts from the Minutes of the Committee’s Meeting at Grand Teton – Yellowstone Park, June 14-16, 1963)
The Committee found that a comprehensive research program for both the Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, stressing the ecological approach, had been outlined in the general direction of the Committee’s report. The Committee also found, however, that neither the scientific staff nor funds for the research necessary — if the parks’ management is to comply with the laws and regulations governing the areas — are available.
The following outlines of research needs in these two parks were presented by local Parks officials to the Committee:
Grand Teton National Park
The most pressing research needs in Grand Teton National Park may be classed as biological, geological, archeological, and human history. Basic research is needed in all these fields to provide a background of information for application in management and interpretation operations. Considerable applied research in the biological field is also needed to identify management problems, test solutions to problems, and develop criteria and standard methods for management operations.
Practically all research on Park biota and physical features would be of value for increasing the effectiveness of interpretive and management operations, but the research jobs that should have the highest priority involve situations where problems are either apparent or suspected. A listing of such high-priority jobs follows.
A. Biological Research
1. An ecological classification of the vegetation of Grand Teton National Park.
Scope: A quantatative classification of natural vegetative units.
Purpose: To provide an organized description of all natural vegetative units that will serve as a foundation for detailed autecological and synecological research on both plants and animals and will permit more effective communication in interpretive and management operations.
2. Plant ecology.
Scope: Autecological and synecological research on the vegetation within Grand Teton National Park.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on plant ecology to serve as a foundation for animal-habitat interrelationship research, management operations, and interpretive work.
3. Moose ecology.
Scope: Integrated quantitative studies of the life habits of moose, their population dynamics, their habitat interrelationships, and their relationships to other animals.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the moose, to identify factors regulating population numbers, and to suggest practices needed for the management of moose populations and their habitat.
4. Ecology of the Snake River Cutthroat Trout within Grand Teton National Park.
Scope: Life history, population dynamics, ecology, and management of the native cutthroat.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the cutthroat, to identify factors regulating populations, and to suggest needed management practices.
5. Bighorn sheep ecology.
Scope: Integrated quantitative studies of life habits of bighorn sheep, their population dynamics, their habitat interrelationships, and their relationships to other animals.
Purpose: To provide basic reference data on the bighorn sheep, to identify factors limiting population increases, and to suggest practices needed for management of bighorn populations and their habitat.
B. Geological Research
1. Pliocene paleontology.
Pliocene mollusks, ostracods, diatoms, pollen, and vertebrate fossils range from common to prolific. They have been studied in only a few places, and no extensive collections have been made. Collection and identification of these assemblages should properly be a long-range study involving specialists in each field. Material is well preserved. The data would be useful not only in interpreting climate and environment during Pliocene time but also in charting the evolution of plant and animal life in this area during the last 10 million years and in determining how it was affected by the rise of the Teton Range and the foundering of Jackson Hole.
2. Late Tertiary volcanism.
Geochemical and petrographic studies should be made of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene pyroclastic and igneous rocks in the Teton Park area. The Miocene rocks comprise the thickest (7,000 feet) nonmarine sequence of that age anywhere in North America. They are mafic and derived from local vents in and adjacent to Grand Teton National Park. The Pliocene rocks are felsic in composition, are about 7,000 feet thick, but represent a completely different volcanic cycle. This study should be integrated with a similar one in Yellowstone National Park. The combination of data from the two areas would be of great value in determining the why and when of both volcanic and tectonic events in the region.
3. Carboniferous paleontology.
The Mississippian and Pennsylvanian faunas of the Berry Creek area, in the northern part of Teton Park, are exceptionally well preserved and abundant. They consist chiefly of marine brachiopods and corals. Their study is of regional significance, for they will supplement data on the distribution of faunas in other national parks and adjacent areas in the Rocky Mountain region.
4. Rock age determinations.
The Precambrian, Cambrian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Cenozoic rocks contain biotite, glauconite, potash feldspars, and other minerals suitable for either rubidium-strontium, potassium-argon, or lead- alpha age determinations. About a dozen are now available on Precambrian rocks of the Teton Range and one on the middle Pliocene. Many more are needed. This would be an expensive undertaking, but it is important because Teton Park and adjacent areas have the most complete sedimentary record known in North America and it seems likely that a remarkably precise time scale could eventually be compiled.
5. Determination of continuing crustal movement.
Tiltmeters should be installed along several lines extending across the floor of Jackson Hole and into the Teton Range, both in and adjacent to Teton Park. They would given quantitative data on the rapidity of the sinking of Jackson Hole and the rising of the Teton Range and also disclose whether all or some of the movement is along the Teton fault. Army Engineers have spent many millions of dollars during the last 10 years in trying to keep the Snake River from moving westward, adjacent to Teton Park. The tiltmeter program would help to determine whether this expenditure is economically justified and also whether the movements of the valley floor could affect proposed adjacent reclamation projects that could be detrimental to the natural values of the Park.
6. Gravity survey.
A gravity survey of this seismically active area should be made and correlated with the surface geological data.
7. Effects of glaciers on flora.
Ancient stumps, now far above timberline, are known in this area. The types of trees that grew, and their carbon 14 age, should be determined so that the postglacial, but pre-recent, altithermal time can be bracketed. This information, in turn, can be used in plotting climatic variations and the rate of return of floras after the last ice age.
C. Archeological Research
1. Jackson Lake artifacts.
A study of artifacts along the shore of Jackson Lake and adjacent areas, supplemented by Lawrence, Nelson, Stewart, and other collections from Jackson Hole (including also material in possession of the Park Service), would contribute to an understanding of the Indian cultures of the Park. Nothing along this line has ever been attempted.
2. Travel routes of the Indians.
A study of the artifacts along travois trails and migration routes, with special reference to the Conant Pass route around the north end of the Teton Range, should be made before the artifacts are picked up by amateur collectors or the trails obliterated by time.
D. Historical Research
1. Post fur trade history.
A study and documentation as complete as possible should be made of the period from about 1840 to the present time. The purpose of this job would be to provide information for background interpretive material and to document the information before it is completely lost.
The committee took no formal vote on these two Park research programs but considered that they were valid and should be carried out.