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:
Yellowstone National Park
I. Ecology of the Northern Yellowstone Winter Range
A. Justification. In many parts of the Park the activities of modern man, in altering ecosystems and causing a severe loss of soil, have created an imbalance between the ungulate populations and their habitat. The areas most seriously affected are the northern Yellowstone and Gallatin ranges where these animals congregate in the winter. Although the management is energetically attempting to improve unsatisfactory conditions on the northern Yellowstone range, its program is rather crude and is based on inadequate information. Moreover, not enough is known about what management is doing, what changes and refinements are needed, or for that matter, what the purposes are.
1. To describe ecological condition on the northern Yellowstone winter range before the advent of modern man. The description, to provide a basis for evaluating current conditions, should include:
a) Climate, geology, and soils;
b) The mosaic of plant and animal communities;
c) The interrelationships of plants and animals, particularly in relation to dominant species like ungulates.
2. To describe current ecological conditions in detail, including:
a) Current climate and climatic trends;
c) The vegetation mosaic and the factors creating it;
d) Successional patterns in the various biotic communities and their dynamic ecology;
e) Interrelationships of dominant animals like elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, buffalo, antelope, and beaver with their habitat;
f) Interspecies and intraspecies relationships of dominant animals (competition for food, space, etc.).
3. To describe and evaluate:
a) How and to what degree current ecological conditions vary from the original;
b) The factors that have caused deviations from original conditions, and how they have operated;
c) The extent to which it is practicable or possible to re-create original ecological conditions where ecological damage or deterioration (like soil loss) has occurred.
4. To formulate a management program designed to restore original ecological conditions as nearly as practicable.
The proposed ecological study of the northern Yellowstone winter range would provide much information directly applicable to other critical winter range areas in the Park (such as the Upper Gallatin winter range and Hayden Valley). Moreover, the approach and the techniques developed would be a guide for research in other areas of the Park where ecological problems are somewhat different, and so would lead to continuing coordination and integration of research effort throughout the National Park Service. A study of the ecology of ungulate summer range, though of lower priority than winter range studies, is needed also; a comparable research approach would certainly be required for it.
II. The Ecology of the Black Bear in Yellowstone National Park
A. Justification. Although bears are in general tolerant of human beings and their activities, so that most Park visitors have an opportunity to see and photograph them, they do, every year, cause a significant number of injuries to visitors and a considerable amount of damage to property. Therefore, management and control of the bear population are essential. The current black bear management program is not based on adequate knowledge of its effect on the bear population.
1. To understand over-all black bear ecology in the Park, with emphasis on determining bear numbers and distribution and on describing population dynamics.
2. To describe and analyze the behavior of bears toward visitors.
3. To devise methods for evaluating the effects of management and control measures on the bear population.
4. To develop an effective management program designed to maintain the black bear population in its “natural” ecological role, while providing visitors with opportunities to view black bears and still keeping injuries and property damages at an acceptable minimum level.
III. An Evaluation of the Park’s Aquatic Resources with Emphasis on Fishing
A. Justification. National Park Service objectives concerning fisheries resources require the maintaining of native fish populations in as natural a condition as possible while providing recreational fishing at a level compatible with the natural ability of the fisheries to support themselves. On many Park waters the pressure of demands for fishing facilities is heavy and growing heavier. Little information is available aboutnatural conditions in most Park waters or the effect that fishing is having on them. The factual basis for sound management of most Park waters is lacking.
An adequate problem analysis is needed. This, with subsequent delineation of specific projects and objectives, should be made by capable aquatic ecologists and fishery biologists if over-all program coordination and maximum results are to be attained. Objectives should include sufficient study of aquatic ecology, fish population dynamics, and associated fishing demands to permit evaluation of the effects of fishing and recognition of undesirable ecological conditions. The most heavily used or otherwise ecologically sensitive Park waters should be studied first. Efforts should be made to determine the “fishing load” that specific Park waters can support without deterioration of aquatic ecosystems. The findings of the studies should be synthesized into sound management programs for specific Park waters with emphasis on methods of collecting information needed for routine management and innovations for regulating and distributing the fishing load.
IV. Research Needs of Lower Priority include:
A. The ecology of forest vegetation. Here the objectives should be:
1. A description and evaluation of the pattern of forest vegetation that should be sought in relation to the pattern now existing.
2. Description of successional patterns in forest vegetation especially in relation to the effect of:
a) Control of forest fires
b) Insect and disease control programs
c) Climatic factors
3. Formulation and testing of management techniques designed to accomplish defined goals.
B. An evaluation of the direct effect of visitors on important natural features.
Consideration of Park problems by the proposed ecological research “planning team” would result in changes in and additions to this list of needed research projects. It is proposed that these and other projects relating to specific Park needs be well planned, well coordinated, and well directed, but that additional research by individuals or groups into problems of specific interest to them, even though it may not seem to pertain to Park problems, continue to be encouraged. In the long run, the results of such studies will add to our understanding of the Park’s ecology.