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Brad Bulin wolf pelt 2006 In this Tuesday’s “Science Times” section of the New York Times, freelance science writer Jim Robbins explains the push-pull between the lives of Yellowstone’s wolf packs (and the scientists who study them) and the needs and requirements of hunters and ranchers in the three surrounding states.

Since 2011 Montana and Idaho have been conducting managed wolf hunts, but in Wyoming a U.S. Court of Appeals has only this March approved a wolf-hunting plan that is deemed not to endanger the survival of the species in that state.

All the controversy about wolves stems from the 1995 and ’96 introduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus irremotus) into the park (and also into Idaho) from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Their population soared within a few years to around 150 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and scientists like Dr. Douglas Smith found, as quoted by Robbins, that “Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves”—and to study them. This is especially true because the Yellowstone wolves do not fear the thousands of eager visitors who flock there—and incidentally add money to the regional economy. The wolves are thus quite readily visible.

In the years after the introduction of wolves, neighboring ranchers were understandably distressed. Some of their cattle, sheep, and even dogs were killed; before wolf hunting was authorized some ranchers were reimbursed by nonprofit organizations for their losses. It is hoped that protection within the park, combined with limited hunting outside its borders, will provide the needed balance and keep the population of Yellowstone’s wolves to approximately one hundred, as has happened in the last few years.

Robbins tells us much more about the results of research done by Smith and his colleagues. Longevity and social hierarchy within the packs are now better understood, and observation has revealed that wise older wolves serve an important role. Dr. Smith believes that packs are matrilineal. “Males come and go . . . but Gramma, Mom, and the daughter are the ones that stick around.” Here is a link to the whole article, “The New Threat to Wolves in and around Yellowstone.”

For some earlier blog posts about wolves here at YellowstoneTreasures.com, just enter “wolves” in the search bar.

Photo is of Yellowstone Forever Institute instructor Brad Bulin showing a wolf pelt, winter 2006. Photo by Janet Chapple.

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News about Yellowstone opening weekend

Categories: News, On the Web, Science, Trip planning
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I.
Today is the first day you can drive into the park from the North or East Entrance. What’s more, those of us stuck at home can now get predictions of the daytime eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser on the NPS website.

But, if you are anything like me, you are mostly celebrating that the time for your summer trip to this wonderful park is drawing nearer. Just one thing that may give us pause as we contemplate the sights we are anticipating seeing: the crowds are likely to be amazingly large.

Here are links to a University of Montana report (2.7 MB pdf file) on 2016 crowding in that state’s two national parks and a shorter summary of the report, emphasizing Yellowstone, by Sean Reichard of YellowstoneInsider.com.

II.
If you should happen to be one of the people driving into Yellowstone this weekend, you may want to take part in tomorrow’s Earth Day Walk for Science at Old Faithful. This echoes the Washington, DC, Walk for Science. As an ever-curious non-scientist, if I lived anywhere near the park, I would certainly want to participate in that.

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The Marvels of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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Janet on the north shore of the lake, 2009

While we recline in the doldrums awaiting the opening of Yellowstone Park’s roads—mostly on April 21st, when the bulk of the plowing should be done and wheeled vehicles can again reach the interior of the park—I will pass along a link about a man who is building a robot to learn what is below Yellowstone Lake and is yet to be discovered and explained by scientists. Elsewhere I learned that project leader David Lovalvo’s crowd sourcing for this project reached its goal of raising $100,000 last year.

Granted, this article appeared on the Internet a year ago, but its interest is evergreen. Geoscientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, particularly Lisa Morgan, Wayne Shanks, and Kenneth Pierce, published classic research papers on what they had learned by 2007*. But there is much more of interest lurking in the depths of the lake, and I only hope to live long enough to find out more about it.

*See the section titled “Yellowstone Lake Studies” in: Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area: U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1717.

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New England company with Yellowstone news

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As a forty-four year resident of Rhode Island (until 2005), I was interested to learn today that a company important to the exploration of Yellowstone Lake is now located in next-door Mystic (Connecticut) and written up in The Westerly Sun.

I’ve been following research on the wonders of the lake for many years, especially as written up by Lisa Morgan of the U.S. Geological Survey and involving the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s Dave Lovalvo.

A quick apology: My long silence as a blog-poster or tweeter has been due to spending all my time promoting my new historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone, and working on rewrites needed for a super fifth edition of Yellowstone Treasures.

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Robot will explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features, Through Early Yellowstone
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Yellowstone Lake Mount Sheridan

Part of Yellowstone Lake with Mount Sheridan

Just coming off the deadlines for suggesting changes to the designer’s files for my next book, Through Early Yellowstone, I want to pass on a delightful link from the Yellowstone Insider. On January 27th publisher Kevin Reichard passed on some interesting news published in Jackson Hole News and Guide. Hey! Sharing good stuff is what the Web is for, isn’t it?

My interest in microorganisms stems from a Yellowstone Institute class I took with researcher Anna-Louise Reysenbach way back in July 1999. Microbial research is a fascinating but very complex subject, and in recent years I’ve been learning and writing more about it. Take a look at my website “nuggets” from July 8 and 9, 2014, on “Yellowstone Park and the Quest for the Origins of Life.”

In a nutshell, some major research bodies, such as the USGS, NOAA, and several universities, are collaborating with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration to build a research boat and diving robot that will explore the bottom of Yellowstone Lake.

If all goes as planned, starting next summer the robot will take pictures and return samples of what it finds there. This will follow up on lake bottom research reported by USGS scientist Lisa Morgan and colleagues as part of a series of articles published in 2007: “Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” USGS Professional Paper 1717.

[Revised Feb. 27, 2017—Ed.:] The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration created a fascinating ten-minute video starring microbial ecologist Dr. Reysenbach that does not seem to be available any longer. Although the video does not show us any microbes (seen only under a microscope), it does show some views of the thermal vents on the ocean bottom, teaming with hitherto unknown life.

Photo credit: This photo from page 144 of Yellowstone Treasures, fourth edition (2013), was taken by Bruno Giletti.

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Let’s watch geyser videos!

Categories: Geysers, Science
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While we wait for Yellowstone’s winter season to open (that happens on December 15th), let’s enjoy learning what happens inside a geyser. I thank Jeff Cross for getting me started on this, with his link to a geyser eruption in New Zealand.

This led me to a 2009 video that I had somehow missed. Brian Davis explains geyser action in a remarkable animation, for which he hand drew each frame of the animations (sort of like for early Disney movies?).

Go Giant! Go Giantess! Go Fan and Mortar! Go Steamboat! These are all wonderful but erratic and uncooperative geysers in Yellowstone—I’ve never ever seen Steamboat.

Giantess Geyser

Giantess Geyser

Our mapmaker Linton captured this eruption on September 5, 2001. It now appears on page 98 in Yellowstone Treasures. I flew home from the park that year on September 10th. You know what happened on September 11th.

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Super-creative battery use at Lamar Buffalo Ranch

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Over the past couple of decades I’ve spent some delightful weeks at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch participating in over twenty Yellowstone Institute classes. Now I’ve learned—from The Guardian’s Sustainable Business section—that solar power collected at the field campus is being stored in used hybrid batteries recovered from Toyota dealers.

Kevin Butt, chief environmental officer for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, had a vision for how old Prius batteries could be repurposed rather than recycled. In a pilot program at the Buffalo Ranch, the previously installed solar panels are now connected to a raft of batteries to supply all the power needed at the ranch.

I’m excited about this program and just wanted to share it with my blog readers!

This is the picture Toyota supplied of the project.
Toyota'sBuffaloRanch_project_ScreenShot

Go here to read the entire article.

Editor’s Note: To find out even more about the project and the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s projects to install an emission-free micro-hydro turbine and replace aging solar panels, see: “Off the Grid in the Lamar Valley.”

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Wonderfully clear and sensible statement about the Yellowstone volcano

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Thanks to the USGS and probably attributable to Jacob Lowenstern, this month we have a new statement from some of the world’s best authorities on the so-called Yellowstone supervolcano. They call it Five Things Most People Get Wrong About the Yellowstone Volcano, going at the problem of media sensationalism from the back side.

Lowenstern is Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and studies magma and volcanic phenomena in Yellowstone and all over the world for the United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA.

The misconceptions this article lists are:

  • When Yellowstone erupts it will be Armageddon
  • The Yellowstone magma chamber is growing
  • Yellowstone is overdue for a supereruption
  • Yellowstone is rapidly rising
  • Earthquake data indicates moving magma.

All this is well worth absorbing and passing on to any worrywarts you know! And if you want to read more of the “true facts” (what are false facts?) about supervolcanoes, the Volcano Observatory has recently updated another great page by the world’s best authorities on the subject.

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“The Wild Lab” of Yellowstone Park

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Science, Wildlife
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Today I’m thinking about Yellowstone’s animals, the “charismatic megafauna”—an expression that makes me smile. And I’m anticipating being able to present my first-ever guest blog, by my friend Rita Reining. Rita took part in a late season wolf-watching seminar this winter given by the Yellowstone Institute. Their next winter’s classes are not yet listed but will be up by August or September.

YT174 copy
Wolf picture from “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 351

Awaiting her article, I’ll pass on some thoughts inspired by a Science Magazine article, “Lessons from the Wild Lab,” March 20, 2015, pages 1302–7.

A video circulating on the Web a few months ago attributed recent changes in Yellowstone’s environment to the reintroduction of gray wolves, beginning in 1995. The video seemed to claim that the observed changes, all the way through the animal and plant kingdoms to the re-channeling of rivers, were due to predation on elk by wolves. However, according to writer Virginia Morell from Yellowstone, scientists disagree as to whether or not the coming of the wolves was the only trigger for observed changes “in species from elk to coyotes to willows to bison to beavers.” She cites cougars, grizzly bears, and drought as partners in the park’s transformation.

Wolves and cougars were both extirpated by the early 1930s. Coyotes, however, have been protected from 1936 on—a discrimination in the ruling that I have never understood, since these smaller canids can also prey on animals as large as deer or (very occasionally) elk and have even been known to attack humans.

In addition to the larger predators, Douglas W. Smith, the Yellowstone Wolf Project leader, who has studied wolves for more than three decades, says that smaller predators and humans should be factored in to the great depletion of the elk herd since wolves came to the park.

Here are a few megafauna statistics from Morell’s article:

Elk:
1994, more than 19,000 in the northern range of Yellowstone
2008, just over 6,000

Cougars (known in the park):
1972, almost none
1995, estimated at 15 to 20
2015, estimated at about 35, a “natural experiment,” according to Morell, “but they are
rarely seen and do not howl”

Bison:
1997 (after slaughter of 1,000), about 1,600
2004, over 4,000
2014, 4,900

Beaver colonies:
2014, 12 (but the
park website
) gives 112 beaver colonies in 2011.)*

Wolves:
1994, none
2013, 95 in the park; 34 on the northern range

Human visitors:
2014: 3.6 million.

– – – – –
*From the NPS Yellowstone website: “The increase [in beavers] has occurred throughout the park and is likely related to the resurgence in willow since the late 1990s, at least on the northern range, and possibly in the park interior.”

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Science for Parks conference, final part

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6. Where has science in the national parks come from and where will it be going?

The Science for Parks, Parks for Science conference in Berkeley, March 25-27, 2015, took stock of the accomplishments of the past hundred years and pointed the way that national parks should take in the future. Scientists and budding scientists presented sessions, discussions, and posters about the work they have done and what is soon to come for the parks.

Taking in any of the more than one hundred poster sessions on Thursday afternoon turned out to be impossible for me, but the conference program listed posters on such topics as invasive species, pollution, environmental planning, and engaging the public.

Nearly a hundred short presentations took place concurrently on Friday morning in eight different rooms, meaning I could only attend a dozen of them in the three-and-one-half hours allotted. I chose to learn about light pollution—NPS scientists study this in some of today’s 407 discrete park units. Then I learned about what they’ve been doing since 1953 at the University of Wyoming / National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton National Park. And I listened to the talks about analyzing visitors’ winter use of Yellowstone.

Themes that resonate in my mind as I sum up the conference are (1) the importance of children’s gaining experience in the out-of-doors and (2) the efforts being made by many to engage the public, to encourage “citizen science.” Two of the many mentions of the first theme were when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told us that the best classrooms are the ones without walls, and E. O. Wilson reminisced about his days of collecting insects and then snakes in southern Alabama.

In connection with citizen science, speaker John Francis, the vice president for science of the National Geographic Society, titled his talk, “The World is a Park.” He told us how, since 2007, in eight different parks, students and community members have joined scientists for a 24-hour species count. These events have taken place from Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This year’s event will take place in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on May 15 and 16. Participants age eight and over explore and inventory plants, animals, birds, fungi, fish, and any other organisms they find that make up a park. Downloading the iNaturalist.org app will aid in documenting species.

The task of closing out this summit conference fell to steering committee chairman, Steve Beissinger, UC–Berkeley Professor of Conservation Biology, speaking on “1915, 2015, 2115, The Fall and Rise of Science in the Parks.” Epitomizing how science works in three short equations, he showed us:

Data + Theory = Model (or Hypothesis)
Model + [more] Data = Predictions]
Predictions + New Data = Test

Then he drew arrows leading back from the third line to the others, showing how the model feeds back on itself. And he added the importance of peer reviewers to the scientific mix.

Professor Beissinger also traced scientific development or the rise of science in the parks from 1916, when first NPS Director Stephen Mather invested in infrastructure (but not science) through George Wright’s assistance in establishing a wildlife division in 1928, to the 1941 decimation of all science in the parks due to World War II. But in 1963 a National Academy of Science report again stimulated research, and finally in 1999 Cooperative Ecosystem Study Units were established in several universities, with the beginning of inventory and monitoring programs soon after.

Beissinger reminded us of suggestions made by other speakers as to how to steward the parks through the inevitable changes they face. Pointing out that we cannot wait for today’s fourth graders to grow up and vote wisely, he joked that perhaps we could engage with some of today’s voters by having a “Tea Party Day”: give such voters free park passes and perhaps a crumpet for each!

The speech ended with a few practical ideas Beissinger thinks are needed, such as increasing the number of NPS biologists and removing barriers that make research difficult for scientists. Berkeley may aid by developing a “Center for Parks, People, and Biodiversity.”

And the conference was over.

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