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Having returned from my Yellowstone trip several weeks ago now and not expecting to be able to go again this year, I’m reduced to reading all I can find about the park in order to keep current. I’ve just read some of the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment for the proposed Youth Campus. I hope that Alternative C will be built on the land where the Mammoth Horse Corral was formerly located. Of course, I don’t know for sure that this is going to happen, but I am trusting enough to mention it in Yellowstone Treasures’ Fifth Edition (pages 269–70).

The proposal would bring as many as 140 young people to work and enjoy the park each summer and house them in lovely modern surroundings while they are there. Being concerned that the important historical features in the area should be carefully preserved, I just sent a comment to that effect. I included a suggestion that a separate access road and small parking area be available for visitors to the small (formerly military) cemetery started there in 1888. Although the soldiers’ graves have been relocated elsewhere, the cemetery is still a beautiful spot and should be carefully preserved for posterity.

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Two major non-profit organizations that give support to Yellowstone are merging. Governing boards for the Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Park Foundation have recently voted to become one entity, merging philanthropic and educational programs into one umbrella organization.
YA_Screen Shot
YPF_Screen Shot

The merger will be complete by spring 2016 and fully in effect by February 2017, with a new name and website, creating a single non-profit with 50,000 supporters.

Back in 1933 supporters formed the Yellowstone Library and Museum Association to preserve the park’s history and provide educational services. Later simplifying their name to Yellowstone Association, the organization began in 1976 to offer instructional courses that “highlight the park’s amazing wildlife, geothermal areas, rich history and awe-inspiring wilderness.” It also provides funding to the research library and Yellowstone Science magazine. As a member of YA I have personally profited from over twenty of the extremely well-taught courses offered by the Yellowstone Institute, and I’ve found the library (open to all) indispensable for my research.

Some of the contributions of the Yellowstone Park Foundation, formed in 1996 to raise needed funds for the park include:
1996: Began ongoing funding for the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps.
2001: Acquired the remarkable Davis Collection of thousands of pieces of Yellowstone memorabilia and historic items.
2008: Funded the restoration of Artist Point overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
2010: Contributed to the new Old Faithful Visitor Education.
2013: Completed moving and restoring the historic Haynes Photo Shop near Old Faithful Geyser.

The press release for the merger states: “Our new organization will continue the tradition and contribution made by both YA and YPF by connecting people to Yellowstone through outstanding visitor experiences and educational programs, and translating those experiences into lifelong support and philanthropic investment that preserve and enhance the park for future generations. One organization with one mission will also help the public easily understand how to support Yellowstone.”

Granite Peak Publications is proud to be associated with these organizations and with Gateway Businesses for the Park, a project of YPF.Gateway-Businesses-for-the-Park

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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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Science for Parks conference, part 4

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4. Sally Jewell and the Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation

Presented as a part of the Science for Parks conference, UC–Berkeley’s annual Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation, open to the public on the evening of March 26, treated us with an all-too-brief introduction to Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior since April 2013, and four other illustrious speakers. Jewell was one of the panelists discussing “America’s Two Best Ideas—Public Education and Public Lands.”

To open the event, University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks gave a brief address. The panel’s moderator was Michael Krasny, a familiar voice to listeners to San Francisco’s public radio station KQED as host of the station’s morning Forum program. In addition to Jewell, the other two panelists were Janet Napolitano, formerly Secretary of Homeland Security and now president of the University of California, and history professor Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, the author or co-author of some 23 books relating to American history. The entire evening’s event was videotaped and can be accessed at: parksforscience.berkeley.edu.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
Secretary Jewell was born in London, England, but her family immigrated to Seattle, where she received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Washington. She and her engineer husband have two children. After working in petroleum engineering and then in banking for many years, she became a board member of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) and then its chief operating officer. She’s an outdoor enthusiast herself, having climbed Mt. Rainier several times.

Listening to Ms. Jewell talk about her work at Interior, we can feel that the department is in very good hands. In fact, her co-panelist, historian Brinkley, pointed out that since the creation of her department in 1849, the work she has done there in less than two years compares well with that of Harold Ickes under President Roosevelt (Interior Secretary from 1933 to 1945) and of Stewart Udall (1961 to 1969) under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Two initiatives taking shape under Secretary Jewell are Every Kid in a Park and the Youth Initiative. Feeling that “the best classrooms are those with no walls,” she is finding a way, beginning in fall of 2015, to give every fourth grader and his or her family a free pass to a national or state park. She intends to continue this program for twelve years. This is a beginning in an effort to change the statistics Jewell quoted: The average American schoolchild spends 56 hours per week in front of a screen and 30 minutes in the outdoors; she says they have a “nature deficit disorder.”

Already in place, another program called the Youth Initiative has begun in 50 cities with the participation of YMCAs and funding from American Express. The program was launched last year “to bridge the growing discontent between young people and the great outdoors” with goals to help children play, learn, serve, and work in outdoor spaces. Jewell cited one unit of the program’s launch, where Miami children learned to dissect small fish in nearby Biscayne National Park. This program will take place in some of the more than 75 urban national parks and other refuges and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recreational lands.

Secretary Jewell is also deeply concerned with the need to make parks more relevant to American minorities. “People need to see themselves and their stories in the national parks.”

Asked about the role of technology in the parks, she suggested that cell phones can (and in some places already do) give out local information in the voices of people who live nearby, and tech companies (or perhaps even REI!) could develop games involving plants, animals, or invasive species.

As she brought up the water fights in drought-stricken California, Jewell insisted that the parties must get together, stop talking over and around the subject, and solve the problems by finding common ground. “It’s hard to let go of the ‘from’ if you don’t know what the ‘to’ is,” she told us.

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Science for Parks conference report, part 2

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2. Speaker Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Do you know how some people can stand up in front of a group and immediately grab everyone’s attention? You just know s/he will have something interesting and important to say. You sense that this is someone who spends time pondering big ideas.

This occurred last Thursday morning when Jane Lubchenco was introduced at the “Science for Parks, Parks for Science” centennial conference. Her forty-minute talk was titled, “Seas the Day! A Blue, Saltier Second Century of Interdependent Science, Parks, and People.”

GoldenGatePartLogo 2015-04-01 at 11.23.05 AM Part of the conference logo

Being more of a mountain person than an ocean person, I had not previously given much thought or attention to the seas—but she certainly has. Although Ms. Lubchenco was brought up and went to college closer to mountains (in Denver and Colorado Springs), she was turned on to marine biology by a summer program at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and went on to receive a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Washington and a Harvard PhD in marine ecology.

Beginning in 1977 she and her husband, Dr. Bruce Menge, shared a unique arrangement: Oregon State University (Corvallis) allowed them to split a single position into two half-time but tenure-track positions, thus giving them both time for family duties.

Dr. Lubchenco has won numerous awards for her research and teaching, served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and from 2009 to 2013 was chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is still Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State. Her excellent lecture—scroll down to: Mission of the National Park Service and Its Relevancy Today (Part 2)—gives listeners a clear idea of how she has achieved so much.

Beginning by telling us that only 6% of U.S. territorial waters and less than 1% of international waters are protected, she explained that there are two types of protection but that only Marine Reserves (and not the so-called Marine Protected Areas) are truly effective. Scientists have determined that 20-30% of the oceans need this protection, yet there is little public awareness of the need. A glimmer of hope appeared last summer, when President Obama set aside the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Now is the time for countries to create “blue parks,” our speaker suggests, to complement the many green and brown spaces we have. Oceans are already 30% more acidic than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A radical but valuable proposal is to close the high seas (all non-territorial ocean areas) to all fishing; she explained how this would actually benefit protected areas and fishermen.

Dr. Lubchenco ended her observations with a story illustrating another point she wanted to stress. While briefing Vice President Joe Biden as they flew together to view the devastation and talk to people after the 2010 Gulf Oil spill, she told him among other things how some fish and seafood can metabolize the chemicals in oil and some—such as oysters—cannot. Listening for a while, Biden said, “I thought you were a scientist.” “I am,” she said. “But I just understood everything you told me,” replied Biden. Scientists must learn to tell stories, concluded our speaker, to be “bilingual,” that is, to talk both in science-speak and in everyday language, in order to engage the public.

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Science for Parks conference report

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I. Insights from the Opening Ceremony

From the evening of March 25th through the 27th, I listened to and attended lectures and brief sessions at “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: the Next Century.” This event was organized on the University of California–Berkeley campus by faculty of their conservation biology and related departments, along with directors of California parks organizations, the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, and public television station KQED.

March of 2015 marks the centennial of two major San Francisco area events. One was the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—largely sponsored by the railroads—whose Palace of Fine Arts stands in the Marina district of San Francisco to this day. You can read more about the Pan-Pacific Exposition in Alfred Runte’s excellent article, which I linked to in my March 26 blog post.

The other March 1915 event was a national park conference, convening about 75 men at Berkeley by Stephen T. Mather, then assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Mather was soon to become the first director of the National Park Service (in 1916). An emphasis of the conference was two “best ideas” the organizers feel are related: public education and public lands.

As a long-time aficionado of national parks, I couldn’t miss this event. The organizers will produce a book about the entire conference, but I’m sure this will take at least a year. In a few pages there is no way I can sum up all that was discussed and revealed during those intense two days and more of meetings. So I’ve decided to concentrate on a few individual speakers who impressed me greatly. In the next week or two I’ll try to give the essence of what I learned from them.

I had never before connected the National Geographic Society to the national parks. But in his remarks at the opening ceremony, Chris Johns, chief content officer for National Geographic Magazine, told us that not only was the April 1916 issue of his magazine devoted to the then-existing national parks, but that the society donated eighty thousand dollars so that the National Park Service could be set up. Thus, a new division of the Department of the Interior was born.

In the very next year (1917) three scientists investigated California’s redwoods and noted their devastation. This was the beginning of the Save the Redwoods League, which now helps to protect thirteen units of big trees in our third largest state.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis appeared briefly and mentioned that Gary Machlis, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University in South Carolina, has recently been appointed to the position of first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service Director. I’ll tell you more about Machlis in a future blog post.

It seems appropriate to close this first post about the conference by listing seven serious concerns facing the national parks—and the world. They were pointed out by steering committee chairman Steve Beissinger as having occurred in the last hundred years. They are: changing climate, storms and fires of greater severity, urban encroachment and pollution, invasions of non-native species, plant and animal extinctions, changing attitudes of a public that is more urbanized, and political pressures of narrow interest groups that have sometimes led to benign neglect of parks.

You can watch the videos of the opening ceremony and all other plenary sessions at: www.parksforscience.berkeley.edu. [NOTE: These videos are still available in the Live Stream category on this website as of September 7, 2015.]

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Would you like to work and play in Yellowstone this summer?

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If you are 15 to 18 years old, here is a great opportunity to make about two hundred dollars a week for a month or two and gain valuable skills and work experience in the world’s first national park, Yellowstone!

Consider joining the Youth Conservation Corps, meeting like-minded young people, and contributing to essential maintenance in this remarkable place. Here is all you need to know about the program.

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What to say about an idyllic three days in the Lamar Valley enjoying and learning more about Yellowstone wildflowers? Even in seasons without so many flowers the valley is one of my favorite places anywhere.

Whenever I’m there, I can never get enough of the changing light as you look up the valley to Saddle Mountain and its neighboring peaks or across the river to Specimen Ridge. But this green early summer with bison grazing everywhere is really special.

Also special in every way was the Yellowstone Institute class called The Art of Wildflower Identification. Instructor Meredith Campbell is not just knowledgeable about botany and a fine artist. She is wonderfully qualified to patiently teach us about keying in Rocky Mountain wildflowers as well as about some techniques of drawing and using color. We were using a little booklet that asks us specific questions about the leaves and flowers and (sometimes!) leads us to identify the one we are looking at.

This was my third time for taking this class, but the second was seven years ago, and I need lots of review. Special for me this year were the other members of the class, who included the current Mammoth Clinic doctor (also trained as an architect and capable of lovely flower drawings), several caring people who work for the park service or for the Yellowstone Association, and others with interesting backgrounds and reasons for being there. They were particularly kind to me as by far the oldest class member.

It hardly mattered that it rained on and off for the first two days and the third was sunny—but when we went partway up Mt. Washburn seeking subalpine flowers, we encountered a strong cold wind. You never know what to expect in the mountains.

I am hoping I can soon add a Lamar Valley picture to this post, one taken by Kathie Lynch, who spends so much time studying Lamar wolves that her license plate is “YNP WOLF.” She writes interesting reports about the park’s wolves on The Wildlife News.

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In a few days I’ll fly to Idaho Falls for a brief visit with a friend before I drive to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in northeastern Yellowstone for my Yellowstone Institute class. This is a class called The Art of Wildflower Identification, taught by Meredith Campbell. I’ve taken the class twice before and simply loved it.

We start with the elementary botany of flowers, and since for me it’s always quite a few years between these classes, I can use all the review I can get. Meredith also shows us some techniques for drawing with our colored pencils. Then we’re off for three days in various outstanding fields of flowers that she’s found in advance.

Here is a forget-me-not, a sample of the wonderful flower drawings by Mary Vaux Walcott in the 1920s (from page 352 in Yellowstone Treasures):

Mary Vaux Walcott watercolor of flower

—and my best effort at drawing a clematis during the 2007 class:

Clematis by Janet, 2007

Clematis by Janet, 2007

You can see why I need more classes!

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National Park Week

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In my last post I left out the fact that this week is National Park Week. It runs from April 19th through the 27th. This year’s theme, National Park Week: Go Wild! gives parks an opportunity to showcase what makes them significant, special, or unique.

In addition, many of the parks are designating one day this week to the Junior Ranger Program, which encourages America’s youth to explore, protect, and learn about our National Parks. As far as I can ascertain, Yellowstone has not planned a Junior Ranger Day this year, probably because the park has just opened after the spring break of about six weeks and because schools in the area are in session.

However, you can learn how to take part in the Junior Ranger Program in Yellowstone when everything will be open later this spring—see my February 28th post for details about road closures and openings.Junior Ranger program badge

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