GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

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Hear about Yellowstone Books in Montana

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Janet Chapple with First Edition Yellowstone Treasures

The author with the first edition of the Yellowstone Treasures guidebook in 2002


Author Janet Chapple is always happy to talk about Yellowstone National Park and her two books on the subject. She will be speaking at two bookstore events in Montana this month. June 14 is her appearance at This House of Books in Billings, a co-op store that has posted a nice image of a watercolor from Through Early Yellowstone to the blog on their website. On June 22 you can catch her presentation and book signing at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman. I will also be in attendance. You’ll find more details about both talks on our events page. Hope to see you there!

—Editor and Publisher, Beth Chapple

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Montana Book Festival news

Categories: News, Through Early Yellowstone
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Beth at Montana book fair booth On September 24, National Public Lands Day, I hope you had the chance to get out and enjoy one of our beautiful U.S. national parks or monuments. I spent all that Saturday at the book fair of the 2016 Montana Book Festival in the heart of Missoula. Thanks to festival director Rachel Mindell and her band of hard-working volunteers, people had the chance to hear author talks and peruse new books with Montana-based authors or themes. While the book fair was free and open to the public, many participants bought a festival button so they could attend the various events. Some people stopped by the table to reminisce about Yellowstone Park, take a free Yellowstone Treasures postcard or Through Early Yellowstone bookmark, or buy a book. I’ll be taking the show on the road again for Wordstock in Portland, Oregon on November 5th–maybe I’ll see you there!

Fortunately I was able to combine a fun and research-filled road trip to Yellowstone with this book festival. I drove from Seattle with my son on September 18th, spent a mere four days in the park, and we drove back via Missoula. Author Janet and I will be sharing some stories and pictures from our trips over the next few weeks, as well as adding videos to our YouTube channel. Today I added a video called “Fan Creek 360 degree view.”

–Editor and Publisher, Beth Chapple

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Yellowstone Bison Get Room to Roam at Last

Categories: Flora and Fauna, News
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Bison herd in winter
Bison herd in winter

The Livingston Enterprise recently reported a rare coming-together of often contentious parties. Federal, state, and tribal agencies that manage Yellowstone Park bison have agreed to let bison stay in parts of Montana year-round. The members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan have verbally agreed to Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s decision to allow the big animals to roam outside the park in search of food on an estimated 400 square miles north and west of the park.

Searching through my past blog posts for what I’ve written before about bison, I can only find rare mentions of the biggest and perhaps most charismatic of Yellowstone’s “charismatic megafauna.” And even in the thirty-five or more “Nuggets” of park information I’ve supplied, somehow I’ve managed to skip writing about bison. These days, when you go to the park, you may not see bears or wolves, and even elk are not so common as they were when I started writing about the park. But bison?—oh, yes, you’ll see herds of them!

Wild animals are not even mentioned in the 1872 act of Congress that set aside “a certain Tract of Land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River” in “the Territories of Montana and Wyoming.” Regulations were to be set up for the preservation of “timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders,” and “wanton destruction of the fish and game” was frowned upon. That animals were not mentioned in the Organic Act does not surprise me, since in the 1870s there were still millions of bison in the U.S. West, and other wild animals were everywhere, too. What need was there to preserve them?

The fate of the bison illustrates probably the most grievous case of man’s wanton destruction of a natural resource in America’s history. Not only did hunters nearly eradicate the bison during the last decades of the 19th century, but the slaughter was actually encouraged by the government to suppress the Native American Indians who depended upon them.

During the 20th century, different efforts to bring bison back to Yellowstone met with varying success, but now there are close to 5,000 of them in and near the park. This is really too many to be manageable in the parts of the park where they prefer to graze. In recent decades the question of whether they can transmit brucellosis to domestic cattle has greatly complicated the scene and caused major strife between the National Park Service and other interested agencies. Brucellosis is a disease that can cause a pregnant cow to abort her calf, understandably a concern for Montana ranchers. But no cases of the disease being transmitted from bison to cattle have ever been documented, and besides, elk can also carry brucellosis.

Since 2000, wandering bison have sometimes been hazed back into the park in wintertime. Some have been quarantined and others relocated to Indian reservations. With this spring’s new regulation, the iconic animal that appeared on the “buffalo nickel” for decades has a better chance to survive severe winters.

I must issue a word of warning, though: more people are injured in Yellowstone by bison than by any other animal. Lately visitors are being injured and even killed while taking so-called selfies. Bison look placid but are NOT tame and can run very fast. Stay at least 25 yards away—unless, while driving, you are caught in a “bison jam.” This happens especially in Hayden Valley, where the animals frequently cross the highway. In that case, stay in your car and wait patiently!

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What is meant by “Greater Yellowstone”?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Park environs, Wildlife
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Back in 1872, when Congress was wise enough to set aside a large area of “useless” land and name it the Yellowstone National Park, the main purpose was to reserve the remarkable geothermal features and their surroundings “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This phrase was later inscribed on the park’s North Entrance Arch. Park boundaries were set to correspond to obvious natural features and partially along lines of longitude and latitude.

Protecting wild animals was not a big concern in 1872, since there seemed to be a great many of them. But it soon became apparent that they needed protection from overzealous hunters. Concern for the buffalo (now usually called bison) was great. They were rapidly being wiped out, largely because of government policy that rewarded buffalo hunters richly. Native American Plains Indians depended upon the buffalo for their very livelihood, but U.S. officials wanted the tribes to settle on reservations and make life safer for Eastern homesteaders.

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 343

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 343

Even before bison were nearly driven to extinction, people who cared about preserving wildlife and the western lands from rampant development moved to set aside more land for special protection. In 1891 the Department of the Interior created the Yellowstone Park Forest Reservation (now part of Shoshone National Forest), paving the way for today’s 155 national forests.

Now we skip ahead one century plus a year after Yellowstone Park was designated. In 1973 concerned thinkers and planners convinced Congress to pass the Endangered Species Act. By then, bison were thriving but the grizzly bears were not;

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 344

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 344

local agencies also found by the 1970s that cutthroat trout, pronghorn (also called antelope), whitebark pine, and quaking aspen trees were of special concern. An area of about four million acres with Yellowstone at its center was christened the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 1986 the federal government recognized Greater Yellowstone, when a joint congressional committee report outlined shortcomings in interagency coordination and concluded that the area’s essential values were at risk.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they  keep changing over the years.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they keep changing over the years. Map from Greater Yellowstone Coalition website.


The National Park System now describes the GYE thus:
• 12–22 million acres; 18,750–34,375 square miles (Sizes, boundaries, and descriptions of any ecosystem can vary.)
• States: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
• Encompasses state lands, two national parks, portions of five national forests, three national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private and tribal lands
• Managed by state governments, federal government, tribal governments, and private individuals.

In addition to government agencies like the Interior Department’s National Park Service and the Forest Service (part of the Department of Agriculture), a number of nonprofit agencies work to help preserve Greater Yellowstone; National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition are three of them. Two prime concerns of all these entities are climate change and providing corridors for wildlife migrations.

Another spectacular mountain area farther north is the Crown of the Continent, an initiative spearheaded by University of Montana geography professor Rick Graetz with the assistance of his wife Susie Graetz and others. Covering the area centered upon Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, it extends some 250 miles from Alberta, Canada south along the Continental Divide into central Wyoming.

A stated goal of this coalition is to maintain “wildlife corridors [that] may mean the difference between a robust grizzly population and one needing continued human protections, particularly in an age when movement will be essential for both grizzlies and other species that might need to head north to weather the impending climate storm.”

Educators and governmental agencies in this entire area are stressing the interconnectedness of the ecology of this beautiful mountainous area all the way from Alberta, Canada to west-central Wyoming. I was interested to find that western North America is not the only part of the world pondering this question. An Australian website states: “Wildlife corridors can range in size – from small corridors created by local communities to large corridors that stretch across many different landscapes.

“For example, a small corridor might be an area along a creek that has been revegetated by a local community group to link two patches of forest. Native animals could then move more freely between these forests to find food, shelter and opportunities to breed.

“Large-scale corridors might span tens or hundreds of kilometres across multiple landscape types and jurisdictions. Typically a large-scale corridor would require collaboration between a wide range of groups working in partnership to manage them.”

A puzzle I have not been able to solve in my research into the two U.S. entities is whether they would wish to connect the Crown of the Continent with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, since there’s a large part of Montana between them where many people live. Grizzlies and wolves are not compatible with what we consider civilization. Perhaps just making more people aware of the beauties of the two areas, the threats to the species we share them with, and how we can help preserve them is enough for now.

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A quick heads-up on Yellowstone’s wolves

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Exactly twenty years after gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, Kathie Lynch has given us a wonderful summary of their present very healthy state in the park. This is spite of the unfortunate killing of several collared wolves, at least three of them alphas, in the three hunting seasons since they were removed from the Endangered Species list in Montana, Idaho, and (until September 2014) in Wyoming.

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Roads closing for winter break in Yellowstone

Categories: Trip planning, Winter
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All Yellowstone Park roads except the all-weather road between Gardiner and Cooke City in the northern part of the park will close Monday, November 3, 2014, at 8:00 am. And just in time, too: On Sunday and Monday, October 26 and 27, there was up to one foot of snow in some places and a few drivers were stranded until snowplows could reach them. A dusting of snow remained at Old Faithful in late afternoon on Tuesday (10/28), as I just saw on the Old Faithful streaming webcam.

December 15th will be the day most roads will be ready for snowcoaches and snowmobiles.

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Recent wolf numbers

Categories: Park environs, Wildlife
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I learned today from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition newsletter that 75 to 80 wolves now live in Yellowstone Park. This is less than half the number of wolves that lived in the park at the peak a few years ago. The current lower number explains why wolf sightings are down, especially in the Lamar Valley, which used to be the place to see wolves. However, fans of Yellowstone’s wolves are hoping to learn that a good number of pups were born this April. It’s still too early to know that for sure.

The GYC reports: “Wyoming’s season closed Dec. 31, 2012, with 73 wolves taken. Montana’s season ended in late February and Idaho’s in late March, except in two areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that were closed early. As of Feb. 4, 203 wolves had been killed by hunters/trappers in Idaho and 179 in Montana.”

The full article is at:http://www.greateryellowstone.org/issues/wildlife/Feature.php?id=38.

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Who Are Yellowstone Country Guardians?

Categories: News, Park environs
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At a beautifully illustrated lecture about grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park, I was recently [April, 2012] introduced to a remarkable young organization, one whose main mission is to inspire the youth on the fringes of the Yellowstone Ecosystem to become aware of the wonders so near them and of what they can do to help preserve them—to become guardians of the Yellowstone country.

As future guardians, high school students from Bozeman, Emigrant, Gardiner, and Livingston, Montana, take the Yellowstone Leadership Challenge. They climb a mountain, watch Lamar Valley wildlife on an early morning, participate in a service project in the park, and learn about conservation issues.

Formed in 2009 and led by the enthusiastic and dedicated former ranger, Michael Leach, this group hopes to bridge a perceived gap between many of the hitherto unconcerned citizens living in and near Yellowstone gateway communities and the park’s delights and needs.

So far, the Guardians’ program has created a fly fishing school and a bear education program for high school students. It has begun to interview and film Yellowstone Country residents telling their stories about living in this unique environment. Its Regional Road Tour aims to foster greater understanding of the area’s wildlands and encourage community participation in their stewardship.

I wish them well. For more information or to learn how you can help the organization, see: www.yellowstonecountryguardians.org.

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Wolves and grizzlies of Yellowstone again making the news

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The top of the food chain is always the most controversial. Last week [August 2010], U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana overturned last fall’s decision by the Interior Department to remove the gray wolf’s Endangered Species protective listing. The previous decision had resulted in the states of Montana and Idaho holding wolf hunts that saw the deaths of several hundred wolves, while wolves in Wyoming (outside of the national parks) were still protected, since Wyoming’s delisting plan had been deemed unacceptable.

Judge Molloy’s August 5th decision centered around his ruling that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cannot list only part of a species as endangered while another part is left on the list. As stated on the National Parks Traveler’s website: www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2010/08/federal-judge-overturns-federal-governments-delisting-gray-wolf-endangered-species-act-protection6366, “conservation groups . . . have maintained that a sound wolf recovery program couldn’t sustain itself, genetically, without two or three times the estimated 1,500 or so wolves loping about Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” but this latest ruling “surely will infuriate some groups that see wolves as nothing more than four-legged killing machines.”

Meanwhile, grizzly bears were returned to the Endangered Species Act list, also last fall, due to another ruling negating their delisting due to the adverse effects of global warming on the bears’ ability to find food. The terrible death and maulings by a grizzly sow in a campground near Cooke City, Montana this month might have been related to the sow being malnourished, but the direct cause was probably her associating people with easily obtained food. A photographer had been baiting the bear shortly before that tragedy occurred. The marauding bear is now dead and her three cubs placed in the Billings zoo.

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Recent wolf statistics

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The Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review published the following figures on March 21, 2010, gleaned from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: In addition to at least two packs each in the states of Washington and Idaho, they have counted a minimum population of 843 wolves in Idaho, 524 in Montana, and 320 in Wyoming.

The USFWS figure for Wyoming includes the Yellowstone wolves, which biologist Doug Smith reports has declined from 171 in 2008 to 56 this year. The current scourge of mange in Yellowstone wolves accounts for much of this decline, with distemper in pups and predation by other wolves contributing.

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