su m m e r 2014 Vital Signs Report Lake: Yellowstoneâ€™s Serene Spot Counting Cougars
Yellowstone Association Leadership Team Yellowstone National Park receives more than 3 million visitors per year, the majority of whom visit the park to recreate during the busy summer season. In addition to being great for hiking and wildlife watching, Yellowstone also serves as a year-round laboratory and classroom. Your Yellowstone Association membership helps support research and education in the park. This year, the Association will provide nearly $875,000 in cash aid to the park—our highest annual donation to date. Whether it’s gaining an understanding of the inner workings of Old Faithful or appreciating the important role elk play in the park’s ecosystem, there is always something new to learn in a place as vast and dynamic as Yellowstone. Research and education help create a deeper connection with place. The more we learn, the more we are amazed at all the park has to offer. We are proud to be part of a community of educators and researchers who are working together to preserve this place for generations to come. Yellowstone is a diverse ecosystem, from its thermal basins to its high peaks, from its spectacular flora to its renowned wildlife. We are fortunate to live and work in such a wild place—a place where, as you’ll read in this issue of Yellowstone Quarterly, you just might see a mountain lion walking down the main street of town. Sincerely,
Daniel Bierschwale Director of Retail
Wendie Carr Marketing Manager
Director of Finance and Administration
Dennis McIntosh Director of Facilities
Human Resources Manager
Director of Development
Director of Education
Yellowstone Association Board of Directors Claire Campbell Board Chair
Lou Lanwermeyer Vice-Chair
Bob Shopneck Treasurer
Jeff Brown Yellowstone Association executive director
Patty Carocci Secretary
Don Ableson West Bloomfield, MI
Katie Cattanach Denver, CO
Sandy Choate Austin, TX
Gale Davis Wilson, WY
Penney Cox Hubbard Baltimore, MD
Mat Millenbach Yellowstone’s official nonprofit education partner
Alex Perez Atherton, CA
Alan Shaw Big Sky, MT
Anne Young Cody, WY
What’s on the cover? Common Goldeneye and ducklings COVER Cindy Goeddel / C INDY GOEDDEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Summer TABLE OF CONTE NTS
Report Offers Look at Yellowstone’s “Vital Signs”
Lake: Yellowstone’s Serene Spot
Creatures Large & Small: Badgers
NPS Q&A: Stacey Gunther, Yellowstone Center for Resources Research Permit Office
Cascade Corner: Bechler Region
Naturalist Notes: The Secret Lives of Cats
Yellowstone Quarterly 1
Report Offers Look at Yellowstone’s
“Vital Signs” By Ruffin Prevost
doctors recommend an annual physical examination for even
their healthiest patients, during which the physician typically checks the individual’s vital signs — like blood pressure, body temperature, and respiratory rate — to get a quick indication of overall health. In Yellowstone National Park, scientists and researchers monitor a wide range of data to get an idea of how healthy the ecosystem is. Every two years they release a report called Vital Signs, detailing the status of key metrics that help park managers and the public better understand Yellowstone’s health. The report summarizes a wealth of information about critical indicators that managers use to help inform their decisions on a wide range of programs, policies, and operations. “The Vital Signs report gives us an opportunity to give the public a regular snapshot into many of the broad areas we work on day-in and day-out,” said Yellowstone spokesperson Al Nash. The report includes data on ecosystem drivers, like climate, fire, and geothermal activity. It covers air and water quality, as well as native species that have been federally listed as threatened or endangered. Vital Signs also looks at species that have experienced declines in the park, including whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. It covers species that have relatively small populations, like bighorn sheep or pronghorn—or that have a major role in ecosystem or park management efforts, like bison or elk. The latest Vital Signs report also places a new emphasis on cultural resources. It takes careful stock of the park’s hundreds of historic buildings, roads, bridges, grave markers, and other sites. The biennial report tracks a total of 26 vital signs. But managers are constantly drawing on the latest scientific information about those areas and many more, as soon as it becomes available, Nash said. “There’s new information feeding into our scientists and biologists all the time,” he said. “That increase in knowledge gets directly funneled into our regular decision-making process.” It’s the job of the Yellowstone Center for Resources (YCR) to act as that funnel. YCR works to gather, manage, and analyze data and to make sure that the information makes its way to park staff, decision-makers, and the public. That means not just presenting numbers, but offering context for what those numbers mean, said David Hallac, the YCR chief. Hallac cited bald eagles as an example. A study might focus on the total number of breeding pairs in the park, but that is only one relatively crude way to measure what’s going on with bald
eagles in Yellowstone. “It’s so hard as humans not to focus just on a number that’s being reported,” Hallac said. “We’re always searching for a better way to explain the complexities of reporting ecological data.” He noted that gathering longterm data and looking at trends across decades is critical. After more than 25 years of intensive monitoring of grizzly bears, for instance, researchers are able to have a reasonable level of confidence in population trends, Hallac continued. The latest report shows grizzly numbers leveling off, suggesting bears may have reached the ecosystem’s carrying capacity.
Eye on Climate Climate is another area where park managers are looking at long-term trends and using those data to keep an eye on potential areas of concern. While snowpack may vary considerably from year to year, decades of precipitation data suggest that Yellowstone is still in a long-term drought, according to the most recent report stats. The latest data also “support a continued trend of warming with average low temperatures increasing by 4.6 degrees since 1989.” Those findings have prompted park researchers to look at how changes in Yellowstone’s growing season might affect the behavior of invasive plant species, Hallac noted as just one example of how Vital Signs data drives both management decisions and new areas of additional research. Even short-term data trends can be helpful when trying to assess major efforts like native fish restoration. After devoting significant resources to reducing invasive lake trout numbers in Yellowstone Lake, “we have preliminary signs that we’re starting to see more younger Yellowstone cutthroat in our monitoring,” Hallac said. That’s good news, according to Hallac, because if more of the young native Yellowstone cutthroat weren’t being seen in fish counts, it might suggest that lake trout eradication efforts were not producing results that would justify the costs. Yellowstone Quarterly 3
Anglers vs. Pelicans
A different kind of fish conservation program from decades ago offers a stark example of how science was not always at the forefront of management decisions in Yellowstone. During the late 1920s, rangers smashed hundreds of pelican eggs on nesting islands at the southern end of Yellowstone Lake, said Lee Whittlesey, the park’s historian. The goal was to kill pelicans, which feed on trout, to make sure there were enough fish for anglers. But the effort is “touted today as a total monstrosity of madness,” Whittlesey said.
Current information about bison, grizzly bears, and wolves is included in this year’s “Vital Signs” report.
In Preserving Yellowstone’s Natural Conditions: Science and the Perception of Nature, author James A. Pritchard writes that up to 80 percent of the area’s pelicans were killed by such efforts in one season. Pritchard recounts how, in 1929, Fred Foster, a park fisheries manager, labeled pelicans as one of the “chief enemies” of park fish, warning that “the disciples of Audubon should bear in mind that the trout are ‘footing the bill’ and that the fishermen will be ‘good fellows’ only up to a certain point.” That sentiment stems from a long-standing view that “there are good animals and bad animals, and that humans were put here to pick and choose” between them, Whittlesey said. Historically, science has sometimes taken a back seat to other considerations when the National Park Service has struggled with other priorities. In the early 1930s, Park Service naturalist George Melendez Wright used his own funds to conduct and publish the first major scientific survey of wildlife in the national parks. But Wright’s death in 1936 in an automobile accident that also claimed the life of Yellowstone Superintendent Roger Toll set back the cause of science-driven management in the parks by at least a decade, Whittlesey said. After World War II, newly prosperous Americans took to the roads again to explore their national parks, bringing an influx of tourists into Yellowstone, where they routinely encountered begging bears.
To read the full report online, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/upload/vitalsigns2-2.pdf 4
Bears became accustomed to roadside snacks offered up from passing cars, as well as regular feedings at open dumps in
“The Yellowstone area is arguably home to some of the most advanced scientific and monitoring research going on anywhere.” Yellowstone, complete with visitors watching from nearby bleachers. As injuries from these close encounters mounted, managers began to realize that their long-standing bear policies of fun and photo opportunities would eventually have to change. “It wasn’t until the early 1950s that the Park Service again returned to trying to embrace science,” Whittlesey said. “But it has been a continual movement upward from that point.”
That movement includes the landmark 12-year study of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears by brothers Frank and John Craighead. Their work employed cutting-edge research that pioneered the use of radio tracking collars and new techniques for tranquilizing wild animals. The Craigheads also were instrumental in developing the concept of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, showing that wildlife move across the landscape in ways that often ignore park boundaries. Today, continuing research on grizzlies and other wildlife builds on a wealth of data that helps us understand more each year about how the park’s ecosystem functions. “The Yellowstone area is arguably home to some of the most advanced scientific and monitoring research going on anywhere,” YCR’s David Hallac said. “We understand some of the wildlife dynamics on the northern range as well as any place on earth. But a lot of the work we do is still just scratching the surface.” Researchers are increasingly looking for citizen scientists to play an important role in helping monitor Yellowstone’s vital signs. “Yellowstone Wolf: Project Citizen Science” is a website where park visitors can upload and annotate photos they take of wolves in Yellowstone. The site gathers important data about where and when specific wolves are spotted, their behaviors, and how a mite infection known as sarcoptic mange moves through wolf populations in the park.
Another citizen science project was the first Yellowstone BioBlitz in 2009, in which students, researchers, and visitors counted and cataloged as many native species as possible in a 24-hour period.
Using the Data
As information pours in, the question remains of how to interpret it, and exactly what to use it for. Recently, Hallac and his staff began considering the merits of establishing management targets for wildlife populations, rather than simply reporting reference numbers. Assuming that fluctuations in wildlife populations are not the result of human interference, is it even appropriate to set a target number in a park where natural processes are supposed to play out on their own? Could mandating a target number for an otherwise healthy species be a more subtle, modern-day version of smashing pelican eggs? “In some ways, that’s one of the hardest questions we deal with,” Hallac said. New data will continue to drive adaptive management decisions on a host of issues, including winter use and bison management, to pick just two recent examples. And that’s how it’s supposed to work, Hallac said. “Science is a process, not an outcome. When we collect data on anything from wolf population trends to native fish numbers, we’re navigating our way through a learning process,” he said. “Science tends to correct itself over time, and we celebrate that.” Ruffin Prevost is founding editor of Yellowstone Gate, an online publication offering community news and inside views about Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Yellowstone Quarterly 5
By Leslie Quinn
Lake: Yellowstoneâ€™s Serene Spot The north shore of Yellowstone Lake presents a very different face to park visitors, and not one that has made Yellowstone famous. Lacking the bugling elk of Mammoth, the roaring geysers of Old Faithful, or the thundering waterfalls of the Canyon, Lake offersâ€Ś serenity, a restfulness that is its distinctive quality.
The village or, rather, villages (Bridge Bay, Lake, and Fishing Bridge villages comprise the area), came a little late on the Yellowstone scene. Early tourist travel stayed mostly to the western side until 1891, when a new road from Old Faithful to Lake, Canyon, and Norris opened. This allowed visitors to see Yellowstone’s major features without the backtracking that the earlier Mary Mountain Road had demanded. Also that summer, the steamship Zillah entered service for the first of 17 summers, offering travelers a dust-free alternative in getting from West Thumb to Lake. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel opened in 1891 as the centerpiece of the north shore. Painted yellow from the start, it was popular for good service. It was lauded for its beauty after architect Robert C. Reamer rebuilt it into a colonial style in 1904. Altered many times since, neglected as often, considered for demolition more than once, the hotel has kept its place in the hearts of its patrons. It has been well cared for since the modern era of concessioners began in 1979. One major renovation readied the hotel for its 1991 centennial; another is just finishing now for the start of the 2014 season. After several years of work, the lobby presents a new color scheme, a level floor, and all new heavily padded and comfortable furnishings. The kitchen is state-of-the-art. All guest rooms have been stripped down to the studs, walls moved as needed,
some rooms combined into suites, and all new furnishings installed. Business areas have been added for those who just can’t relax. The aging dowager of Yellowstone Lake now meets the 21st century in luxury, elegance, and history — her silks faded but intact—and with the park’s finest restaurant to boot! Today, the Lake region offers a greater variety of accommodations than may be found anywhere in Yellowstone. From tents at Bridge Bay Campground, RV sites at the Fishing Bridge Recreational Vehicle Park, cozy cabins at Lake Hotel and Lake Lodge, to the elegance of luxury rooms in the Lake Hotel, there’s a space for all tastes to “rough it” in a style that befits them.
Recreating at Lake Hikers of all levels of experience can enter the backcountry near Lake. Storm Point (2 miles roundtrip) for novices, Elephant Back (3.6 miles roundtrip) for intermediates, or Avalanche Peak (4 miles roundtrip) for experienced hikers offer varied hike options. For directions and information on current conditions (This is grizzly country!), be sure to check with the National Park Service rangers at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center (A National Historic Landmark, it’s worthy of the visit all on its own). Look in front of Lake Hotel for the 1937 Yellow Bus (It tours morning and evening, but is under the porte cochere otherwise). This White Model 706 touring bus is a remnant of the park’s Great Yellow Fleet, which for a time in the 20th century numbered 40 — the second largest bus fleet in the world (after Greyhound) — and undoubtedly the largest with convertible tops. As private cars
left Hikers enjoy the Storm Point trail alongside Yellowstone Lake. top Vintage postcards show the interior and exterior of Lake Hotel, as well as the SS Zillah. bottom Exterior of Lake Hotel today.
Yellowstone Quarterly 7
became more popular, the bus fleet was auctioned away in the 1950s and ’60s. Eight of these buses were repurchased in 2002, refurbished to modern standards (new chassis, drive train, brakes, etc.), and are back touring once again.
“If you have never spent time at Lake, you’ve missed out on one of Yellowstone’s best-kept secrets.”
Yellowstone Lake has nine islands.
On-the-lake adventures await at the Bridge Bay Marina, where you can hire a small boat, guided fishing boat, or just a seat for the onehour tour on the Lake Queen II. The tour always includes Stevenson Island to view the lake’s great shipwreck. The 144-foot SS E. C. Waters, the largest vessel ever to float upon the lake, operated for a single season, 1907, with a license to carry 609 passengers and crew. That fall her builder, owner, master, pilot, and namesake, Captain Ela Collins Waters, lost his concessioner’s license, and he and his steamers never sailed again. The SS Zillah slowly dilapidated on her cradle at Lake Village. The SS E. C. Waters, too large to pull from the lake, remained for good at her winter anchorage, a sheltered cove at Stevenson Island. Beached by the breakup of the lake ice in spring 1921, ruined in 1926 when a huge hole was cut in her hull and her boiler removed, the derelict steamship was finally burned in 1930 to remove the eyesore she had become. If you have never spent time at Lake, you’ve missed out on one of Yellowstone’s best-kept secrets. For a quieter and more restful side of Yellowstone, choose Lake for your next vacation! Leslie J. Quinn works as Interpretive Specialist for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Yellowstone’s hotel concessioner. He is also an Institute instructor, and 2014 is his 34th summer living and working in the world’s first national park. The Lake Hotel, first opened in 1891, has just undergone an extensive renovation. Today, the Lake region offers a greater variety of accommodations than may be found anywhere in Yellowstone.
While the discerning eye can find six of them from the road, a charter boat could take you on a day-long outing to visit most of them. Frank, Stevenson, and Dot islands lie near the center of the lake and are the largest. Nesting eagles and osprey sometimes cause closing the islands to summer visitation until after August 15th. Moose often swim out to the islands in summer to take advantage of fine vegetation unreached by other ungulates. Dot Island was once the home of a small zoo visited by steamship passengers. Carrington Island and Pelican Roost are both so tiny as to belie having names at all, while a large (house-sized) rock just offshore near Steamboat Point has never been given a name. Peale Island and the two Molly Islands (Rocky Molly and Sandy Molly) round out the nine. These latter three are down in the southern arms of Yellowstone Lake. Molly Islands host a pelican rookery each summer, and therefore are off limits to visitation.
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Large small The Badgers of Yellowstone By Barbara Lee Illustration: Katie Gray
“Badger hates society,” to quote the classic Wind in the Willows. Yellowstone’s solitary and elusive badgers are seldom seen, but they leave evidence of their nocturnal activities: mounds of excavated dirt at entrances to underground dens and rodent-hunting burrows. Summer is when the striped-face, low-slung badgers are most active, and young cubs become independent — a new generation of carnivorous digging machines. Cubs that survive to maturity have few natural predators. Protected by a famously aggressive nature and multiple dens, badgers are well adapted to living a solo existence in the open grasslands of Yellowstone.
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Stacey Gunther Yellowstone Center for Resources Research Permit Office Stacey Gunther’s first experience with Yellowstone National Park’s Yellowstone Center for Resources was captaining boats on Lake Yellowstone, where she checked gill nets for lake trout while determining the best locations to capture the invasive species. At the time, the northern-Utah native was finishing her undergraduate degree in environmental studies at West Texas A&M University. The summer internship turned into a five-year seasonal position, with volunteer research in the interim. She earned her graduate certificate through the University of Montana, focusing on wilderness management. In 2008, Gunther began helping to oversee all research done in Yellowstone. This is no small task, as Yellowstone receives one of the highest volumes of requests for research permits annually.
Yellowstone ranks among the highest in the National Park System for the number of research permits requested and issued. Can you elaborate?
The unique resources found in Yellowstone offer an unparalleled setting for conducting studies on topics ranging from climate change to microbiology to ecology. Yellowstone consistently ranks as one of the top three research parks in the nation, managing between 150–200 research projects annually, with roughly 50 new requests for permits received each year. How does one apply for a research permit?
The National Park Service manages and tracks research in park units through the Research Permit and Reporting System. Research scientists apply for permits using that online system. They submit a detailed proposal describing the research project, two peer reviews of the proposal, and an on-line application. The research permit office then begins the review process. You are personally tasked with ensuring researchers meet environmental and other standards. What does that mean, and how is it different than in the past?
Research projects are considered as long as the work can be conducted in a manner that does not threaten or diminish the resources for which Yellowstone National Park was established. An Interdisciplinary Research Review Team considers each project to determine if there may be adverse effects to visitor experience, park resources, or park operations. Throughout Yellowstone’s long research permitting history, preservation of park resources has always been a common theme. However, it was not until 2000 that the current computer-based tracking system was developed and implemented. In addition to use of the online system by research 10
scientists to apply for permits and submit annual reports, park administrators use the system to track applications, permits, and reporting requirements. Also, the public can search the Servicewide database to review project accomplishments (https://irma.nps.gov/rprs). How has working in the field changed your perspective?
The opportunity to conduct field work in Yellowstone helped me gain a fluid understanding of how the ecosystem functions. It also gave me a great appreciation for how unique Yellowstone National Park truly is, and why we need to continue to work toward greater understanding of the complex interactions taking place in order to make informed management decisions that will protect park resources into the future. How does research fit into the broader context of resource management?
Scientific research and resource management are closely linked. Ultimately, resource management practices are in place to guide the preservation of park resources into the future. Scientific studies that answer management questions can directly influence how resources are managed through time. Science-based decision-making will be critical to the continued success of the preservation of national parks as we look forward to our second century of operation. What’s your favorite part of overseeing research in Yellowstone?
I enjoy learning about all the new projects being undertaken in the park. The work conducted by external researchers provides tremendously valuable information for park managers. I especially enjoy getting to interact with scientists from around the world and learning about their latest findings. Yellowstone is the heart of a dynamic and unique ecosystem. Learning more about how it functions is a great reason to come to work every day.
By Kristen Hilleren
What To Do In Bechler • Visit Union Falls. This 250-foot waterfall is one of the tallest in the park and is created where two sections of Mountain Ash Creek come together to form a “Union.” The falls are 8 miles (one-way) via the Grassy Lake trailhead, making for a long day hike.
Looking for a remote, backcountry experience filled with breathtaking waterfalls, exciting river fords, and plenty of opportunity to see wildlife? Yellowstone’s Bechler area is the place for you. The Bechler-Fall River basin is found in the southwest corner of the park, nestled beneath the Madison and Pitchstone plateaus. The area averages about 80 inches of precipitation annually, making this the wettest region in Yellowstone. Numerous waterfalls dot the area’s river-laden landscape, bestowing upon Bechler the name “Cascade Corner.” “It’s the greatest. You can’t beat Bechler,” says Lee Whittlesey, Yellowstone park historian and many-time Bechler visitor. “If you’re a waterfall aficionado, it’s heaven.” Getting to the Bechler area can be a bit of a challenge, and it is recommended that visitors have some prior backcountry experience. No roads run through the area. The only access from within the park is via hiking the trail system. From outside the park, the Bechler Ranger Station can be reached by way of a dirt road. Due to its isolated location, Bechler receives fewer visitors than other areas of Yellowstone and is an excellent resource to find unspoiled backcountry. “You’ve got to remotely access it. Everything is on foot, or horse, or skis,” says Dave Ross, Bechler supervisory ranger. “It’s a place in the park where you have to earn your appreciation. We always say you have to earn Bechler.” For those seeking solitude on a Yellowstone backcountry adventure, add Bechler to your “bucket list.” The waterfalls of Cascade Corner have kept employees of the park and visitors alike coming back for more. Kristen Hilleren is a freelance writer living in Bozeman, Montana. When she isn’t skiing, running, and biking in the mountains of southwest Montana, you can find her cooking and documenting these adventures at kikibirdkitchen.com.
• Spend a night or two in a backcountry campsite near Three River Junction. Here, the Ferris, Phillips, and Gregg forks meet to form the Bechler River. Follow the Ferris Fork 1 mile upstream to reach Mr. Bubbles, a popular soaking pool where natural hot springs flow into the cold river. Continue 1.5 miles farther to reach four remote Bechler waterfalls: Tendoy, Gwinna, Sluiceway, and Wahhi. • Start at the Lone Star Trailhead (near Old Faithful) and travel approximately 30 miles southwest to the Bechler Ranger Station. The trail crosses the Continental Divide and passes Twister, Ragged, Iris, and Colonnade falls along the way. Be sure to plan a shuttle back to your starting point. • Bring a fly rod to fish for cutthroat and rainbow trout along the Bechler and Fall rivers. Make sure to get a Yellowstone National Park fishing permit at the ranger station before heading out.
Tips When Visiting Bechler • Bring sandals or other water shoes to wear when making river crossings to keep your hiking boots dry. Thigh-deep water is not an uncommon trail obstacle. Packing your things in plastic or using a waterproof bag may also be a good idea to prevent accidentally soaking your gear. • Travel to the area in groups of four or more. If someone gets hurt, one person can stay with the injured person while the other two can go for help. • Bring bug spray. Bechler is prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other biting insects. As the area dries, the bug population diminishes, making late summer to early autumn the best time of year to visit. • Bechler is bear country! Remember your bear spray and be mindful when walking the trails and storing food. Yellowstone Quarterly 11
By Stephen Camelio
Counting Cougars On January 8, two locals got the thrill of a lifetime when they spotted a mountain lion crossing the street near the Tumbleweed Bookstore & Cafe in downtown Gardiner. One of the first people on the scene after the sighting was Dr. James Halfpenny, ecologist and master tracker. Halfpenny tracked the cougar’s movement through town and believed the cat to be a sub-adult female.
The sighting caused quite a stir, because even in Gardiner, where deer and elk routinely graze near houses, and seeing a bear cross the road is not unheard of, a cougar walking down the main street is very unusual. “I don’t know of another record of a cougar coming into town like this,” Halfpenny says. A cat in town may be a surprise, but given Gardiner’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park, it was bound to happen at some point. “While they haven’t been in town, people have been encountering lions on the fringe of the park and in the Gardner basin for years,” says Dan Stahler, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service who heads up the Yellowstone Cougar Project. “There’s been a pretty robust mountain lion population in this area over the last couple decades.”
Making a Comeback For much of the last century, that wasn’t always the case. Similar to wolves, in the early part of the 20th century, cougars were hunted to near extinction in many parts of the West. Though their stealthy nature makes it impossible to ever know exact population numbers, the National Park Service believes the cats were probably eradicated from Yellowstone National Park during that time period.
In phase three, the project is also using remote camera stations that are triggered by movement to capture pictures of lions on the move. “This technique is commonly used for tigers and leopards, which both have unique markings. But cougars don’t have those,” Stahler says. “To determine certain cougars, we’ll be looking for scar patterns or markings such as freckles on the noses.”
But unlike wolves, cougars didn’t need reintroduction to reestablish a community in Yellowstone. During the 1970s, changing attitudes toward predators and better resource management allowed cats that had avoided elimination to help the species naturally rebound.
In the end, Stahler hopes his findings help fill in another part of the puzzle of the complex ecological system that makes up Yellowstone’s northern range.
By the 1980s, as more cougars began to appear in Yellowstone, cats became a focus of study in the park. In 1987, the first phase of the Yellowstone Cougar Project was enacted to determine just how many of the cats were living in the park’s northern range, the main area of cougar study in the park. After the first phase estimated there were 11 to 23 adult and sub-adult cougars in the park, the second phase of the project began in 1995–96, when wolves were being reintroduced to the park. “Having already determined the number of cats, this phase examined how the return of another top carnivore would influence the cougar population,” says Stahler. After a decade of using the same research methods, phase two found a slight population increase to 17–27 cats. “The slight uptick could have been a reflection of the high elk density at the time,” says Stahler. Also, while cougars and wolves compete for the same prey, Stahler notes the species don’t interact often or compete for territory. “Wolves tend to hunt in valleys like Lamar,” Stahler says. “Cougars hunt in the Yellowstone River canyon and its drainages, as well as in steep, forested and rocky terrain, so the two animals can coexist.” Since 2006 there has been no further research on cougars in the park until this winter, when phase three of the project began using only non-invasive monitoring techniques. “We find a set of tracks, get on them, and follow them,” says Stahler. “We front track or back track, depending on the landscape and how fresh they are, with the goal of finding a DNA sample.”
“Though it gets most of the focus, you can’t talk about the wolfelk dynamic without talking about what role cougars play, as well as what role grizzlies play, or severe winters and severe drought,” Stahler says. “Our understanding of predator-prey dynamics and what has caused the elk herd to decline on the northern range is multi-causal due to a combination of factors, and we are trying to understand the mountain lions’ role in that process.” As of right now the Yellowstone Cougar Project’s research occurs solely in the park, but Stahler hopes to soon expand its reach to the land outside Yellowstone. “I’d love to collaborate with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks because obviously the northern range doesn’t just stop at the park line,” Stahler says. “It’s especially important because—as cougars are killed or hunted outside of Yellowstone—cats from inside the park act as a source population, emigrating out of Yellowstone to fill in those population gaps pretty rapidly.” Whether the one cat that wandered into Gardiner was just a youngster looking for its own territory, was lured in by the town’s resident deer population—an indication that cats are now hunting at lower elevations—or, in fact, it is a reflection of an increasing cougar population, Stahler isn’t ready to say. But it is safe to say that seeing a mountain lion in Gardiner is a good reminder that these animals are here. “Lions are usually out of sight, out of mind,” Stahler says. “But they are out there, and we shouldn’t forget that they play a key role inside and outside the park.” Stephen Camelio is a freelance writer living on the Montana/Wyoming border of Yellowstone National Park. His work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Runner’s World, Field & Stream, and Fly Rod & Reel.
DNA samples from scat, bed sites, or hair caught in bushes can be extracted from follicles. That information can be combined in certain statistical formulas to determine how many unique genetic individuals are on landscape.
Yellowstone Quarterly 13
The Secret Lives of Cats By Brad Bulin, Institute instructor
Puma. Catamount. Mountain lion. Ghost cat. With more names than any other North American mammal, the cougar is known to inhabit much of the Western Hemisphere. Equally at home in
the deserts, hills, or mountains, the cougar is one of the most successful large carnivores on the planet—yet this shy cat is seldom seen. For those few ever lucky enough to see one, many say it is an experience rivaling even the best wolf and bear sighting.
Being smaller than bears and more solitary than wolves, the big cats’ best defense is to disappear. Secrecy and stealth are key to their survival. Perfectly camouflaged in many habitats, they travel, hunt, and sleep in some of Yellowstone’s most rugged terrain and limit much of their activity to the cover of night. Cats have large eyes with amazing light-gathering ability, thereby increasing nocturnal sight. Cougars are also very keen on hiding any signs of their whereabouts—burying urine and scat like house cats (although not always perfect—also like some house cats). They will go through elaborate means to drag kills into cover and bury them with whatever they can find—snow, dirt, leaves, etc. This not only helps preserve prey items, but also serves to limit the odor available to the amazingly talented noses of wolves and bears—both known to take cat kills. The cat’s retractable claws keep their weapons sharp, but the cougar’s arsenal does not stop there. A short skull and strong jaw muscles allow a cat to bite with extreme force, aided by sharp and overlapping (or cutting) teeth. These features combined with an amazing leaping ability (up to an estimated 40 feet while running) allow a cat to quickly kill animals much larger than themselves. Cougars are actually common in Yellowstone, especially in the rocky and rough terrain of the northern range. Eating primarily elk and deer, these cats do not pass up other small prey items. Interestingly, Yellowstone’s cougars seem to give birth more often in the fall than spring. The one to two blue-eyed kittens grow up rapidly. They begin following their mother within two months of birth, quickly learning the ways of the wild.
Member registration for 2014–2015 winter Institute field seminars begins Wednesday, July 9, at 8:00 a.m. MST. General registration begins one week later. Experience Lamar this winter on a Wildlife Winter Escape, Lamar Valley Wolf Week—or spend the holidays at Lamar! Register at any time for Lodging and Learning programs, youth and college programs, and private tours. Visit YellowstoneAssociation.org or call 406.848.2400 for information or to register. 14
YA Family Jim Garry Yellowstone Association Member and Institute instructor single class. The Texas native attended the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources before first visiting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in the 1960s. Since then, he “hasn’t quite been able to get away.” He currently resides in Crandall, Wyoming, approximately 15 miles southeast of Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance. Since 1986, Garry has remained a dedicated YA member. He started teaching classes for the Institute after being approached by former Institute director Gene Ball to teach a class on the folklore of bears. His topics grew to include wolves, bison, coyotes, ravens, ecosystems, geology, thermals, natural history, the Nez Perce War, and backpacking. “I’m currently teaching eight or ten courses year,” Garry says. Naturalist and folklorist Jim Garry doesn’t have to tell tall tales to captivate audiences with his myriad adventures. The longtime Yellowstone Association (YA) member and Institute field seminar instructor holds a master’s degree in communications. He has worked as a horse trainer, a mule packer, a wilderness guide, a political organizer, an election consultant, an environmental lobbyist, an artist-in-residence, and a teacher throughout the years, among other professions. The result is an educator who is able to weave topics ranging from history to folklore, mythology to biology—often into a
“I’ve spent at least part of each of the last 45 years in the GYE,” Garry says. Garry describes his relationship with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as being “woven long and wide. To pick a single favorite moment is like picking one minute of arc as the best part of a spectacular sunset.” “I love teaching and I love the students at the Buffalo Ranch,” Garry continues. “We share a fascination with Yellowstone that makes sharing what we’ve learned valuable and enjoyable.”
Join the Yellowstone Society Today!
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Guardians are a conscientious group of members that make monthly contributions to help preserve Yellowstone through education. Equally important are our Society members—exemplary stewards who contribute $1,000 or more annually. Now you have the opportunity to be a part of both groups! Become a Guardian Society member by contributing $84 per month ($1,000 annually). Your electronic payments are convenient, eco-friendly, and allow you to spread your contribution out over time. Benefits include recognition on the Old Faithful Donor Wall and exclusive invitations to national park excursions with local experts. Please join or upgrade your membership to the Guardian Society level by calling 406.848.2400 or visiting YellowstoneAssociation.org.
Yellowstone Quarterly 15
THE PARK SIDE George Bumann, M.S., has a degree in wildlife ecology and works as a professional artist and educator.
Send us a photo of yourself or a fellow member holding a copy of Yellowstone Quarterly and you could be featured in an upcoming issue!
Mule deer games
Submissi o n Guidelines
Submit photo(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete list of submission guidelines please visit YellowstoneAssociation.org or contact us at the email address above.
Fall into Yellowstone…
with the Yellowstone Association Institute!
Witness firsthand the spectacular change in seasons, and listen closely for the bugle of a bull elk. Join us for one of these fall 2014 programs and experience the wonders of Yellowstone during this magical time of year.
Old Faithful Fall Photography October 5–8
The Bumann family, members of 11 years, brought their YQ to the village of Amezray, in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Autumn Day Hiking September 23–26
Fall Wolf and Elk Discovery
Three-day programs offered August 22–September 30
(includes in-park lodging!)
Visit YellowstoneAssociation.org or call 406.848.2400 to register today.
Member of 10 years, Kat Grubbs and her dog Holly enjoy the YQ in the comfort of their Billings, Montana, living room.
Thank you to all of our special patrons
NEW AND RENEWING MEMBERS OF THE YELLOWSTONE SOCIETY
The Yellowstone Society recognizes preservationists who annually support the Association at $1,000 or higher through memberships and philanthropic contributions. Thank you to the following donors who joined or renewed their membership in the Yellowstone Society between January 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014. Your annual support plays a critical role in the Association’s mission to connect people to Yellowstone through education. Heart $25,000 - $49,999
Alice and Rodman Moorhead Bechler $5,000 - $9,999
Devin and Brian Cronin Marguerite and Tom Detmer Margie and Earl Holland* Gallatin $2,500 - $4,999
Mary Chisholm and John Schuldt Linda Forshee Mimi and Khalil Kingsbury* Lamar $1,000 - $2,499
Tammy and James Bonds* Rhonda Boggess and Mike Rogers* Laurann and Virgil Boss Ken Bowling Wendy and Jeff Brown* Althea and Clifford Callaway* Susan and John Campbell Joy Carlough* Judith and David Cloutier* Grace and John Cogan* Matt Collett* Jeri Edwards Pattie and Marbury Fagan* Maurie and William Gray* Debra and Albon Head*
Jean and Joseph Hedrick* Deborah and Tim Hester* Beth and Dick Josephson* Julie and Roger Keaton* Katherine Korba and Ray Laible* Marian Labeck and James Petts* Nanci and Paul Limbach* Andy and Clark MacKenzie Denise and Alton McKnight* Mr. and Mrs. Pierre Merlin* Linda and Mathew Millenbach* Susan Amini Minor and Jesse Minor Mr. and Mrs. David Moore* John O’Hara* Richard Orlowski* Martha Pittard and Allan Krapf Esperanza Rebollar* Judith and Thomas Reid Janet and Jack Roberts Evelyn Rose and Sharon Nadeau* Marilyn and Jay Sarles Roberta and William Scherer Diane and Joseph Stemach Hazel and Jay Stevens* Susan and William Taylor Dr. Roger Taylor* Pamela and Russ Thomas* Martha Thompson* Sandra Carrell Tremblay and Dale Tremblay Barbara Trueman Rita Vasquez-Myers and Brys Myers Victoria Weaver* Catherine and Norman Weeden Dee and Jay Welch* Norma and Kirk Westervelt* Jonna and Doug Whitman *Yellowstone Guardian
Your support in action… Because of you, this year we were able to give Yellowstone National Park the highest annual donation in the Association’s 81-year history. We are confident that, with your help, we will reach our goal of $1 million in annual cash aid by 2016—the National Park Service’s centennial year. Thank you for supporting Yellowstone through your Yellowstone Association membership!
SPECIAL TRIBUTE DONORS
Special thanks to the following members who made contributions to our educational endowment between January 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014. Marguerite and Eugene Detmer
Special thanks to the following donors who made a contribution to the Yellowstone Association as a tribute to someone special in their lives between January 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014.
The Business Membership program allows businesses to support education in Yellowstone and take advantage of a wide variety of benefits, including recognition in the next issue of Yellowstone Quarterly for $1,000 or higher. To learn more about becoming a business member, please contact Stacey Orsted at 406.848.2855. HONORARY YELLOWSTONE SOCIETY
Special thanks to the following members who made cash or in-kind contributions of $1,000 or greater between January 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014. Constance Dotzenrod John Harvey National Philanthropic Trust SUMMIT SOCIETY
The Summit Society recognizes those individuals or families that have included the Yellowstone Association in their estate planning to ensure the preservation of Yellowstone for future generations. To learn more about ways to give, including planned giving, please contact Stacey Orsted at 406.848.2855. Connie and Janes Adreon Lynn Bart Teresa Fischer Jim Hersrud Cynthia and Mark Jordan Jayne and Dennis Poydence Anonymous (2)
In Honor of Vicki Burton
Linda Mickley and Kurt Miller In Memory of Mike Carvell
Karen and David Carvell Sharon and Larry Hagen Steven Snyder In Memory of Bob and Carole Hendy
Toni Gilbert McGauley In Memory of Robert Hendy
Connie Petty In Memory of Eve Kelley
Terence Ward In Memory of Gina Kozubik
Kathy and Ed Fronheiser In Honor of Danielle Oyler and Carolyn Harwood
Milton Drachenberg and Joyce King In honor of Amy Renfranz
Anonymous In Memory of Dan Richards
Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Zolandz
PHOTO CREDITS: Maria Bisso/YA: PGs. 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 14, 15, 16; Bridget Lyons/YA: pg. 4; Diane Simpson/YA: pg. 4; Leslie Quinn: PG. 7; NPS: Pgs. 7, 8; Stephanie Ripley/YA: PG. 8; Jim Peaco/NPS: PG. 8; R.G. Johnsson/NPS: PG. 11; Brad Bulin/YA: pg. 14; PAM Cahill/ya: Pg. 15; Cindy Goeddel / YA: BACK PAGE
Yellowstone Quarterly 17
Stay Connected — Join the Community! Whether you are in the park or at home, we can help you stay connected to Yellowstone. Visit our website for current reports from the field or a live view from our Roosevelt Arch webcam. Subscribe to our monthly E-Newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily park updates. Otters in Trout Lake.