Thursday, May 31, 2012

American Serengeti: Yellowstone's Special Role in Fish and Wildlife Preservation

“This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.”
Yellowstone River in the winter
Yellowstone National Park has become as much a part of American History as the Revolutionary War, Civil Rights and putting a man on the Moon. It has become one of our most enduring ideas; to preserve and conserve areas of natural beauty for future generations. Perhaps it was not known at the time how critical Yellowstone and other National Parks would become in the future of preservation. With 88.5 million acres of land and water currently preserved under the NPS, it is clear that Yellowstone has had a profound and lasting effect on environmentalism. 

"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." ~Wallace Stegner
Clear and flowing rivers
As a traveler and outdoorsman, my first visit to Yellowstone seemed much like a religious pilgrimage. I've visited, photographed and written about 31 National Parks and 60 other NPS units, from Acadia to Zion. Coming to Yellowstone was special because this is where it all started.

Visiting the park in late April meant that winter was still in season. This was not a hindrance however, the geysers, rivers, canyons and lakes all had a serene quality to them when blanketed in snow.
As soon as I entered the park, I hit a traffic jam... of bison. There were so many bison that I had to drive carefully and slowly to avoid a collision. This wasn't the slightest nuisance, in fact, it was delightful. I saw more cars than bison that day! 

One of the park rangers I spoke to called Yellowstone an "American Serengeti" which is an often used phrase to describe the massive abundance and diversity of wildlife in the park. This was instantly proving itself to be a true expression!

Despite the bison and winter condition, the park remained very accessible. I was able to hike around Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin as well as the several other geyser basins of Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was simply majestic and I was never far from the abundant wildlife of the park.
Unique color, unique formations, unique wildlife
A Balance of Human Enjoyment and Conservationism

Part of what makes Yellowstone so special is that the park administration, local businesses, nearby communities and conservationists all maintain a very unique balance between allowing people to enjoy the park and preserving it for future generations. This is a very rare and, I imagine, difficult harmony to keep. After all, 3.3 million people come to visit this park in a year! Everyone from the carefree day-hiking family to the intense week-long wilderness backpackers wants to walk through the park. From fathers who teach their children to fish to commercial fly fishing trips, Yellowstone accommodates!


Overall, I found Yellowstone to be accessible, relatively cheap and I could easily obtain permits for fishing and backpacking. Not only that, but the price of admission and the price for permits seemed fair and reasonable. I felt like I was supporting the efforts of the park administration to sustainable manage this vast wilderness.
So I just roamed! I took off over the many boardwalks through the geyser basins. I hiked through the vast woods and wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. I saw the majestic alpine lakes and clear flowing streams. I watched the great herds of bison and elk and saw traces of grizzly bears who have long disappeared from lower latitudes. I was as free and unhindered as the fish wildlife which also inhabit this special place.

This is what makes Yellowstone and other National Parks such a vital part of our heritage. They give us freedom to pursue all levels and facets of the outdoors while making sure that these areas stay as rugged and beautiful as they were before they were parks. Part of the preservation aspect is controlling and removing invasive plant and animal species. This is partly the responsibility of hard-working ecologists but also the responsibility of the visitor.

Hikers, fishers, backpackers and boaters all need to be educated on the several methods of "Leave No Trace" to avoid introducing or spreading invasive species. So while many anglers are happy to fish out the nonnative Rainbow Trout, anglers must also observe catch and release for native fish as well as practicing "Leave No Trace" fishing ethics. While many boaters are eager to hit the water, it takes special cleaning and inspection of the boat to make sure it is not carrying non-native species into a delicate ecosystem. Even boots can spread non-native flora!
Even geysers and other natural features can be permanently ruined without "Leave no Trace" ethics
As I was wandering across the park, I found myself very grateful to the multiple generations of visitors and staff who have preserved this place for me and my generation. Whether it be through blogging and photography, or teaching others how to reduce their impact while enjoying the outdoors, I hope that this place is as beautiful for future generations as it was the day I first entered Yellowstone. After all, what is a better representation of freedom and equality other than a National Park?

"There is nothing so American as our national parks.... The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us." -President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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