Coordinating Among Land Managers to Conserve an Ecosystem
The Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) is widely viewed as the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 United States. Straddling the Continental Divide in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, headwaters to great national rivers, the ecosystem sustains some of the country’s largest remaining populations of large carnivores, ungulates and other rare wildlife. The world’s first National Park (Yellowstone), the nation’s first National Forest (Shoshone NF) and one of the earliest National Wildlife Refuges (National Elk Refuge) are part of the 14 million acres of contiguous federal land in the GYA.
Since 1964, GYA federal land managers have cooperatively addressed resource needs that stretch across seasons and boundaries. The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) partnership includes two National Parks, two National Wildlife Refuges, and six National Forests. Many other federal, state, non-profit and private partners work with the GYCC on a range of issues and projects.
The Greater Yellowstone Area’s 14 million acres of National Park, Forest and Wildlife Refuge lands intermingle with state, private and other lands. The richness of the natural amenities, proximity to public lands, and outdoor recreation opportunities draw people to the area. The 2010 U.S. Census estimated the population of twenty GYA counties as almost 447,000 people and counted 211,429 total housing units. Between 2000 and 2010, the population grew by about 21%, the total number of housing units grew by 29%, and the number of housing units described by the Census as “seasonal, recreational or occasional use” grew by almost 58%; to 24,710 units.
Private lands fall in foothills, valleys, and along the Yellowstone, Madison, Clarks Fork, and Snake Rivers. Most public lands are at higher elevation. Wildlife moves between the two, and much of their essential habitat is on private lands. Appreciating that conservation efforts are on a voluntary basis with willing landowners, the GYCC is working to:
- Encourage logical and effective ownership patterns for public and private landowners.
- Protect big game winter habitat, rare and unique plant communities, and valuable riparian habitat.
- Protect critical open space, natural appearing landscapes, and recreation opportunities including access to public lands.
- Share information and assist with development of partnerships that help protect critical habitat and open space.
GYA federal land managers annually identify high priority lands for federal acquisition. The GYCC created A Toolkit to Protect the Integrity of Greater Yellowstone Area Landscapes. It includesinformation on:
- Voluntary land conservation tools, and
- Agency participation as a stakeholder in local planning discussions in order to provide information on how land use decisions may affect public land resources, while respecting local authority.
(Toolkit available at: http://www.fedgycc.org/LandscapeIntegrity.htm)
Greater Yellowstone Coordination Committee
GYCC 2011. Kelly 2011.
Executive Coordinator, Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee