Yellowstone says it may need to import grizzlies to improve genetics

2012-01-05T00:00:00Z 2014-08-25T15:04:31Z Yellowstone says it may need to import grizzlies to improve geneticsBy BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Yellowstone National Park has asked its fundraising partners to come up with $1 million a year for six years to expand its lake trout eradication effort at Yellowstone Lake, and by 2022 the park may need to import grizzly bears from other regions to increase the animals’ genetic diversity.

These are two of the revelations found in the park’s draft progress report to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Committee. The report is the sixth to the committee on the condition of the park since it was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger sites in 2003.

Public comments are being taken on the draft until Jan. 20 and will be submitted with the final report to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Dave Hallac, the new scientific chief for the park, said the report is an important way to tell the committee, as well as people of the world, how the park has been able to address the committee’s original concerns.

Yellowstone was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 because of its outstanding natural and cultural values. In 1995, the committee placed Yellowstone on its list of threatened sites. To address UNESCO’s concerns, the park has provided the group with its plans and actions to address the specific conservation challenges. The World Heritage Committee will review Yellowstone’s report at its 36th session in 2012.

Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said he could hear from the Yellowstone Park Foundation as soon as February on the park’s request for up to $1 million a year for six years to help eradicate lake trout.

“It is a priority for the park,” Wenk said. “I would be happy with any level of support.”

The park has already raised $1 million a year from federal and other sources to fund the work. Any additional foundation money would supplement and increase the endeavor.

“We’re just looking to ramp up the effort,” Hallac said.

Because the park is not close enough to other regions inhabited by grizzly bears, the park’s bears have become genetically isolated. Transplanting grizzly bears to the park to promote interbreeding could be a last resort to deal with the issue. Ideally, officials would like to see the park connected by some type of land bridge allowing bears to migrate back and forth and interbreed.

“Increasing connectivity is tough,” Hallac said, but he said others, such as the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, are attempting to provide such large-scale connections.

In addition to concerns about lake trout eradication and grizzly bear genetic diversity, the report also addresses the challenges of dealing with annual winter bison migrations to Montana; how wolf hunting in surrounding states may affect the park’s wolf population; continued pressure from high visitor use; winter visitation and the effects of snowmobiling; and a more detailed understanding of the ecological role that the surrounding lands play in maintaining the park’s values, and a long-term vision and plan for integrated management of the park and its surrounding areas.

The nine-page report attempts to address UNESCO’s concerns, but situations such as bison winter migration into Montana and wolf hunting in Montana and Idaho are largely out of the park’s control.

The park has worked to expand the area outside Yellowstone’s north and west entrances where bison can roam when deep snow inside the park prompts migration, but concerns about the animals transmitting brucellosis to cattle have complicated the issue. Brucellosis can cause pregnant cattle to abort. Last winter, even though more area in the Gardiner Basin was opened to bison, the animals had to be herded to keep them contained and some property owners complained of damage caused by bison, as well as fears that they would be injured by the large animals.

“There are issues affecting the health of the park that transcend our boundaries,” Hallac said, and that’s where interagency working groups have helped.

“Overall, we’re very happy with what we’ve been able to achieve,” he said. “It’s our pleasure to report back.”

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