West Yellowstone (Images of America)


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Here’s what to see and do in the world’s first national park.

In Yellowstone's hot waters, bacteria form mats of bizarre shapes consisting of trillions of individuals. These bacteria are some of the most primitive life forms on earth. Flies and other arthropods live on the mats, even in the middle of the bitterly cold winters. Initially, scientists thought that microbes there gained sustenance only from sulfur. In researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder discovered that the sustenance for at least some of the diverse hyperthermophilic species is molecular hydrogen. Thermus aquaticus is a bacterium found in the Yellowstone hot springs that produces an important enzyme Taq polymerase that is easily replicated in the lab and is useful in replicating DNA as part of the polymerase chain reaction PCR process.

The retrieval of these bacteria can be achieved with no impact to the ecosystem. Other bacteria in the Yellowstone hot springs may also prove useful to scientists who are searching for cures for various diseases. These organisms are capable of converting carbon monoxide and water to carbon dioxide and oxygen. Non-native plants sometimes threaten native species by using up nutrient resources.

Though exotic species are most commonly found in areas with the greatest human visitation, such as near roads and at major tourist areas, they have also spread into the backcountry. Generally, most exotic species are controlled by pulling the plants out of the soil or by spraying, both of which are time consuming and expensive. Yellowstone is widely considered to be the finest megafauna wildlife habitat in the lower 48 states. There are almost 60 species of mammals in the park, including the timber wolf , coyote , the threatened Canadian lynx , and grizzly bears.


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The relatively large bison populations are a concern for ranchers, who fear that the species can transmit bovine diseases to their domesticated cousins. In fact, about half of Yellowstone's bison have been exposed to brucellosis , a bacterial disease that came to North America with European cattle that may cause cattle to miscarry.

The disease has little effect on park bison, and no reported case of transmission from wild bison to domestic livestock has been filed. Elk also carry the disease and are believed to have transmitted the infection to horses and cattle. Their populations had increased from less than 50 in the park in to 4, by The Yellowstone Park bison herd reached a peak in with 4, animals.

Despite a summer estimated population of 4, in , the number dropped to 3, in after a harsh winter and controversial brucellosis management sending hundreds to slaughter. To combat the perceived threat of brucellosis transmission to cattle, national park personnel regularly harass bison herds back into the park when they venture outside of the area's borders.

Visitor Centers & Museums in Yellowstone National Park

During the winter of —97, the bison herd was so large that 1, bison that had exited the park were shot or sent to slaughter. Ecologists point out that the bison are merely traveling to seasonal grazing areas that lie within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that have been converted to cattle grazing, some of which are within National Forests and are leased to private ranchers. APHIS has stated that with vaccinations and other means, brucellosis can be eliminated from the bison and elk herds throughout Yellowstone. Starting in , in an effort to protect elk populations, the U.

Congress appropriated funds to be used for the purposes of "destroying wolves, prairie dogs , and other animals injurious to agriculture and animal husbandry" on public lands. Park Service hunters carried out these orders, and by they had killed wolves, and wolves were virtually eliminated from Yellowstone. With the passing of the Endangered Species Act in , the wolf was one of the first mammal species listed.

America’s most remote site – the undiscovered side of Yellowstone | Environment | The Guardian

However, the coyote is not able to bring down large animals, and the result of this lack of a top predator on these populations was a marked increase in lame and sick megafauna. By the s, the Federal government had reversed its views on wolves. In a controversial decision by the U. Fish and Wildlife Service which oversees threatened and endangered species , northwestern wolves imported from Canada were reintroduced into the park.

Reintroduction efforts have been successful with populations remaining relatively stable. A survey conducted in reported that there were 13 wolf packs, totaling individuals in Yellowstone and in the entire ecosystem. These park figures were lower than those reported in but may be attributable to wolf migration to other nearby areas as suggested by the substantial increase in the Montana population during that interval.

Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population from the endangered species list. Black bears are common in the park and were a park symbol due to visitor interaction with the bears starting in Feeding and close contact with bears has not been permitted since the s to reduce their desire for human foods. As of [update] , an estimated grizzly bears were living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, [] with about grizzlies living wholly or partially within Yellowstone National Park.

The grizzly bear was taken off the endangered species list in Hunters who legally hunt animals outside park boundaries may transport the carcass through the park with a permit. Population figures for elk are in excess of 30,—the largest population of any large mammal species in Yellowstone. The southern herd migrates southward, and the majority of these elk winter on the National Elk Refuge , immediately southeast of Grand Teton National Park.

The southern herd migration is the largest mammalian migration remaining in the U.

In the tracks of one female lynx and her cub were spotted and followed for over 2 miles 3. Fecal material and other evidence obtained were tested and confirmed to be those of a lynx. No visual confirmation was made, however. Lynx have not been seen in Yellowstone since , though DNA taken from hair samples obtained in confirmed that lynx were at least transient to the park.

The mountain lion has an estimated population of only 25 individuals parkwide. Eighteen species of fish live in Yellowstone, including the core range of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout —a fish highly sought by anglers. Government stocking operations in , it was never officially introduced into the Yellowstone River drainage. Since , all native sport fish species caught in Yellowstone waterways are subject to a catch and release law.

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How Yellowstone became the "most scientifically contested piece of ground in America"

Extremely rare sightings of whooping cranes have been recorded, however only three examples of this species are known to live in the Rocky Mountains, out of known worldwide. As wildfire is a natural part of most ecosystems, plants that are indigenous to Yellowstone have adapted in a variety of ways. Douglas-fir have a thick bark which protects the inner section of the tree from most fires. Lodgepole Pines —the most common tree species in the park—generally have cones that are only opened by the heat of fire.

Their seeds are held in place by a tough resin, and fire assists in melting the resin, allowing the seeds to disperse. Fire clears out dead and downed wood, providing fewer obstacles for lodgepole pines to flourish. Subalpine Fir , Engelmann Spruce , Whitebark Pine , and other species tend to grow in colder and moister areas, where fire is less likely to occur.

Aspen trees sprout new growth from their roots, and even if a severe fire kills the tree above ground, the roots often survive unharmed because they are insulated from the heat by soil. About thirty-five natural forest fires are ignited each year by lightning , while another six to ten are started by people—in most cases by accident. Yellowstone National Park has three fire lookout towers , each staffed by trained fire fighters.

The easiest one to reach is atop Mount Washburn, which has interpretive exhibits and an observation deck open to the public. Fires burn with the greatest intensity in the late afternoon and evening. Current policy is to suppress all human caused fires and to evaluate natural fires, examining the benefit or detriment they may pose on the ecosystem. If a fire is considered to be an immediate threat to people and structures, or will burn out of control, then fire suppression is performed.

In an effort to minimize the chances of out of control fires and threats to people and structures, park employees do more than just monitor the potential for fire.


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Controlled burns are prescribed fires which are deliberately started to remove dead timber under conditions which allow fire fighters an opportunity to carefully control where and how much wood is consumed. Natural fires are sometimes considered prescribed fires if they are left to burn. In Yellowstone, unlike some other parks, there have been very few fires deliberately started by employees as prescribed burns. However, over the last 30 years, over natural fires have been allowed to burn naturally.

In addition, fire fighters remove dead and down wood and other hazards from areas where they will be a potential fire threat to lives and property, reducing the chances of fire danger in these areas. The common notion in early United States land management policies was that all forest fires were bad. Fire was seen as a purely destructive force and there was little understanding that it was an integral part of the ecosystem. Consequently, until the s, when a better understanding of wildfire was developed, all fires were suppressed.

This led to an increase in dead and dying forests, which would later provide the fuel load for fires that would be much harder, and in some cases, impossible to control. Fire Management Plans were implemented, detailing that natural fires should be allowed to burn if they posed no immediate threat to lives and property.

Grasses and plants which grew well in the early summer from the abundant spring moisture produced plenty of grass, which soon turned to dry tinder. The National Park Service began firefighting efforts to keep the fires under control, but the extreme drought made suppression difficult. By the end of the month, the fires were out of control. A total of 25, firefighters and U.

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