Thirty years ago, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) concept and ecosystem management surfaced as key to preserving this legally fragmented region's public lands and wildlife in the face of mounting development pressures. Yellowstone's grizzly bears were in sharp decline and wolves were absent from the landscape, while bison and elk management issues festered. The GYE's national forest lands were subject to extensive logging, energy leasing, and other commercial activities that cumulatively threatened the region's ecological integrity. In the face of extreme jurisdictional complexity and a strong commitment to agency discretion, a high-profile federal "Vision" effort to improve and better coordinate resource management practices cratered under intense political pressures. Since then, however, much has changed in the GYE.
This article, drawing upon extensive personal interviews, official documents, and other materials, updates my 1989 study of the GYE and emergent ecosystem management concepts. After describing regional economic, social, and other changes, the article examines the principal resource management issues confronting the GYE during the past thirty years, focusing on national park, national forest, and wildlife management controversies as well as the emerging role of private lands in regional conservation efforts. Although these issues have primarily been addressed piecemeal, intensive development activities have mostly been held at bay on the GYE national forests while most GYE wildlife populations are in better shape today than thirty years ago. The article analyzes how this has come to pass, highlighting the role of science, law, and advocacy in safeguarding the GYE's natural heritage and promoting ecosystem management principles. It concludes that the GYE concept is now widely accepted, but related ecosystem management principles have yet to be fully embraced by the responsible agencies. Looking forward, the article identifies several difficult new problems confronting the GYE: escalating park visitation, mounting recreation pressures, private land development, chronic wasting disease, and climate change. To address these looming problems, GYE ecosystem management efforts must be expanded to a larger landscape scale, while federal resource management coordination efforts must be intensified and extended to include the three GYE states. The law including state law-will continue playing a prominent role in GYE nature conservation efforts. Absent enhanced coordination efforts, contested GYE natural resource management issues will continue to be addressed piecemeal in this legally complex environment. And the prospect of litigation and political intervention will lurk in the background, as has been the case during the past thirty years.
Robert B. Keiter,
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Revisited: Law, Science, and the Pursuit of Ecosystem Management in an Iconic Landscape,
U. Colo. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/lawreview/vol91/iss1/2