Yellowstone News: Grizzlies, Bison, Fees and Windows

From wildlife to windows, this early February winter season week in Yellowstone National Park witnessed a wide range of news items.

Grizzly bear advocates were heartened to learn that Montana wildlife officials are recommending that the state not hold a grizzly bear hunt this year in the wake of the previously-endangered animals losing federal protection in the three states surrounding Yellowstone — Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will make the recommendation to its governing board on February 15.

An estimated 700 grizzlies roam the three state region, the population anchored in Yellowstone. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams has indicated that Montana is committed to the grizzly’s long-term recovery. Meanwhile, five pending lawsuits filed by environmental groups and Native American tribes have challenged the animals’ removal from the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuits claim that grizzlies remain endangered from the effects of climate change and changing diet patterns that generate more conflicts with humans.

The federal status of bison, meanwhile, took a new turn when U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider a 2015 decision that block Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone’s bison population. According to the ruling, the decision did not take into account a scientific study indicating that the park’s bison population of some 5,000 encompassing two herds might not be large enough to be self-sustaining without federal protections.

At the same time but unrelated to the judicial decision, the activist group Buffalo Field Campaign sued the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in federal court for illegally withholding information concerning the testing of a birth control drug on select Yellowstone bison in an effort to limit the spread of brucellosis, a disease infecting some park bison that is believed by some persons to be capable of transmission to domestic cattle. However, there is no evidence that wild bison have ever transmitted the disease to domestic cattle.

The iconic Mammoth Hotel is the center of another concern. Following $8 million of recent renovations on the 1913 hotel, the National Park Service is now proposing to replace 172 windows in order to allow the structure to better withstand earthquakes, improve room ventilation and conserve energy. The Wyoming Historic Preservation Office is asking the NPS to minimize and mitigate any potential adverse affects that might result from replacing the historic windows.

Finally, the Wyoming Legislature wants to create a new “Yellowstone conservation fee” from park visitors to assist in funding the state’s management of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. According to Representative Albert Sommers (R-Sublette County), the fee would help pay for wildlife collision settlements, mitigate large-carnivore conflicts and preserve wildlife migration routes.

Neither the National Park Service nor the Interior Department have commented on the proposal at this time.