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Biodiversity: Study sheds new light on wolf predation

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Hunting wolves may have less of an impact on elk herds than previously believed. Photo via USFWS.

Three-year tracking project helps show that wolves alone aren’t necessarily responsible for declining elk populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For quite some time, conventional wisdom has held that the presence of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area has had beneficial impacts on the overall ecosystem by keeping elk on the move.

But a new study, led by recent University of Wyoming Ph.D. graduate Arthur Middleton, casts some doubt on that theory. For three years, the researchers closely followed the  Clarks Fork elk herd west of Cody, along with the wolf packs that prey on it. Continue reading

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Wildlife: Yellowstone’s migratory elk under pressure

Study indicates drought and predation is affecting reproduction

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This 1998 file image shows bull elk in the Lamar Valley in winter. Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park/Jim Peaco.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Yellowstone’s migratory elk have been feeling the impacts of drought and increased predation by wolves and grizzlies  – two landscape-level changes with broad implications for conservation of migratory animals, according to a new study published in the journal Ecology.

The new study by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit — a joint program involving U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wyoming, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, describes a long-term decline in the number of calves produced annually by the Clarks Fork herd, a population of about 4000 elk whose migrants travel annually between winter ranges near Cody, Wyoming and summer ranges within Yellowstone National Park.   Continue reading

Biodiversity: Yellowstone bison get more room to roam

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A bison grazes near a highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A long-running battle over Yellowstone bison was at least partly resolved this week, as a Montana judge upheld a state policy allowing the animals to roam outside Yellowstone National Park without facing harassment and death.

The state rules were challenged by ranchers opposed to allowing bison to graze in the Gardiner Basin, just north of the park, important habitat in the winter and early spring. Federal and state biologists decided last year to allow bison seasonal access until May 1 of each year, opening critical foraging lands when higher elevations in the park lack spring grasses for bison and other grazing animals.

“Today’s ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Yellowstone region’s bison herds are the descendants of the last wild bison in the American West, and today they stand as some of the last genetically pure bison in the world.  The court rejected the idea that the law requires slaughtering these magnificent animals whenever they cross the park boundary.”   Continue reading

Climate: Bark beetles invading high-elevation forests

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Whitebark pines are in imminent danger of extinction, and global warming is one of the most significant threats to the species. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Researchers see threat to whitebark pines

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Bark beetles have already killed millions of acres of mid-elevation forests across the West, and warming temperatures are enabling the tree-killing bugs to invade higher elevations, where they are attacking trees that haven’t evolved with strong defenses to repel them.

Global warming is essentially giving the insects a huge advantage, as the trees, with their long lifespans, have no chance to develop biological resistance, according to researchers from the the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who report a rising threat to the whitebark pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

Wolves spur rebirth of Yellowstone ecosystems

Study documents new tree growth and improving riparian ecosystem

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

Young aspen trees are now recovering in Yellowstone National Park, after wolves that were re-introduced in 1995 helped to limit elk browsing that had been killing young trees. The older trees seen here date to the last time there were wolves in the park 70 years ago. (Photo by William Ripple, courtesy of Oregon State University)

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The reintroduction of wolves has resulted in profound ecoystem changes in the Greater Yellowstone region.

For the first time in 70 years, the over-browsing of young aspen and willow trees has diminished. Trees and shrubs are recovering along some streams, providing improved habitat for beaver and fish.

“Yellowstone increasingly looks like a different place,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and lead author of a recent study documenting some of the changes. Continue reading

Global warming: More fires, fewer lodgepole pines

Increasing temps and fire frequency could drive rapid and dramatic changes in subalpine and boreal forests

Lodgepole pine forests like this one in the Black Hills of South Dakota could see big changes in just a few decades as temperatures and fire frequency increase.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Warmer temperatures in the West will increase the frequency of fires in Yellowstone’s vast lodgepole pine stands, which could result in dramatic changes to the region’s forest landscapes in the next few decades.

“What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in Greater Yellowstone,” said Anthony Westerling, a professor of environmental engineering and geography at University of California, Merced. “We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections.”

The results suggest that  subalpine and boreal forests in other parts of the West could also see dramatic changes within just a few decades. Continue reading

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