The following was first published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle as a guest opinion by GYC Executive Director Caroline Byrd.
It’s hard to get too excited about strategic planning, but as a road map toward future goals a plan is a critical piece of work, especially when it’s for a place as important and beloved as Yellowstone National Park. Earlier this month, the park released its five strategic priorities that will guide its short- and long-term decision making. We applaud Superintendent Cam Sholly for sharing the park’s priorities so widely and transparently.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s mission is to work with people to protect the lands, waters and wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a 20-million-acre-plus landscape with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks at its core. Of Yellowstone’s five strategic priorities, two really struck a chord with us: strengthen the ecosystem and heritage resources and build coalitions and partnerships.
Concerning strengthen the ecosystem and heritage resources, GYC has long partnered with the Park Service and others to ensure that Greater Yellowstone is healthy and wild, with natural processes working as they should. This ecosystem is a remarkable natural landscape, unique on the planet. It is home to a complete array of native wildlife, it’s the headwaters of the West, it’s an important place in the history of conservation, and of course it holds deep significance to Native Americans who have made this place home since time immemorial. It’s encouraging to see park leadership make cultural heritage a priority considering the long-overlooked history of Native Americans in this region.
We are pleased that Yellowstone is promoting a large landscape — beyond the park’s boundaries — approach toward climate change and wildlife conservation. With Yellowstone at the core, GYC and our partners are actively working in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to ensure seasonal migration paths to and from the park, in and out of public and private lands, and across highways are protected and navigable for wildlife like elk, mule deer and pronghorns. Among many initiatives, we are working alongside other organizations and citizens as a part of Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage to advocate for innovative solutions that reduce wildlife collisions on our state’s highways – making our roads safer for both people and wildlife.
For bison, we are excited to continue working with Yellowstone and Montana officials to provide more habitat outside of the park for this iconic species and expand relocation of bison to appropriate tribal and public lands. We helped secure a decision to open 400 square miles of year-round habitat for bison on the west side of the park in 2016. We also helped retire livestock grazing on the Royal Teton Ranch near Gardiner for 30 years in 2011, giving bison another 75,000 acres of additional habitat north of the park. We will continue to work with the park and state to advocate for Yellowstone bison management that treats them like the iconic and valuable wildlife they are.
The fifth priority, build coalitions and partnerships, is exactly what we need to continue to strengthen the health and vitality of the region’s natural systems and human communities. Both natural and human communities flourish when we understand that our economic, cultural and spiritual well-being depends on a healthy ecosystem.
Through partnerships and collaboration, we can ensure Yellowstone remains a global leader in conserving and strengthening ecosystem and heritage resources and building coalitions and partnerships. We thank Superintendent Sholly for his thoughtful, open and inclusive approach.