GYC leading symposium on conservation, recreation in April

After a busy first day of interviewing land managers and recreationists in Driggs, Idaho, for GYC’S inventory of outdoor recreation in Greater Yellowstone, I was eager to find a peaceful escape. I decided to go on a trail run up Teton Canyon. After a 25-minute attempt to park at the trailhead, an unexpected collision between my foot and fresh dog waste, and encountering more groups of people in the wilderness area than I could count, I was feeling a bit frazzled and definitely convinced that my new project was timely.

 Skiing in Greater Yellowstone. GYC is leading the way to work with our neighbors to figure out how to keep access to our lands and waters, while also keeping these lands, waters, and wildlife in good shape. (Photo GYC.)

Skiing in Greater Yellowstone. GYC is leading the way to work with our neighbors to figure out how to keep access to our lands and waters, while also keeping these lands, waters, and wildlife in good shape. (Photo GYC.)

The vast expanses of public lands and seemingly endless opportunities for outdoor adventure and solitude are what attracted me to live and work in Greater Yellowstone. But therein lies the crux: Large numbers of people are coming here looking for the same things. How do we accommodate growing pressures and also keep the resources that make the GYE so attractive in the first place in good shape? The first step toward building this kind of shared vision is a common understanding. That’s why I have spent the last year or so working on this inventory. And that's why we want to bring people together on April 23-24 at Montana State University to talk about this more. What are the patterns related to where, how, and to what extent people are recreating? What are the opportunities and challenges where conservation values and recreational pursuits intersect?

Here's what I found out. Relative to much of Greater Yellowstone, recreation infrastructure and opportunities are abundant in the Madison and Gallatin Ranges around Big Sky and Bozeman, around Cody, and down in the Tetons.

  Public land trail density in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Data sources: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure, Idaho Geospatial Office, Wyoming Geospatial Hub, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites. Map author: Brooke Regan.

Public land trail density in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Data sources: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure, Idaho Geospatial Office, Wyoming Geospatial Hub, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites. Map author: Brooke Regan.

Outdoor gear shops are prevalent in these places, and the information shown on user-informed digital guidebooks like Adventure Projects would indicate these are also the places in Greater Yellowstone where recreation demand is the highest.

At the same time, these places where recreation demand is high are also important for grizzly bears and other wildlife.

  Public land trail density, connective core habitat for grizzly bears, and grizzly bear distribution in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Data sources: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure, Idaho Geospatial Office, Wyoming Geospatial Hub, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites, Craighead Institute, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Map author: Brooke Regan.

Public land trail density, connective core habitat for grizzly bears, and grizzly bear distribution in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Data sources: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Montana Spatial Data Infrastructure, Idaho Geospatial Office, Wyoming Geospatial Hub, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites, Craighead Institute, Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Map author: Brooke Regan.

And yet the people that I talked to, whether they were backcountry ski guides, snowmobilers, anglers, mountain bikers, or backcountry horsemen, ultimately all care about these very things. When I asked them to tell me what makes their favorite places to recreate their favorite, this is what they said:

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Perhaps the most surprising discovery was just how little information on actual recreational use exists. Decisions about how to effectively manage or plan recreational access are often based on anecdotal evidence. Particularly concerning is the rarity of quantitative recreation information. Meanwhile, there is a lot of talk about rising demand, and there's conflicting information around the impacts of recreation. And agencies like the Forest Service are dealing with major declines in their budgets for managing recreation.

Ultimately, we believe that all of us who care about conservation, recreation, and our public lands need to come up with a shared vision for the future of recreation in this special region.  Our experiences in the outdoors are key to who we are, and we need to make sure Greater Yellowstone remains healthy well into the future.  The first step toward building a shared vision is a common understanding.

Save the date for Our Shared Place: The Present and Future of Recreation in Greater Yellowstone, a symposium co-hosted by Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Montana State University on April 23-24. Join us. This is your chance to help come up with solutions as we start to figure out how we maintain access to our lands and waters, and also keep the lands, waters, and wildlife of Greater Yellowstone in good shape.

-- Brooke Regan, Special Projects Organizer