Friday, November 5, 2010

Yellowstone National Park

I've thought about changing the title of my blog to something that doesn't involve flycatchers--because I don't study them anymore. But, flycatchers really have had a significant impact on my life and I will continue to involve them in my entries. What does the willow flycatcher have to do with Yellowstone you ask? You'll see.

I went to Yellowstone National Park back in 2006. It's a very well known park for several reasons. It's one of the best parks to see an abundance of wildlife up close (7 species of native ungulates, 2 bear species, 50 other mammals, and over 300 birds have been recorded there)--but it also tends to be quite crowded with humans. It was actually the world's first National Park (1872) and it is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It is also well known for its geology: it experiences about 2,000 earthquakes a year and has more than 10,000 thermal features and 300 active geysers. Pretty cool, eh?

When Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, gray wolf populations were already in decline in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The creation of the national park did not provide protection for wolves or other predators, and government predator control programs in the early 1900s essentially helped eliminate the gray wolf from Yellowstone. The last wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926. I won't go into all the details, but wolves were successfully re-introduced to the park in 1995 and it has changed the entire ecosystem.

In simple terms, wolves meant fewer elk, and fewer elk resulted in re-growth of riparian systems--more willow! And willow is obviously good for willow flycatchers and other birds. Beavers are also doing very well in the park. Scavengers like ravens, eagles, wolverines, and bears have also benefited. Coyotes have declined, so pronghorn numbers are up. With less competition from elk for grass, the bison in the park are doing better, too.

"Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe." - John Muir

Someday I will return to Yellowstone to see wolves and a grizzly.

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