History of the Northern Range Dispute

Frederic H. Wagner

in Yellowstone's Destabilized Ecosystem

Published in print June 2006 | ISBN: 9780195148213
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199790449 | DOI:
 History of the Northern Range Dispute

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To manage a large elk herd that winters on a low-elevation, a 152,663 ha area along the northern border of Yellowstone National Park has gone through four phases since before park establishment in 1872: (1) no management except aboriginal hunting before 1872; (2) protection from hunting, predator control, and winter feeding between 1872 and the 1920s; (3) population reduction through trapping and shooting by park rangers from the 1920s through 1968; (4) no population control from 1969 to the present (the natural-regulation policy). Park officials' reports and 1914-1968 scientific observations agreed that the northern herd occurred at low numbers and migrated out of the park area in winter before 1872; increased to 20,000-35,000 wintering animals by the early 1900s; and was heavily impacting the northern-range biota. New research posed the 1971 natural-regulation ecological hypothesis and reinterpreted evidence to infer that elk in prehistory were abundant and wintered outside the park area; had not increased to 20,000-35,000 in the early 1900s; without control, the herd would stabilize at moderate numbers, and would do so without significant impact on the northern-range ecosystem as it had not in the 1914-1982 period. The purpose of this book is to review the entire documentary and scientific record to evaluate the effects of management phases on the size of the northern herd and, in turn, its effects on the northern range, thereby testing the natural-regulation hypothesis. The park may be entering a fifth management phase, depending on what effect the reestablishment of wolves in 1995 has on the herd, an effect that was not yet evident when this book was written.

Keywords: Yellowstone's northern range; elk; aboriginal hunting; natural-regulation policy; natural-regulation ecological hypothesis; management phases

Chapter.  4070 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Animal Pathology and Diseases

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