Sheridan, Craigheads invent Greater Yellowstone

By Rocky Barker


Greater Yellowstone, as a concept, got its start in 1882, only10 years after the national park was established. General PhilipSheridan, on a tour of the Yellowstone area, suggested expandingthe national park boundaries 10 miles south and 40 miles east. A bill to do this died for lack of support. Portending theviews of many conservative neighbors of the park, a Montanaeditor wrote in 1882 about the bill, ``The park is already toohuge a joke for them to comprehend.

But the modern concept of a greater Yellowstone ecosystembegan with grizzly bear researchers John and Frank Craighead. Itgrew out of their recognition that grizzlies couldn't survive iflimited to Yellowstone National Park.

``Yellowstone alone is not a complete ecosystem for the grizzlyor the northern elk herd,'' said Frank Craighead, now of Moose,Wyo. ``The area we worked with we termed the Yellowstoneecosystem.'' During congressional hearings in 1977 on designation ofcritical habitat for the now officially threatened grizzly, theCraigheads were talking about a greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

``We were talking about the Yellowstone ecosystem as early as1959,'' John Craighead recalls. ``I don't know if we just tacked greater on to it. That just kind of evolved.'' When Frank wrote the book ``Track of the Grizzly'' in 1979, hereferred to a greater Yellowstone ecosystem at least once andthe term was in the public domain.

For all of their accomplishments in grizzly research and all of their legacies they left for wildlife research in general, such as the use of radio telemetry, perhaps the Craigheads' greatest legacy is that phrase. For once it left their lips, it took on a life of its own.

Several environmental activists and national park officials took hold of the idea in the early 1980s. In his book, ``Greater Yellowstone The National Park and Adjacent Wildlands,'' Rick Resse said he first heard the phrase from the late John Townsley, a former Yellowstone superintendent.

Reese and several environmentalists in the region, including Ralph Maughan of Pocatello and Phil Hocker of Jackson, Wyo.,began talking about forming a regional organization dedicated tothe protection of Greater Yellowstone. Maughan, a politicalscience professor at Idaho State University, said the idea tookthree years to develop before resulting in the creation of theGreater Yellowstone Coalition in 1983.

``The original idea the way I saw it was Phil Hocker's and mine,'' Maughan said. ``We had been talking for a long time about the need for a coordinated vision of Yellowstone as awhole.'' In 1985, based in part from pressure by GYC, two subcommitteesof the House Interior Committee held joint hearings onmanagement of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The resultinganalysis and report documented problems with coordinationbetween the various federal and state agencies managing land inthe area.

The U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service joinedthe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to write an aggregation of land management plans forthe 11 million acres of federal land in the region, calling thedocument ``The Greater Yellowstone Area.'' Many managers, especially in the Forest Service, wereuncomfortable with the term ecosystem.

But by the time the aggregation was completed, a task force had been formed to begin studying how to begin ecosystem management in Greater Yellowstone. This ``vision report'' was to be a detailed action plan for improving coordination of management within the ecosystem. In 1990, after intense political pressure,the agencies settled for a shorter management ``framework.'' In 1989, the concept had reached the highest level of government. President Bush, during a visit to Grand TetonNational Park referred to ``Greater Yellowstone, one of the last intact ecosystems.''