By letter dated 14 February 2005 the State Party provided a detailed updated report on the situation of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and requested that the yearly reporting be suspended. IUCN reviewed the report which notes recent work and progress achieved in addressing key integrity issues that have been of concern to the World Heritage Committee in the past years. These include:
Mining Activities: The State Party report reasserts what was reported to the Committee last year. Efforts to comprehensively clean the property continue to be undertaken by the authorities at all fronts although the McLaren mine tailings, have been omitted from the cleanup agreement.
Threats to Bison: The State Party reports that the carefully crafted consensus-based plan reported last year has been successfully implemented for four years. The State Party acknowledges that many people in the conservation community do not support the plan, however in the last four years the core Yellowstone bison population has been sustained at or above 3,000 animals, which is considered a high population level. In addition, the plan addresses each of the major issues regarding the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to livestock. For the first time ever, non-infected bison captured at the boundary in the winter of 2003-2004, were vaccinated against the disease and released back into Yellowstone instead of being destroyed. The report notes that an Environmental Impact Study concerning the remote vaccination of herds within Yellowstone was begun in 2004, and includes substantial regional public involvement. Discussions and research continue to consider ways to eventually eliminate brucellosis from wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Area while maintaining wild and free ranging wildlife herds.
Threats to Cutthroat Trout: In an effort to conserve the endemic Yellowstone Cutthroat trout the gillnetting fishing effort reported last year has increased resulting in the destruction of over 100,000 adult and juvenile lake trout. Catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) has declined considerably from the high in 1998 and has generally continued to decline annually since that time, which suggests the program has measurably reduced the population in 2003 and 2004. If the CPUE continues to decline it indicates that the Lake Trout population is collapsing. In addition to annual refinements in gillnetting technology to improve take-efficiency, night-time electro-fishing over lake trout spawning beds was attempted for the first time with encouraging success. Discussions on methods of destroying fertilized eggs and larval fish in Lake Bottom rubble are at an early stage of discussion and may lead to additional measures of control.
Water Quality Issues: It is reported that all of the park’s fuel storage tanks have been replaced with new double-walled liquid tanks or replaced with more environmentally friendly propane gas tanks. A new wastewater plant has been constructed at Old Faithful, older or problematic lift stations, lines, grease traps have been replaced at many locations in the park. A backlog of deteriorated smaller wastewater facilities remain and aged (pre-1966) distribution systems in Yellowstone will be replaced or updated in the future, as funds are available.
Road Impacts: No new information is provided since the last Committee session.
Visitor Use Impacts: The State Party reported that the National Park Service (NPS) believes the most recent decision addresses winter use related issues and the park’s goals of protecting park resources, protecting employee and visitor health and safety, and improving the quality of the visitor experience. The NPS also believes the Final Interim Rule honors the rulings by both of the Federal judges and the NPS is hopeful that expected legal challenges will not disrupt the implementation of the interim plan. The NPS will be developing a new Environmental Impact Statement to address the long term winter use issue and that process is expected to take several years to complete.
Spring, summer, and fall visitation continues to be below the high level measured in 1995, and visitor growth appears to have diminished. Separately, the park has focused on development of partnerships to encourage more sustainable visitor use. Several partnerships encourage use of alternate fuels for transportation and facilities or highlight hybrid automobiles for transportation. Another partnership is working to reduce solid waste, foster recycling and large-scale composting of organic materials. These partnerships should help the park and adjacent communities foster a region-wide approach, serving visitors more efficiently and with less resource consumption in the future.
Since July 2004, IUCN received information that an earlier ruling restricting snowmobiles in Yellowstone was overturned by judicial process with limited snowmobile access permitted for a period of three years pending further environmental impact studies. This issue has been contentious at least for the past ten years, subject to a high level of stakeholder involvement, political and judicial influence. The park service has changed its position a number of times due to changed technology and differing philosophical approaches. Additional information received by IUCN indicates there are currently 180 miles of roads groomed for snowcoach and snowmobile access. Peak use is 1,100 – 1,200 snowmobiles per day, which compares with summer use of up to 25,000 vehicles per day. Perceived impacts include noise, air quality; pollution of snow; unrestricted access; disturbance to wildlife that road grooming facilitates unnatural wildlife movement and that there is no ‘rest’ time for the park. More than 50 research projects have been undertaken to assess impacts. Most research suggests impacts are localized.
Although winter use planning has been underway for the last ten years, the YNP Master Plan is over 30 years old and there is no Summer Use Plan. YNP has a complex, multilayered planning structure. Seasonal and issue specific planning in the absence of an up-to-date general Management Plan for the property raises some questions of planning context, integration and a long term vision for the park. It is recommended that the State Party review the currency and relevance of the 1973 Master Plan as the overarching plan for YNP and as the framework for the numerous sub plans which are in operation.
Many issues reported by the State Party are similar to issues facing other World Heritage properties. IUCN acknowledges the considerable efforts by the State Party to address these and that the State Party should be requested to annually report on new and emerging threats and management developments.