The State Party provided via letter dated 30 January 2004 a detailed updated report on the situation of Yellowstone National Park.
IUCN received the State Party’s report on Yellowstone National Park noting recent work and progress achieved in addressing key integrity issues that have been of concern to the World Heritage Committee. These include:
(a) Mining Activities: Clean up of toxic materials from past mining started in 2000 and is expected to take seven years, but post project maintenance will be funded in perpetuity. The report noted that, while the tailings (which are outside Yellowstone) have stabilised and water quality inside the park has improved, the park continues to work with relevant agencies and others to have the tailings removed and the site restored.
(b) Threats to Bison: In 2000, Yellowstone National Park, the State of Montana, US Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service co-signed a joint bison management plan to maintain wildlife populations and manage the risk of transmission of Brucella infection from bison to cattle within the state of Montana. IUCN recognised this initiative is a long-term plan that manages current risks and sets the stage for future discussions about eradication of the disease. IUCN noted this carefully crafted consensus based plan has been successfully implemented for three years and that discussions and research are currently underway, to consider ways of eventually eliminating brucellosis from wildlife in the greater Yellowstone area while maintaining wild and free ranging wildlife herds.
(c) Threats to Cutthroat Trout: The State Party reported that experts on fish species concluded that the risk of extinction of the native cutthroat trout from the introduced lake trout was real and substantial. However, no technology exists to eradicate lake trout from the lake nor treat or control the trout disease. In the near future, the best that could be hoped for was long-term suppression of lake trout through the deployment of “industrial strength gillnets”, to resolve the declining cutthroat trout population. This was implemented by the National Park Service (NPS) beginning in 1995 targeting the estimated 7,000 reproducing adult lake trout extant that year. In addition, a no limit, no live release regulation for lake trout has been actively promoted and the angler catch has represented 20 percent of the total harvest. Research continues to seek tools for combating whirling disease. The report indicates that gillnet fishing effort has increased each year and has resulted in the destruction of approximately 56,000 adult and juvenile lake trout. Catch per unit effort declined in 2002 and again in 2003, and for the first time gave biologists hope that exploitation was beginning to affect the population.
(d) Water Quality Issues:It was reported that all of the park’s fuel storage tanks have been replaced with new double walled liquid tanks or environmentally friendly propane gas tanks. It notes that the US Congress has appropriated funds to replace old sewage treatment plants and these projects are underway or completed.
(e) Road Impacts:Yellowstone has an integrated, methodical and long-term programme to improve the condition of the park’s roads and lessen unsafe conditions and unsatisfactory experiences for visitors and prevention of resource degradation. It is noted that much has been accomplished in upgrading the existing road system since 1995, it is a slow process because of the short construction season.
(f) Visitor Use Impacts:The report noted that concerns have been raised regarding winter use in the park, but the summer visitation levels are also a concern for many people. It noted that the numbers of visitors in the park, whether summer or winter, is a contentious subject with the US public. It noted that the completion of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on a new winter use management plan called for protecting visitor safety and enjoyment, air quality, wildlife and natural quiet of Yellowstone by phasing out Snowmobile use over a three year period, and replacing them with non polluting, mass transit snow coaches. It notes that the decision was challenged in a federal court. A subsequent lawsuit settlement stipulated the NPS would prepare a supplemental EIS analyzing the snowmobile ban and various alternatives to the ban. The report noted the draft EIS was released to the public in 2002 and generated over 350,000 public comments. The final EIS was released in February 2003, and a record of decision signed on 25 March 2003, which approved the new winter use plan. The NPS decision allows for continued snowmobile use under strict limitations, establishing daily use limits, requiring the use of cleaner and quieter 4-stroke engines and requiring snow mobile parties to be guided.