On 17 February 2012, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, which provides information on progress achieved in the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, as well as other conservation issues. From 19 to 22 September 2011, a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited the property, in accordance with Decision 34 COM 7B.28 adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010). The State Party report and the mission report provide information on the following key conservation issues:
a) Securing bison migration on ranch lands surrounding the park
The State Party report notes that a coalition of federal, state, and tribal managers recently agreed to management practices that would increase tolerance for bison migrating to habitat outside the park’s northern and western boundaries, in the state of Montana. One such agreement has allowed an extension of the northern migratory route for bison an additional seven miles beyond the park boundary. Nevertheless, the State Party notes that some stakeholders continue to be opposed to bison migration due to concerns about public safety and property damage.
The mission concluded that management agencies should: continue to allow bison migration to essential winter ranges in areas adjacent to the park; actively prevent the dispersal and range expansion of bison to outlying private lands until there is tolerance for bison in these areas; make more efforts to identify additional habitat and conservation areas for bison in Montana; develop fencing strategies with private landowners; discourage bison movement on to private land with cattle; and consider shipping surplus Yellowstone bison to quarantine sites operated by Indian tribes, to help preserve Indian culture and promote the further establishment of wild bison herds.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that several positive steps have been taken to provide more winter grazing habitat for bison on state and private land outside the park, and that good progress is being made to secure the principal traditional bison migration routes within the Greater Yellowstone Area surrounding the park.
b) Ensuring adequate funding to intensify lake trout suppression efforts over the next six years
The State Party reports that under a Native Fish Conservation Plan the National Parks Service has initiated a significant increase in lake trout removal efforts that will continue for at least the next 6 years. Funding in the amount of USD 2 million per year over the next 6 years (2012-2017) is recommended to outsource an immediate surge in lake trout suppression efforts to private-sector contractors. Of that total, approximately USD 1 million per year has been acquired to date. The State Party is confident that the remaining funds will be secured through private donor sources, such as The Yellowstone Park Foundation, YellowstoneNational Park’s primary fundraising partner, which is expected to make a decision on a grant request in the near future.
The mission noted that catch per unit during the removal operations of lake trout has been rising since 2002, indicating that the population of the invasive lake trout is increasing faster than fish have been removed. However, the mission concluded that under the Native Fish Conservation Plan, which aims to reduce the lake trout population by 25% annually until it collapses to an insignificant level, the park authorities have responded quickly and positively to implement recommendations of a scientific and management review of the lake trout suppression programme.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN conclude that results from implementing the Native Fish Conservation Plan in suppressing the lake trout population are encouraging, and the commitment to increased effort is strong. They consider that the medium-term budget is sufficient to give some real confidence of a successful outcome. However, they note that it will be important to continue to monitor the success of the programme and to report results to the World Heritage Committee.
c) Increasing the Yellowstone grizzly bear population's connectivity with bears in the region, and further mitigating human-bear conflict
The State Party reports that, while connectivity issues are not considered an immediate threat to the Yellowstone grizzly bear population, comprehensive plans and implementation strategies are in place to address the issue should the need arise. The State Party also notes that currently the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is not at risk from inbreeding and the need for gene flow is not urgent. Achieving natural connectivity will require a co-operative effort on the part of management agencies, private landowners, industry, political leaders, and the public. Connectivity can be enhanced by allowing grizzly populations to increase their current sizes and/or by facilitating range expansion through natural dispersal and/or reintroduction into suitable intermediate habitat.
Regarding human-bear conflict, the State Party reports that preventing bears from obtaining anthropogenic foods and garbage is the underlying foundation of the park’s bear management programme. Experience demonstrates that bear populations can be maintained in a manner that provides for the safety of bears, park visitors and their property, while still providing opportunities to view bears. Reducing human-bear conflicts has also significantly reduced the number of bears killed in management actions. Currently, the overall risk of bear attack is low and public support remains high for the grizzly bear programme.
The mission noted the need for park authorities to work co-operatively with private landowners and regulatory agencies to keep areas open for bears, and recommends that the park should intensify its public education programme to increase human tolerance of bears.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN observe that grizzly bears are well managed and protected in YellowstoneNational Park and generally the species continues to recover, with good long-term prospects. There are also encouraging signs that the park’s bear management programme is contributing effectively to mitigation of human-bear conflicts.
d) Assessing the impact of hunting of wolves on the Yellowstone wolf population
The State Party reports that wolves will likely be delisted as a protected species in Wyoming by the next hunting season (fall 2012), and legal wolf harvest will then occur in all three states surrounding the park. Currently, there are about 100 wolves in nine packs in the park, so it is unlikely that mortality rates to date (2 to 4 wolves per year) will have a significant impact on the park’s wolf population. A lowered quota of wolves in Montana’s hunting districts will reduce the potential for significant mortality of the park’s wolves. Although Idaho has no quota reductions, only one Yellowstone pack shares the park/State boundary. The State Party notes that studies using radio-collars indicate that wolf movement is primarily from areas within to areas outside the property (i.e. from areas with high wolf densities to areas with low wolf densities), and that hunting of wolves outside the property may increase such movements by creating vacant wolf territories.
The mission noted that Yellowstone wolves need more land and habitat than is available in the park for their survival, and are reliant on connection to populations in central Idaho and north-west Montana. Private landowners, especially ranchers, in lands surrounding the park are opposed to wolf conservation, but are critical partners for the park in keeping land open for wolves. Housing and road construction also destroy natural habitat and act as barriers to wolf dispersal.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that delisting of wolves as an endangered species in 2011 has ushered in a new era of hunting on lands outside the park, and that hunting and its impacts pose a significant on-going problem for the park authorities. While ecological solutions may be straightforward, the political and social issues remain difficult, and the park authorities will need to make great effort in establishing partnerships with key stakeholders on lands surrounding the park.
e) Developing a long-term vision and action plan for integrated management of the property and its surrounding areas
The State Party reports that the widely representative Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee has the role of ensuring co-ordinated planning, monitoring and management practices on a series of priority issues including: ecosystem health; air quality; climate change; disease; invasive species; species on the brink of extinction and healthy water quality and flow.
The mission noted that the recent collaborative development of a climate action plan is an excellent example of integrated management of resources between the park and surrounding lands.
The World Heritage Committee and IUCN recommend that the park should continue to play a full and effective role in all available collaborative mechanisms for integrating management of the park and surrounding lands.
f) Reducing visitor impacts and improving winter use management
The State Party report notes winter use in the property, and in particular the use of snow mobiles, continues to be controversial. It reports that a new long term plan for regulating winter use is being completed and that the on-going winter use plan includes management regulations to ensure air quality and limit noise pollution. The State Party considers that the winter use programme has improved the conditions that existed in the nineties, with scientific research indicating good resource conditions (air quality, noise, impacts on bison and elk populations, visitor experience). The mission notes that, while the current winter use plan is satisfactory for current management needs, impacts arising from motorized winter use remain a challenge for the park. The mission concludes that there has been marked improvement over the unsatisfactory situation that existed earlier.
The State Party also reports that the Yellowstone Environmental Stewardship (YES!) initiative has set achievable environmental management goals to achieve by 2016. Other measures to reduce pressure on park resources from high visitor numbers include measurement of visitors’ attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, and consideration of studies of impacts from roadside parking, development of social trails, and overcrowding of sensitive natural areas. Recurring visitor surveys help the National Parks Service understand who the visitors are, their activities, and their values. Sub-plans within the Park Master Plan address issues associated with developed areas in the park.
The mission noted that the park’s 2008 YES! initiative, along with other sustainable resource use programmes, are proving successful in meeting their ambitious targets.
g) Other conservation issues
The mission further noted that restoration of mine tailings is proceeding well and there are no adverse impacts on aquatic life from disharge flows, and road construction is kept within prescribed corridors and conducted in harmony with wildlife needs.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN conclude that there are no outstanding problems or serious impacts on natural park resources from mining restoration and associated water pollution, or from road construction and use.