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The Future of Yellowstone: an Open Letter to Park Superintendent, Cameron Sholly

20 June 2022

Mr. Cameron Sholly
Superintendent,
Yellowstone National Park
PO Box 168
Yellowstone (Mammoth) WY 82190-0168

Dear Mr. Sholly;

We write with a request and the intent of providing a citizens and professional “push”.

We have walked and backpacked, watched and studied wildlife, and worked in Yellowstone, as citizens and professionals, beginning in the 1970’s and continuing today.

YOU (WE) HAVE A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO RECLAIM THE ECOLOGICAL INTEGRITY OF GARDINER CANYON TO NOT EVER REBUILD THE ROAD THROUGH THE CANYON PERMANENTLY REROUTE TRAFFIC (GARDINER TO MAMMOTH) TO THE WEST ONTO A REBUILT OLD GARDINER ROAD, as is being considered, and  INSTITUTE A FORMAL ASSESSMENT PROCESS TO VERIFY THE VALUE OF THIS TRANSFER

 Everyone knows the Gardner River Canyon from the Boiling River to Gardiner is a unique ecological landscape for Yellowstone.  It has been severely compromised by the road for a very long time. Now we – you – Yellowstone – Americans – have a rare opportunity to correct that early mistake.

CLOSE THE ROAD PERMANENTLY at Rescue Creek on the north and at the Lava Creek Trail head in the south. This would, additionally, relieve over use of the Boiling River site. Begrudgingly, knowing you will still suffer great ecological loss to the immediate area, you could close it at the parking lot for the Boiling River hot springs.

 SAVE WHAT?  $100 MILLION DOLLARS in rebuild costs, plus perhaps another $100 million over the next ten years in repair / maintenance / rebuild costs for future flood events?

But even this pales in significance against the ecological advantages of a canyon without a paved road and (at times) thousands of vehicles daily polluting the air and the silence and security of this canyon.

Leave the road alone; leave the bridges there.  Let the whole mess stand AS A TESTAMENT TO HUMAN FOLLY exposed by this flood.  Remove the asphalt where you can readily access it, and return the road bed to dirt.

 Of course, the Old Gardiner road will have to be rebuilt, and some reconfiguration of the entry Kiosk area at Gardiner will be required, and perhaps limited reconfiguration of the descent road into Mammoth (possibly near the courthouse?).

But the vast upgrade in the ecological well being of the Gardiner Canyon will have hugely beneficial consequences for wildlife, the river, the canyon, the Park itself, even the Park system, and park visitors who might want to walk. The immediate beneficiaries will be bighorn sheep reclaiming and increasing use of the canyon, bison, elk, mule deer, quite possibly even the increased presence of bears and wolves in this special place. And of course the trout population. Not only will the lives of individual animals be improved, but long term viability of these populations will be enhanced. No small achievement in todays world!

EVENTUALLY, you/the park might want to consider a hiking/walking trail along the old road bed (with some swinging bridges? ). One cannot deny that it would be an exceptional walking attraction, providing an unparalleled opportunity for (mostly) one way movement from Lava Creek parking lot to the Rescue Creek lot.

A cautionary note, however; this would substantially degrade the expected gains in ecological integrity, but it would still be a vast upgrade from todays motorized, mechanized transportation corridor.

 We close by asking you to act immediately – and you have spoken of heading in this direction also – to begin the rebuild and transformation of  the old Gardiner Road to being the permanent and only vehicle corridor from Gardiner to Mammoth.

Brian Horjesi
Ecologist
Penticton, B.C.

George Wuerthner
Ecologist
Livingston, Montana

Mike Bader
Natural Resource Consultant
Seasonal Ranger, Yellowstone National Park 1984-1988
Missoula, Montana

Barrie Gilbert
Senior scientist (retired)
Dept. of Wildlife Resources
Utah Sate Univ., Logan, UT