For wildlife enthusiasts, visiting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is akin to going back in time. Populations of megafauna, once abundant before European colonization, still roam the region’s complex of public wildlands.
Peyton Griffin, Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative’s president, understands the appeal of living among elk, bison, wolves and grizzlies.
“Where else do you get to see herds of big animals migrating and existing in such a natural state. We’re living alongside this incredible, seasonal wildlife safari,” she said.
Against such a backdrop of abundance, it can be difficult to see the impact on wildlife, but it is increasing every year. Over the past 40 years the human population has doubled and housing density has tripled in the Yellowstone region, according to the Ecological Society of America. Both are projected to double again by 2050.
Scientists, writers, photographers, land conservation managers and the public will gather Friday at the Center for the Arts for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Symposium. The symposium will bring people together to discuss how to manage human growth and coexist with wildlife in the Yellowstone. Since 2003 the conservation group has hosted the wildlife symposium to help accomplish its vision of creating a world “in which humans and wildlife can coexist in healthy ecosystems.”
Unlike other science conferences the symposium invites speakers from a range of disciplines and professional backgrounds.
“We have writers, we have climbers, we have land managers and we have researchers,” Griffin said. “This is the only meeting that brings together everyone who cares about, or works in, the realm of wildlife management, to share knowledge and engage in new ideas for innovation.”
The opening keynote at the symposium will be given by Amanda Lynch, the co-author of “Urgency in the Anthropocene” and director of the Institute at Brown University for Environment and Society. While Lynch doesn’t have any particular expertise in wildlife biology or management, she is a respected voice in polar climate modeling and environmental governance.
“I’m coming because of the way I think about things rather than knowing anything about the particular context,” Lynch said.
In her talk titled “What Does the Anthropocene Mean for Greater Yellowstone?” Lynch will start the day by looking at the relationship between people and climate and how to approach the inevitable conflicts that arise when policy makers and land managers try to find solutions to existential threats.
“You have to be open to hearing what values are at stake for everyone in the process and understand that those values are important and legitimate, so you can look for the common ground,” Lynch said.
No one has weighed the consequences between preservation and use in Yellowstone more than Dan Wenk, the former superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. His evening keynote, titled “Managing National Parks as a Part of a Larger Ecosystem in the 21st Century” will be free and open to the public at 7 p.m.
Wenk espouses the symposium’s inclusive and multidisciplinary approach to promoting human and wildlife coexistence.
“We are all stewards of Yellowstone. It belongs to all of us,” he said to a crowd at Montana State University.
Like Lynch, Wenk foresees a need to make critical land management decisions for Yellowstone the near future.
“The least studied species in Yellowstone is the human,” he said. “If we don’t understand these interrelationships, we may diminish, irreparably, the very things that attract people worldwide to this one-of-a-kind national park.”
In addition to talks by the keynote speakers, attendees can hear from mountain guide Molly Loomis, writer Todd Wilkinson, Teton County comissioner Mark Newcomb and local land managers PJ White and Brian Glaspell. Other quick talks, starting at 2 p.m., range in topic from NRCC’s long-term amphibian monitoring to talks about raptors, cougars, adventure filmmaking and even how conservation is approached in the Himalayas. A full agenda can be found online at NRCCooperative.org.
You can register for the symposium at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts’ website or on the day of the event starting at 8 a.m.
Griffin believes the event will expose environmental professionals and enthusiasts to ideas outside their expertise.
“There are so many narratives and so many stories. That is why something like the symposium is so cool, because you can get turned on to things that you had no idea were happening right under your nose,” she said. ￼