The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is widely regarded as the most influential and GYE-focused conservation group in the Yellowstone region. We have a long history—spanning 30 years—of conservation success and activism protecting the vast, unmarred landscape of Greater Yellowstone. Below is a brief snapshot of just a few of our accomplishments over the years:
Finishing Yellowstone's protective cloak: Only one major unroaded landscape adjacent to Yellowstone is still without the wilderness protections needed to preserve the integrity of the world's first national park — southwest Montana's majestic Gallatin Range. The Gallatins provide critical habitat for some of Greater Yellowstone's most charismatic wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolverine, lynx and one of the region's most famous elk herds. These mountains also are the source of clean drinking water for such communities as Bozeman, Livingston and Big Sky, and the streams cascading from them feed some of the world's most treasured trout streams. This landscape is so valuable that in 1977 the Forest Service was ordered to protect the wilderness characteristics of the wildest areas. Unfortunately, GYC and our conservation partners have been forced into court to protect the Gallatins from unauthorized motorized use — and three times judges have agreed with us that this magnificent range warrants the highest protections.
A cleaner, quieter Yellowstone in winter: As recently as 15 years ago, noisy and foul-smelling snowmobiles zig-zagged at high speeds across Yellowstone National Park, stressing wildlife and polluting both the air and soundscapes. With GYC leading the charge for a cleaner, quieter Yellowstone in winter, the Park Service has adopted a new policy that dramatically improves the all-round winter visitor experience and ensures less stress on such wildlife as Yellowstone bison. Central to the new plan is that the limited number of snowmobiles must have the best available pollution controls by 2014.
Keeping the Bear River free-flowing: This hard-working home of the imperiled Bonneville cutthroat trout has only one free-flowing stretch remaining — an idyllic canyon run in southwest Greater Yellowstone called the Oneida Narrows. GYC has been working hard to keep this part of the river in its natural state, and in July 2012 we received promising news when an Idaho water board rejected Twin Lakes Canal Co.'s bid to build a dam that would inundate the canyon. At stake are not only one of Greater Yellowstone's last Bonneville cutthroat strongholds, but also a popular southeast Idaho recreation haven for anglers, boaters, hikers and campers.
Great Scott, good news for grizzlies!: One of GYC's key goals is to prevent oil and gas development on the historic and mostly wild Shoshone National Forest, where drilling hasn't occurred in at least two decades. Front and center in this effort has been to halt the so-called Scott Well #2 project in prime grizzly bear and elk-calving habitat near Dubois, Wyo. After hearing concerns from conservation groups and Dubois residents, in July 2012 the Bureau of Land Management issued a stay that will prevent drilling in the near future in an area also known for its recreation opportunities and wildlife-migration link between Yellowstone National Park and the Shoshone.
Putting a stop to artificial feeding: The National Elk Refuge was established a century ago to sustain the magnificent elk herds of Jackson Hole. But today, unnatural feeding during winter concentrates elk and bison into dense concentrations that foster the spread of deadly diseases. Fortunately, in a strongly worded ruling, a federal court agreed with GYC's basic position and decried the unnatural feeding, saying the outdated practice goes against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's own mandate to manage for healthy wildlife — and must be phased out.
Demanding the protections grizzlies deserve: GYC was founded in 1983 essentially to save the struggling Greater Yellowstone grizzly, and we have been fighting on behalf of the great bear ever since. In September 2009, our lawsuit to restore Endangered Species Act protections for this Yellowstone icon prevailed when a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service failed to acknowledge such threats to the grizzly’s future as global warming, the decline of food sources and habitat fragmentation.
Protecting the Snake headwaters: What began as ideas scratched onto restaurant napkins came to fruition in the spring of 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Craig Thomas Snake Headwaters Legacy Act, which protects 387 miles of the Snake River and its tributaries from development. It is the first time an entire watershed has been protected under the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
Giving bison room to roam: Bison are the only wild creature in the U.S. largely confined by the boundaries of a national park, thanks to archaic rules orchestrated by stockgrowers. The result: In 2007-08, more than 1,500 bison – about one-third of one of the last genetically pure herds in the U.S. -- were rounded up and sent to slaughter after leaving Yellowstone. Though our work is far from done in the protection of these iconic species, GYC and our conservation partners in 2008 brokered a historic deal allowing for bison to roam nine miles north of the park along the Yellowstone River to suitable public lands. In the future, GYC will seek to end this senseless slaughter once and for all by working to have bison sent to suitable habitat elsewhere around the West.
Saving grizzly bear habitat: Once teetering on extinction in Greater Yellowstone, the grizzly bear has made a remarkable comeback, thanks largely to GYC-led efforts in 1992 to halt the logging of prime habitat on Idaho’s Targhee National Forest west of Yellowstone. In 1995, a court further ruled on GYC’s behalf that the forest’s grizzly bear recovery plan – required in a 1993 ruling -- was based on faulty science and did not comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Further habitat was thus protected and roads closed. Grizzly numbers have doubled since then, but alarming mortality rates and other factors have led to GYC fighting the bear’s removal from the ESA.
Preserving the Wyoming Range legacy: “Some places oughta just be left the hell alone!” That was Rock Springs miner Mike Burd’s assessment of the Wyoming Range, which was threatened by oil and gas development until the GYC-backed Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range stepped in. This diverse, grassroots group of outdoor enthusiasts prevailed when the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act was passed, withdrawing 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas development and preserving a Wyoming legacy of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreation.
Stopping the New World Mine: When a Canadian company wanted to mine for gold less than three miles from Yellowstone’s northeast boundary, GYC and other groups used public pressure to help broker a deal halting the mine. The New World Mine would have sent toxic runoff into the park via Soda Butte Creek as well as the Wild & Scenic Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. The victory was climaxed in 1996 with a visit by President Clinton, who proclaimed that “Yellowstone truly is more precious than gold.” Today, the New World Mine is site of one of the West’s most challenging and successful reclamation projects.
Keeping the peace in Yellowstone: When air pollution from snowmobiles at Yellowstone’s West Entrance was so bad that rangers had to wear gas masks, it was clear that enough was enough. Since the mid-1990s, GYC has elicited broad public and legal support for the phase out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone in favor of cleaner, quieter, less-intrusive snowcoaches. GYC has based its work on the Park Service’s own scientists, who say that the number of snowmobiles allowed by the park – 720 in 2008-09, 318 in 2009-2010 and 540 before that – isn’t healthy for wildlife or other valued resources. In 2010, another scoping effort will again evaluate snowmobile use in Yellowstone.
Checking the checkerboards: The West is notorious for its checkerboard pattern of land ownership, thanks to deals made more than a century ago with railroads. Many of these square plots are in the middle of national forests in prime wildlife habitat. GYC has helped orchestrate a number of land swaps and other consolidations that protect sensitive areas from development, including 100,000 acres on the Gallatin National Forest in the 1990s. These lands, just north of Yellowstone, are no longer under the threat of development.
Catching a break for wildlife: One way to mitigate conflicts between livestock and wildlife is to compensate willing stockgrowers for their public-lands grazing allotments. GYC has participated in a number of buyouts, most notably in the Wyoming Range (67,500 acres), Blackrock/Slick Creek (70,000) and Bacon Creek/Fish Creek (178,000). This tool was also used to allow bison to roam nine miles north of Yellowstone across private land where cattle formerly grazed.
Trusting in wildlife: In 2005, GYC worked with Wyoming sportsmen and women, conservation allies, labor union members and elected officials to pass legislation establishing the $200 million Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resources Trust. The trust enhances and conserves wildlife habitat and natural resources throughout the state.
Keeping it wild: One year after GYC was born in 1983, the small and scrappy group worked with agencies and the government to help secure more than 1 million acres of wilderness in western Wyoming, providing a critical buffer for the parks and their migrating wildlife. These vital lands on the west slope of the Tetons, east side of Yellowstone and in the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Grand Teton provide critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears and elk.