World Heritage Field Team To Visit Yellowstone National Park To Check On Challenges

An international team of scientists is to visit Yellowstone this week to see how the park is faring under a wide range of challenges. Norris Geyser Basin photo by Kurt Repanshek.

Yellowstone National Park seems at times to have more than its share of issues: climate change impacting forests and streams, how to manage wild bison, non-native lake trout decimating native cutthroat trout, are snowmobiles a good fit for the park, and more.

This week representatives of the World Heritage Centre will be touring the park and checking into how park officials and staff are addressing challenges to the park's resources and observing how the park's landscapes and resources are faring in the face of them.

The visit by the centre's director, Kishore Rao, and Dr. Paul Dingwall, a representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, is to run Monday through Friday. It will include a public meeting Wednesday night in West Yellowstone, Montana, where the two will invite thoughts from area residents on how the park is being managed. The meeting will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone Conference Hotel.

Among the list of threats facing Yellowstone, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1978, that the two will be looking at:

* Adaptive management efforts involving the park's bison herd, as well as "securing bison migration routes involving local ranchers."

* Implementation of recommendations concerning rebuilding the park's cutthroat trout fisheries.

* What risks are posed to the park's grizzly bears by declining whitebark pine trees?

* How is the recent delisting of wolves as a protected species in Idaho and Montana affecting the park's wolf packs?

* What efforts are being made towards implementing sustainability programs that will "reduce the impacts of visitation and park operations to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value" of Yellowstone can be enjoyed by future generations?

* How are visitation levels impacting the park?

* What impacts are recreational snowmobiling having on Yellowstone?

* What is the"ecological role" of the lands surrounding Yellowstone "in maintaining (the park's) values," and what are the Park Service's long-term plans for working with surrounding land managers to develop "an action plan for integrated management of the (park) and its surrounding areas"?

Park officials point out that a "variety of threats to the park," including the proposed New World Mine just east of Yellowstone's northeastern entrance, prompted the World Heritage Committee to place the park on its List of World Heritage in Danger in 1995. The park was subsequently removed from the list in 2003, although the committee wanted to keep a close eye on how Yellowstone was being managed.

Following this week's visit, the team is expected to prepare a report on its findings to the World Heritage Centre by the end of October. A formal report is to be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee at its next regular session in 2012.

The Committee is the governing body of the World Heritage Convention, an international agreement to identify and promote the protection of the world's most significant cultural and natural treasures. The World Heritage Centre is the secretariat for the Convention.

In 1973, the United States was the first country to sign the World Heritage Convention. To date, 187 nations are signatories. Countries voluntarily nominate their sites for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Member nations retain complete sovereignty over all property and over the operation of sites added to the World Heritage List. There are 21 sites in the United States, including 17 units of the national park system that have received World Heritage designation.