At a symposium in Bozeman, Montana, members of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition discussed public lands health and access.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the symposium (which runs through today, April 24) also featured an appearance from Montana Governor Steve Bullock, along with rock climbers, dirt bikers, land managers, foresters, and scientists.
The main focus of the symposium is balance: namely, balancing increased visitation and swelling city populations with the needs of public lands and ecosystem.
“There are more of us in more places doing more things,” said Scott Christensen, the conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, at the symposium. “The crux of this question is how do we keep this place like it is … and still get outside?” From the Chronicle:
The conference comes at a time of increased visitation to the region’s public lands. Yellowstone National Park has counted more than 4 million visits in each of the last three years — the previous record was a little more than 3.6 million. Meanwhile, the Custer Gallatin National Forest saw a 39 percent increase in visitation from 2008 to 2013, according to Wendi Urie, the forest’s Bozeman district recreation manager.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition studied where recreation is happening around the ecosystem. Brooke Regan, the coalition’s special projects organizer, said they found that the busiest areas were near the region’s large towns and places with recreational infrastructure — trails, campgrounds. They also found that some of those areas intersected with important wildlife corridors.
But, she said, available data on the subject is sparse, which creates a challenge for land managers searching for solutions.
“This matters because it means that land managers are having to make decisions about recreation on very little data and a lot of anecdotal evidence,” Regan said.
In recent years, Yellowstone National Park has paid close attention to the effects increased visitation is having both in-park and across the national park system. Last year, the park released a pair of traffic and visitor use studies that showed Yellowstone’s road system could be rendered terminally poor by 2023—barring major maintenance work or a decrease in visitation.
Recently, the NPS announced it would increase fees across the national park system. In Yellowstone, the cost of a seven-day pass for cars would go from $30 to $35. The change will go into effect June 1.
This fee increase is more modest than a previous proposal, which would have been car fees increase to $70 for a seven-day pass. That measure faltered, however, after the Interior Department received over 100,000 public comments that roundly criticized the proposal.
Officials say a fee increase is necessary to generate revenue to put toward addressing the agency’s maintenance backlog, which currently stands at $12 billion.