Yellowstone Grapples With High Visitor Numbers v. Ecosystem Management
Yellowstone National Park is trying not to be a victim of its own success.
In 2017, the park recorded its second-busiest year on record with 4,116,525 visits, according to a news release.
Top honors went to 2016, when the park tallied 4,257,177 visits.
Since 2008, annual visitation to the 3,471-square-mile park has increased by nearly 40 percent in one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth.
The popularity has come at a high cost for park managers who must balance the park's popularity with the maintenance of the ecosystem with challenges from climate change, invasive species, managing an ecosystem beyond political boundaries, and management of grizzly bears and bison.
So in 2016, the park commissioned two studies: one about visitor use and one about transportation and vehicle mobility.
The introduction to the studies said the 40 percent increase in annual visitation since 2008 -- half of that from 2014 to 2016 -- has caused:
- Overflowing parking lots.
- A rise in traffic jams.
- Roadside soil erosion and vegetation trampling,
- Unsanitary conditions around busy bathrooms.
- A 90 percent increase in motor vehicle accidents.
- A 60 percent increase in ambulance use.
- A 130 percent increase in search and rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, staffing levels and funding have remained flat over the past decade.
Park managers face these questions about increased visitation:
- How can the park prepare for a future in which visitation continues to increase?
- How does the increased visitation affect park resources and visitor experiences?
- What do people expect when they come to Yellowstone?
- How do people move through the park?
“These studies mark the beginning of our efforts to understand visitation and develop strategies to meet the challenges it presents,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Went said in the news release. “In 2018 and 2019, we intend to gather more information in order to make informed decisions about visitation.”
In light of these challenges, park officials urge prospective visitors to plan their visits.