Aaron’s Final reflection
The Yellowstone ecosystem is really far more intertwined then I even thought going into the trip. The more talks we went to and listened to the professionals at the park the more I began to realize how important each and every animal is to the park. The wolves coming back, the beavers started coming back, the bears making a comeback, and even the bison and elk doing what they do best. How the natural topography plays a role with the animals, the springs provide warmth for the animals, and the differences in forest to plains areas.
They also have this great thing that they are doing called citizen science. It allows researchers a lot more opportunities to gather data through all the tourism in the park. Yellowstone forever is one group that helps participate in this. One study we did was on pika which are like small rabbit with round hears that live on rock slopes. So, we laid a string down and spread in a line to look for hay piles or poop to show evidence of them being there. We did manage to find poop piles but no hay bales. There is also a bison survey they do, where you count the males, females, juveniles, or calves. This helps herd counts, and if there is a collar on one of them you do the count and then collect around 5 piles of poop. This allows researchers to see what they are feeding on and compare it to the collar traveling data.
We also learned the wolves had an amazing impact when they were reintroduced. One problem Yellowstone had before was the elk were reproducing in such numbers that Yellowstone was almost being overgrazed by the elk. When the wolves were reintroduced, the elk were forced to move away from the valleys, all the while the weak elk were getting killed by the wolves. The elk population were lower but the elk as a species were stronger and healthier. Because the elk moved from the valley, the willows were allowed to grow, they gave the beavers good food and stuff to build their dams. This then caused some landscapes to flood and brought back new plant species. The bison also got feeding grounds due to not having to compete with the elk anymore.
This trip has been amazing to not only experience, but also learn about and see an ecosystem like Yellowstone in action. To be able to see how some animals interact with each other like when we saw the wolves. The older wolves ignored the bison nearby because they knew they wouldn’t win that fight, but the pups had fun bothering the bison. Hearing the history of the park and all the changes it has seen through different things like management, protection, and animals in the park is fun to learn. How each of these elements impacted the park for both good and bad. Yellowstone has such a rich history I am thankful for both the opportunity to learn about it and get the chance to experience it but also look forward to the history in the making for Yellowstone.