Good articles GH and Kent

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 10:55:40 04/04/14

In Reply to: Good read GH posted by Kent

Granite Head and Kent,

It is beneficial to the pursuit of truth to see researchers examining studies and conclusions with critical eyes. I have so many reactions to these articles, I doubt I will be able to give voice to all of them, but I will give it a shot.

1.) One of my more global reactions is gratitude for non-government researchers being given access to Yellowstone to conduct studies. Anyone familiar with the Craighead era, and what happened when many of their findings conflicted with park manager's preconceived notions, knows what I'm talking about. We had a "kill the messenger" culture ruling the roost. It would be naive to assume that all vestiges of that culture have been eliminated, but things are markedly better.

2.) Another "view from 50,000 feet" observation is a sense of mystery and wonder at just how researchers in the fields of biology, botany, ecology, ornithology, zoology, and any others I've forgotten to list analyze collected data. I tried to gain an understanding of multivariate analysis once upon a time, but all I got for my psychic investment was a crushing headache. Anyone who has stumbled upon any of the research transects involved in the aspen/beaver/elk/willow/wolf studies that are away from the road system knows that the sites tend to be well-chosen for giving all the key variables representation.

3.) Drilling down a bit, I have to mention that I remember the first article or two that were published in Yellowstone Science and other GYE publications. Doug Smith and other compadres were careful to couch what they were talking about in terms of "here is what we think we are seeing" or "here is what might be going on". They were pretty cautious about coming out and declaring absolutes. Unfortunately, those who were looking desperately for any evidence to bolster their preconceived notions seized on those articles, and conveniently forgot the caveats.

3.) There are other variables that many people, including the authors of these articles, fail to include in their discussion. One mighty factor is wildfire. The 1988 Fires had some hefty impact on portions of Yellowstone. Now, having had elementary education in statistics and research design, I have to acknowledge that "correlation does not imply causation", but I have always found it suspicious that the relative disappearance of moose followed the fires. Sure, the fires did not directly kill moose, but they sure wiped out a lot of critical winter range (higher elevation spruce/fir forest).

4.) Everyone wants to write off the beavers! What's up with that? I have seen a steady progression in the beaver population over the past several decades. I'm hesitant to attribute it to any one factor, but I know from all the time I have spent in Yellowstone that beaver are repopulating quite a few geographies. Speaking of variables, here's a good one many folks ignore. When someone starts talking about what constitutes good beaver habitat, and waxes nostalgic about the "good old days", when there were all sorts of beaver colonies, I listen intently for geographic references. I spent a lot of time in my volunteer days at Rocky Mountain National Park, studying beaver and searching out evidence, both past and present, of their colonies (over a decade). I found rather large abandoned beaver works that nobody else seemed aware of. They were away from the trails and roads, but when you stepped back and looked at all the key variables for good beaver habitat, they had all or most of them. If you played "CSI Beaver", you could usually figure out why the area was abandoned. Quite often, it had to do with critical changes in water supply. Hard to be a beaver in the absence of water! There are a number of areas in Yellowstone that exhibit evidence of beaver having tried to establish a colony, but cyclic changes in water volume present an inordinate challenge. Upper Pebble Creek is a classic example. The valley appears to be beaver paradise, with a perpetual creek and an abundance of willows. Unfortunately, this really is marginal beaver habitat. Every once in a while, a monster winter, like those in 95/96, 96/97, and apparently this winter, result in so much snow deposition that the spring melt produces heavy stream flows that just blow the dams out in a big way. After the winter of 95/96, we saw incredible bank damage in parts of Upper Pebble Creek. There were a few areas where the stream had gouged the outer portion of a sharp bend into a bank 10 to 15 feet high. It was brutal! My belief is that there are a lot of watercourses in Yellowstone that just do not present viable opportunities for long term beaver habitation. I suspect some ecologists believe beaver should be able to thrive anywhere there is water.

5.) I agree with your paraphrasing of Mench. Sanctity and sinnerhood are in the eye of the beholder!


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