Public Speaker on Public Issues



Buffer zones are like good ideas. When you really need one they are no where around. When it comes to protection of wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, it seems you can’t have enough of a buffer zone. When it comes to protection of native plant species, however, buffer zones are a little harder to come by.

The August '98 edition of BioScience magazine details a comprehensive study done by the Smithsonian Institution, The Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund, on the impacts of non-native plant species as they affect native plant species.

A striking finding of their efforts is that such alien (non-native) plant species are a greater threat then commercial development is on imperiled species of native plants.

Weeds (non-native species) rank well above pollution, disease and commercial development in destruction of biodiversity. Weeds are responsible for 49% of the damage done. Who would have thought?

The article goes on to suggest that landowners should be offered tax credits and direct grants if they agree to manage their land in ways beneficial to endangered species-including controlling harmful alien species. Well, where does the "natural management style" embraced by the National Park Service in Yellowstone fit into this picture of a serious stewardship problem needing to be solved?

Serious weed management is the way to create and maintain a buffer zone for native plant species. Such an effort would help the situation inside the park, and demonstrate good stewardship to neighboring national forests and private landowners that are making serious efforts to solve weed problems. This is not happening.

Take a look at the area around Mammoth Hot Springs. The beautiful yellow flowers covering the landscape are not native. More importantly, they do not provide forage for wildlife. These "wild snapdragons" are a variety of toadflax, which competes aggressively for soil moisture. It crowds native plant species right out. Mature toadflax plants produce over a quarter of a million seeds each. They can remain viable in the soil for up to ten years-just waiting for the right conditions so they can further invade the landscape.

This is just one example of the many weeds that are destroying wildlife habitat in Yellowstone National Park. Efforts are underway outside YNP to bring weeds under control. The park’s efforts fall far short of good stewardship and land ethic when it comes to protection of native plant species. This is a problem that defies years of study and talk. It is a problem that requires the maturity of knowing action must be taken. If domestic dogs were invading Yellowstone you can be certain that they would not be allowed to propagate and harass wildlife. Something would be done.

While the park’s management is focusing on native this and native that, the native plants would probably appreciate a little attention.

Biological controls are being used in many parts of the region. This long-term approach is well worth more then consideration by park officials. No thoughtful resource manager would attempt the shallow argument that the park can’t introduce non-native insect control-when it’s running an incubation program for non-native plants.

Natural management destroyed many habitats for wildlife ten years ago with the fires of Yellowstone. So while we wait for Mother Nature to restore watersheds and landscapes, wildlife migrate out of the park and impact surrounding areas looking for forage and security cover. Now we hear the hue and cry of park officials that buffer zones are needed around the park to mitigate pressures from outside the park.

Destruction from within is the reality check. Destruction from within is where a serious buffer zone needs to be established to protect native plant species. Mature and responsible resource management does not happen by standing around and blaming everything on everybody else. It requires shared responsibility and shared authority to achieve desired conditions. Natural resource management is not an arena for the faint of heart. It requires courage to take needed action to protect and conserve.

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