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Prettyman: Yellowstone coalition protecting wild region for future

Published March 1, 2012 3:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It all started in the early 1980s while playing the license plate game during a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park. You know the game — see how many different states' plates you can spot while touring the park.

Before long, I noticed that many of the cars were from Utah. The trend was still there during our most recent trip to the world's first national park. For those keeping track we counted about 34 states.

Through the years I've calculated that two or three vehicles out of 10 in the park have Utah plates. During early spring and late fall, the number has been as high as five out of 10.

Utahns love Yellowstone and its surrounding areas, so I wasn't surprised to see a strong turnout for a recent gathering organized by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) at the Alta Club in downtown Salt Lake City.

Few embrace the mission of GYC to keep the 19 million acres of the system intact and preserve the native species of the area more than Scott Christensen. Not surprisingly, he has some strong ties to Utah. Christensen moved to Utah during high school and one of the first things he did was ask his parents for the family van so he could take a long weekend trip to Yellowstone.

"I've been drawn to Yellowstone for as long as I can remember. It has been a major part of my life," said Christensen, who graduated from the University of Utah in environmental studies and has been working at GYC for nine years.

The wonder of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, Christensen said, is the preservation of the land and the species.

"With the reintroduction of the gray wolf in 1995 the Greater Yellowstone was restored to the same assemblage of wildlife Lewis and Clark may have encountered when they crossed the Pacific," he told the crowd at the Alta Club. "There are only two places where that can happen: the greater Yellowstone and the area around Glacier National Park. It is an entirely unique experience that people come from all over the world to witness."

The coalition appeared in 1983 and made an immediate impact on all issues regarding the entire Yellowstone ecosystem.

In the early 1990s GYC fought the development of an open-pit gold mine near Cooke City. The coalition worked to help biologists figure out how to help grizzlies recover from fewer than 200 to a recent count of close to 600.

GYC was also involved in the reintroduction of the wolf.

A current hot topic involves trying to protect bison that leave the park in the winter from being shot because some believe the wild animals can transmit brucellosis to cattle.

GYC also is spending a lot of time and effort on native fish in the Yellowstone area. The group is working to help fund a seasonal fisheries technician to help the Yellowstone fisheries program battle nonnative lake trout threatening native cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake.

Another project involves tagging lake trout with radio telemetry devices to identify the most effective areas to conduct gillnetting to remove them from the lake. The organization also helped to obtain Wild and Scenic River designations on the Clark Forks of the Yellowstone River and the Snake River.

Projects outside the park boundaries include stream and river restoration and the purchasing of cattle allotments.

There are plenty of ways to help GYC. Visit greateryellowstone.org for details. They have service projects so volunteers can experience what they are helping to protect.

Sure, there is a selfish reason for protecting what he loves, but Christensen works even harder knowing others will come to love Yellowstone and its wonders as much as he does.

Perhaps he knows that one day someone in his family will be asking to use the minivan for a trip.

Brett Prettyman is an outdoors columnist. Reach him at brettp@sltrib.com