In the wake of forest fires that damaged thousands of acres in Yellowstone National Park, park officials should not implement supplemental feeding for wildlife or any reforestation or reseeding, a panel of scientists has recommended.
Thirteen scientists from across the country met during the weekend in Yellowstone to assess the condition of the park. The group was appointed by the Greater Yellowstone Coordination Committee, composed of Park Service and Forest Service officials who manage lands in the greater Yellowstone area.Norman Christensen, a forest ecology professor from Duke University, said supplemental feeding of elk and bison in the park this winter apparently is not necessary.
Any feeding program would be expensive and could have undesirable consequences, such as keeping the ungulate populations artificially high, he said.
"The outlook for ungulates for one year and longer is anything but bleak," Christensen said. "It appears they will benefit from the fires and the problem (of mortality) might be a reverse problem."
Nine percent of the grasses on the northern range was affected by fires. Elk and bison populations are at record-high levels, park officials said.
The northern range is under stress by drought conditions, which prevailed in the Yellowstone high country last summer. But biologists have said once supplemental feeding begins it is hard to stop, because it could lead many animals to die.
Christensen also said the group is recommending against any seeding in back-country areas, except where firefighting efforts scarred the land.
No back-country seeding occurred in Yellowstone following the fires, but scorched areas in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana and the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming were seeded by helicopter in efforts to stop erosion.
The panel will also recommend against any reforestation, except on commercial timber lands that burned outside Yellowstone.
"In wilderness areas, it's our strong feeling that it (reforestation) is not necessary," Christensen said. "The natural regenerative processes are more than sufficient."
John Varley, chief of research for Yellowstone Park, said some trees have been planted around developed areas and to screen bulldozed fire lines in an effort more like "landscaping" than reforestation.