​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 5: What is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?   
11 May 2018
We've spent the last four episodes talking about aspects of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. This week, we talk about what that really means.
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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
GARY>> The last month, we've been talking about the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

LES>> What are we going to be talking about today?

GARY>> Well, I figure after talking about it for a month, I might explain what it actually is.

LES>> And so what is the Yellowstone ecosystem?

GARY>> You know Yellowstone National Park is big.

LES>> It’s huge!

GARY>> It’s definitely big. It’s over 2.2 million acres.

LES>> It’s bigger than a lot of states.

GARY>> Yes it is. And when they drew the boundaries of that park, do you know what they drew them for?

LES>> Keep all the geysers in, I’d say.

GARY>> That’s exactly what they wanted to do. Yellowstone National Park is home to roughly half the active geysers on the planet Earth.

LES>> Okay.

GARY>> So when they drew the boundaries of the Park in 1872, their goal was to keep all the geothermal features in this protected area. So they wanted to get all the geysers, the fumaroles, the hot springs, the mud pots, everything.

LES>> I’m a good guesser.

GARY>> But at that time, they weren't thinking about ecosystems; they were specifically thinking about those geothermal features. So now we have a new concept today of not just the Yellowstone National Park, but an ecosystem that doesn’t stop at the borders of the park. The greater Yellowstone ecosystem is about ten times the size of Yellowstone itself and it includes two national parks, most of five national forests, the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness — which is a million acres itself — part of the Wind River reservation, three national wildlife refuges, and well over a million acres of BLM land.
It is roughly defined by lands that make good grizzly bear habitat.

[grizzly growling in the background]

LES >> Oh, okay.

GARY>> Even though there aren’t grizzly bears in all of it, that’s pretty much what it is. It covers the Rocky Mountains through vast chunks of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

[more grizzly bear sounds]

LES >> A lot of the West.

GARY>> And you talked about Yellowstone Park being bigger than some of our states?

LES>> Yes.

GARY>> The greater Yellowstone ecosystem is 22 million acres and that’s bigger than ten of our fifty states — just slightly smaller than South Carolina.

LES>> That is huge! And, of course encompassing all that and protecting all that is a big job.

GARY>> It is, indeed, and it’s pretty much the last really big ecosystem in the temperate zones — we’ll ignore the equatorial rainforests and the Arctic and Antarctic here for a moment — that has basically the same plants and animals that it had before people got here. They refer to it as a nearly-intact ecosystem and it’s home to the largest concentration of wildlife, especially what they call the megafauna — the big critters like bison and grizzly and moose and elk — in the lower 48 states.

Those animals are what the Yellowstone ecosystem is all about, and it’s also what the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is all about: providing lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable wildlife from this ecosystem while sharing a message of education and conservation.

LES>> Sounds awesome! Well, Gary, always entertaining, always informative.

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes, YellowstoneEcosystem.com, and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain, where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!
Map provided by U.S. Geological Survey
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