Marv Hoyt, Idaho Director, Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Kris: The Greater Yellowstone Coalition what is it that you want to do as an organization?
Marv: Our mission in to preserve and protect the greater Yellowstone eco-system which is the big chunk of land that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, national forest lands around it, fish and wildlife refuge systems, public lands, BLM lands and private lands and it all composes an eco-system where wildlife can move freely back and forth, cross boundaries and that sort of thing as well as free flowing rivers, native fish and that sort of stuff. Basically our mission is to keep Yellowstone like it is.
K: Why is it important to protect places like the Yellowstone eco-system?
M: I think its part of the American heritage, its part of the western heritage of this country. As a country out population moved out, we explored, we settled this place and there has always been this mystique and myth about the west and Yellowstone is sort of the best of all of that. It’s what is left – it’s the largest in tact eco-system in the lower 48 states, has all its native wildlife species especially with the re-introduction of wolves now so it’s a pretty special place – not just in this country but it is recognized around the world.
K: When you say all that and everyone recognizes the value of that it seems like it would be easy to protect it.
M: it’s not easy because if it were just the parks it would be easier as long as you don’t make them into theme parks and that sort of stuff which has been – in the past there has been that push to do that sort of thing with the parks. So you’ve got that but you also have issue like bison that wander in and out of the park like other wildlife but bison aren’t treated like other wildlife. They are captured, sent to slaughter because they have a disease called Brucellosis. You have snowmobiles that go into the park in the past in very large numbers which affects the air quality of the park. It affects the wildlife, harasses wildlife and it infects that sort of the soundscape if you will. That’s such a techie term but basically it affects the way the park sounds in the winter time. You can’t experience the solitude that should be able to in a lot of the park. There are those issues. Most recently this last year the Department of the Interior came out with a large scale leasing program for BLM lands for geothermal and they really didn’t give the parks a lot of protection and the last thing you would want is Old Faithful that wasn’t faithful. You don’t want to mess up that plumbing that creates those fantastic geysers and hot pots and that sort of thing. So it’s all of those things.
There are threats. A lot of those threats are from the outside in but wildlife that moves out of the park, whether it’s elk or bison or wolves that move around the eco-system, there are different levels of protection for those species when they leave the park and if their habitat is destroyed outside of the park it diminishes the quality of habitat overall. It has an effect on all types of wildlife populations when those lands outside of the parks themselves are developed for one reason or another – whether it’s subdivisions or dams or clear cutting like they did on the Targhee back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s.
K: Why is it so important to protect a place like that? You’ve spent a lot of time doing this.
M: To me it’s important because I’m not from here but we’ve lived out here since the mid-70’s and Yellowstone has always been a special place. It’s one of those places that just resonates with me. It’s one of those places you go and go wow. Every time you go there, there is something cool and new and different. The fact that you can see all the different wildlife species if you spend a little time looking for it. And if you like to fish it’s great fishing in and out of the park but the waters come from the park, a lot of those head waters, rivers and all the really spectacular fishing. It’s all of the things that I like to do. I like hunting, I like fishing, I like hiking. I like all of those sorts of things that Yellowstone is sort of the epitome of all of the things that I love to do and to me what could be a better job than making sure that it’s not just for today but for my kids who grew up here and any grandkids and all that I may have or for other people. We get letters all the time in our organization from our members – you know, I love this idea of Yellowstone. I’ve never been there but I’m going to come there someday. I’m going to be there. And so, being able to have something to do with protecting that place so that it is still special for people who – it’s just the idea, it’s the idea of Yellowstone that is in their head. They are going to be there someday.
K: How many members do you have?
M: We have about 9,000 members.
M: Yes and we have what we call our supporter list which is about 20,000 people who have signed up who like to hear from us. We send out e-news, e-alerts and that sort of stuff.
K: Do you know what you have in Idaho?
M: I believe the last I recall we have about 600 members in Idaho.
K: That’s a pretty decent number. Do you think that the Greater Yellowstone eco-system would be the way it is right now without organizations like you and your 600 members?
M: I don’t think so. I think a good example is back in the early ‘90’s a Canadian company, a gold mining company wanted to develop this massive, monstrous, big gold mine just outside the northeast corner of Yellowstone and it was a cyanide heat leach, it was this nasty tailings pond that was the size of several football fields. It was going to be perched at 9,000 feet in the headwaters of the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River, the only wild and scenic river in Wyoming and in the eco-system. And GYC decided this is the wrong place for that mine. It shouldn’t be here. Our motto for that was Yellowstone is more valuable than gold and we put together a campaign, we hired staff specifically to try to stop that mining project.
Hard rock mining is really difficult to stop. You can get them to modify their plans and stuff but in this case we actually stopped the mine. The US government ended up buying out the claims and setting those lands aside. President Clinton came to the park in 1996 and signed a special order and that gold mine never happened and so that is still wild country. It’s in the middle of grizzly bear habitat. We’ve done that a lot. Our organization has been successful in doing that a lot and so I think we do make a difference.
K: Bechler Meadows, tell me what it is like.
M: Depends on the time of year. I remember the first time we were there it was June 10th, it was a very wet spring, camas was still blooming and the mosquitoes just about carried us off. It was a pretty different sort of experience. Something I hadn’t had since I was in the Everglades as a kid growing up. It can be pretty intimidating just like that. But at other times we’ve been there, in late summer when the mosquitoes are pretty much gone and great fishing. The river itself is really, the Bechler River is a tough place to fish. The fish are pretty picky. There is some nice fishing there. It’s not a real rich system but it’s a great place. Lots of big meadows and marshy areas and stuff like that. Pretty flat country – it’s up on the plateau so it’s different than a lot of what people normally would see of Yellowstone.
K: Anything in particular in the Bechler meadow area that is of concern that you are working on now?
M: I think, getting back to the geothermal issue – the fact that there are hot springs in that basin and the island park area just to the west of the Bechler area and the park up on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has been recognized as high potential for geothermal development. There has been a moratorium in place for over twenty years now to keep that area from being drilled but there is always that sort of threat and how far away can you drill for hot water and not affect – or even cold water. The plumbing is all connected underneath inside and outside of Yellowstone. I think for the Bechler area one of the things that we think about is the potential for geothermal drilling to affect some of those hot pots, the thermal features in the park.
K: So what would be the concern? That they would basically drain, tap out?
M: Sure. They may not be hot any more. There would be water there perhaps but it wouldn’t be warm water. Nobody really knows. We’ve managed across the world, people have managed to screw up most of the geothermal basins and so this is one of the ones that is left that is pretty much intact. So I think that is one of the threats in the Bechler area. I think in the wintertime the problem with what they still have with snowmobile trespass into the park in that area. It’s easily accessed. The park boundary is not – people know where it is but it’s easy to say I didn’t see it and so there are those issues.
And of course that’s really pretty good grizzly bear habitat. It’s not uncommon to see grizzly bears in that part of the park. Grizzly bears have been de-listed. Our organization has challenged that delisting in court because we don’t really think grizzly bears are ready to be de-listed not so much because of what happens in the park but again, what happens outside the park.
And so I think there are lots of things going on still today in Yellowstone that can affect the park and down in the Bechler area it’s not as threatened perhaps as other parks just because it’s pretty remote. You don’t go in at west Yellowstone to get there. You can but it’s a long hike.
K: So when you look at an area like that and geothermal comes up if it’s up to you and Greater Yellowstone Coalition will there ever be drilling?
M: No. We’re doing everything we can, first to have the geo-thermal area around the park, a buffer area around the entire park expanded. We don’t think that is such a terrible or tough thing to ask of people to make sure the geothermal features are protected. And we will be vigilant in making sure those areas are.
K: Idaho, Wyoming, taking the Greater Yellowstone eco-system as a whole, what do you think is the one main issue or the top three? What are the biggies?
M: I think for us the things that we are working on and recently have had some really great successes – not just us but our conservation partners is bison and how bison are managed both inside and outside the park, how they are managed down in the Jackson area and up in Yellowstone now we’ve been working on this buy-out a conservation easements of sorts to allow bison to move out of the north end of the park from the Mammoth area and not be captured and sent to slaughter. That has been really successful. This was the first year that they would be allowed out of the park. On the west side, coming out of west Yellowstone, Montana, the department of livestock in Montana has decided they aren’t going to haze bison back into the park. Since there is no conflict with cattle there aren’t any cattle allotments that are active on the west side. Also this last year there has been an agreement where bison can’t, if they happen to be captured in one of the facilities instead of sending them to slaughter, if they are tested and they test negative for brucellosis the Wind River Tribe has been trying for years to get bison back on the reservation and there is an agreement now to allow them to take those bison and move some of those bison down to the Wind River Reservation so that we’ll have another purebred herd of bison, American bison someplace besides Yellowstone and the National Bison Refuge.
K: So in the area of bison a lot has happened.
M: A lot has happened. There is still a lot that needs to happen. The capture facilities are still sitting up there; the Stevens Creek capture facilities on the north end. Only about 25 bison are allowed to move out of the park and this year it hasn’t been a big issue because they had a fairly mild winter but if we have a winter like we did last year and of course last year a lot of bison were killed, not as many trying to move out. But if we have another winter like that bison will move out and the way it is set up incrementally, the first year 25 are allowed out and maybe more the next year and maybe more the next but that is not for sure, so anything above 25 going out of the north end of the park could still be captured and sent to slaughter. So we’re getting there and it is better now than it has been but it’s not perfect yet.
K: What about land? Do you get to a point where you run out of efforts, funds to try to get everything to do an easement before it’s all chunked up or is that not an option?
M: A lot of places it is an option but any more up until recently land prices have been so high that it takes a lot of money to purchase an easement. It costs about as much for an easement as it does to purchase it outright. GYC, Greater Yellowstone Coalition actually doesn’t do that sort of land conservation. There are plenty of land trusts – the Teton Regional Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy and others that do that and we say our job is making sure those areas are protected first or identified so that development is kept at bay until perhaps a conservation easement or buy-out can occur. So there is that sort of thing going on around the eco-system and private lands.
K: When you look at what GYC is doing for the whole eco-system are you proud of your efforts?
M: Sure. We’re the only organization that works, conservation organization that works in Greater Yellowstone that works on all aspects of conservation whether its water, wildlife, land conservation and it takes the eco-system approach. There are a lot of other organizations that do really good work but they are either more focused on just wildlife or just conservation of private lands or only on the parks themselves – those sorts of things. We’re the organization that was here first. We do it best and we take the eco-system approach. We work on all of it together.