Photography of fire evidence can be found under the “Photography” tab on our blog (link below).
Photography of fire evidence can be found under the “Photography” tab on our blog (link below).
Public documents for our issue can be found under the “Public Documents” tab on our blog (link below).
My name is Austin Berry, and I am a 9ft tall man-child from Richmond, Virginia, majoring in Graphic Design at Longwood University. I am also the layout editor and weekly columnist for the Longwood Rotunda. I enjoy exploring the city with friends, making pretty pictures, and I am an olympic gold medalist in being ridiculous.
You intelligent blog-readers out there may be questioning, what is a goofy 20 year old who calls making pictures in photoshop a career path doing studying in the gorgeous Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. When I first signed up for this trip, I was asking myself the same question. I am not an environmental science major, as so many of my class mates are, and coming from a city, I am more used to hiking down the block instead of up a mountain. Needless to say, I felt out of my element here in “Big Sky Country.”
As I continued on this adventure, I realized this class is so much more than a fun way to avoid taking Gen-Eds back at school, it’s an opportunity to gain perspective, to have positive discourse with people you would not have otherwise spoken to, and for students of different disciplines to apply their talents to a useful cause. As a designer, I was able to bring a different perspective than some of the scientists may have had about the ecosystem we were seeing, and I could pick out different details as we explored the environment. Not to mention make the blog look cool!
So, coming away from this trip, I am no longer a goofball in search of an adventure and a few easy credits. I am a goofball with a bit more perspective on the world we live in, and the issues that we face.
During the afternoon on May 20th, our intrepid fire team explored the small town of Gardiner, Montana on the northern gate of the Yellowstone park. Gardiner is a much smaller town than our previous place of study, Jackson Hole. The town is bordered by federal lands in the form of Yellowstone National Park and Gallatin National Forest, and thus has no room to expand. Because of this, Gardiner has kept much more of a small town feel, as opposed the rapidly growing Jackson. This was evident in the types of stores and restaurants we saw around the town of Gardiner. Many were small, privately owned business as opposed to the chains and larger establishes seen in Jackson.
We spoke to characterful shop owner on the north side of town, named Gordie. When asked about the levels of tourism in Jackson, Gordie mentioned that the amount of people who come into the town has grown vastly since 1975 when he was first in the town. He talked about the fact that Gardiner is simply too small to accommodate the huge influx of tourism during the peak months. Many business owners run multiple shops in town, and many have had to close stores because they just don’t have enough people to run all the business at once. Our group noticed this personally, when we tried to find dinner in the town, and very few restaurants had room to seat us. After talking with Gordie, our team investigated this matter further, and found that the Gardiner Community Newsletter was full of help-wanted adds for the upcoming tourist season.
Tourism in Gardiner creates other problems in the community as well. Similar to the situation in Jackson Hole, due to the economy catering to the tourism, the town citizens have become somewhat neglected. Gordie mentioned to us in our interview that there is no place for members of the community to live anymore, in fact some of the last remaining apartment buildings were torn down in favor of new hotels, motels, and rental houses, leaving people struggling to find places to live. Our team found that some summer workers will even live in tents outside of the town during the heavy tourist season. This expansion into a more tourist centric economy can be easily seen when walking down the north end of town, with multiple shops advertising white water rafting, horseback riding, and other adventures. The newest hotels and other business are also located on the outside of the town, which tells us that the town is trying to expand. As Mr. Gordie so eloquently put it, “They’re turning it into a mini Jackson Hole.”
However, even with these problems, the town relies heavily on tourism for it’s economic benefits. When walking through town, there are multiple gift shops selling Yellowstone related items with images of bears, wolves, and other wildlife plastered everywhere. However, even with this increased economic benefit, there are still money issues in Gardiner. During heavy tourist seasons, there is a “gift tax” on these tourist related items. However, this money does not feed back into the community. Gardiner is an unincorporated community, meaning that they have no local government. The city of Gardner is governed by the Park county government instead, and all of this tax money goes to the county government and not into the community. Some business owners have had to resort to suing the government over these issues, since they don’t have a city government to be their voice.
When asked what he expected to see in the future, Gordie said “The town is waiting for Columbus, waiting to be discovered.”
West Yellowstone is a moderately sized town on the west side of Yellowstone Park. On May 21st, our intrepid team went out to West Yellowstone during late morning and explored the east side of the town. The town was larger than the previous towns that we had explored, with far more chain business than other towns. The town seems to cater less to tourists than Gardiner and especially Jackson Hole, lacking all the outdoor activity businesses of Gardner and the Superficial western theme of Jackson. To out eyes, this town resembled more of an average suburb, sporting a mall, a fitness center, and even an IMAX theatre. We were also able to see multiple grocery stores, restaurants, and other shops.
When scouting around town for an interview, many businesses were too busy to speak with us, but our team was able to follow a lead to a cozy book store / coffee shop called “Book Peddlers.” We spoke to the employees working the coffee counter in the back of the shop, and were able to gain some deeper insight into the town of West Yellowstone. Our team was particularly interested in the effects of tourism in the town, as that was a major issue in the other communities. What we learned is that, even with it’s larger size and businesses, West Yellowstone still has problems with too many tourists flooding the area and pushing out local residents. Our team heard the familiar story of the town not having enough housing for it’s citizens, with many members of the workforce having to commute from other communities.
For the first full day of our amazing Yellowstone adventure, our intrepid fire team explored the east end of Jackson Hole, and gained some interesting insight. Most of the town is much nicer than one might expect of a typical small town and this is due to the fact that Jackson Hole has become a hot spot for outdoor tourists seeking to explore the GYE, and this tourism has become the towns primary industry. This has caused a stark divide between the wealthy tourism industry and the largely working class citizens. In an interview with two women working in the local hardware store, we were able to learn that this divide has caused housing issues in the town. Much of the workforce in Jackson has to commute from surrounding counties, because many people simply cannot afford to live in the town anymore with the skyrocketing land prices. This has lead to a bit of an anti-tourists mentality amongst the citizens of Jackson, our team saw bumper stickers around the town with saying such as “My west has an east infection” and “Wyoming is full, go home.” However, this is not to say that the industry is not recognized as important to the town, and it is recognized that the town benefits from the economic boost. The reason many people still make the long commute to Jackson to work is because the town pays generally higher wages than surrounding areas. However, the woman we spoke to still lamented the loss of the towns original culture, having seen it change into a much more tourism centric area in the 25 years she’s been in the town. “They’re trying to make it something it’s not.”
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Learn More About The Cost of Fires in YNP:
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but fire plays a key role in nature, in fact many plants could not survive without it. Wildfires helps natural processes by breaking down plants and other organic nutrients which the rain can then help integrate back into the soil. The resulting soil is more nutrient-rich, allowing new seeds to grow, with the added benefit of more access to sunlight and less competition.
This natural process is as much a part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as anywhere else. In fact, there have been multiple fires throughout Yellowstone’s history. However, there was once a period where this wasn’t the case. For a long time, any instances of fire in America’s first national park, were quickly dealt with, and the park was maintained in such a way that discouraged fires from starting. This, along with an exceptionally dry season and a surge in the population of a specific pine-dining beetle, and Yellowstone was ready to burn, which it did in 1988.
The fires in 1988 were by far the most famous fires in the park’s history. Burning over 30% of the acreage in Yellowstone, these fires helped shaped how fires are managed in the park today. For 4 days in September of 1988, there were over twenty five thousand fire fighters given the job to help tame this great fire. With over nine thousand fire fighters working on it at any given time, the fire was finally manageable on September 11, when the first snowfall helped to dampen the flames. The majority of the fire subsided this day; however, some spots continued to burn into November. Just within this year, over 3 million dollars in property damaged occurred because of fires.
Since then, Yellowstone National Park has a policy of prescribed, controlled burns, just as many other places do. This means that fires will be intentionally set in the park, in order to aid the natural processes that fire enables, as well as to prevent the park from turning into another uncontrollable powder-keg. It’s quite literally fighting fire with fire. However, this is a controversial practice, and many people think that we should leave nature to it’s own devices. After all, these fires have a price tag as well.
Fires in the park can cost more than just money. We seek to look at not only the economic costs of the destruction, but also the cost of planning and equipment that is required to contain, control, and in some cases, even start a fire. In addition, the time put into managing the fires and lives of humans and/or wildlife are other costs that may be associated with these fires.
This article gives insight about prescribed fires and some of the planning processes.
Article with video: http://www.yellowstonepark.com/1988-fires-yellowstone/
This article and video gives an historical background on the park’s most famous fire during 1988.
This article includes a timeline of fire management strategies in the park.
PDF Document: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/RI_2015_fire_sm.pdf
This map shows fires in Yellowstone from 1988-2013.
Welcome to FireWood (get it?), a blog that investigates the issue of wildfires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We are a group of students from Longwood University who are studying the park and surrounding areas. On this site you will find new posts from our intrepid team, as well as pictures and social media content that we post while exploring out west. We will specifically be investigating the economic impacts of wildfires, and the question over whether or not controlled burns are a valid practice. Needless to say, it’s going to be ~lit~