Questions From the Past


I received an email from a student at the University of New Hampshire this morning. She wanted to know about yellowstone and some of the park’s natural relationships. Her name was Veronica and she ask 3 questions.

1. Were you a ranger during the 1988 fires? If so, what did you do during them? Did you have to evacuate anybody, or was it fine where you were?

2. How is science used in the park? I talked to someone and they mentioned fire science. There is the physical science aspect as well. It is hard to explain, but I feel like science is used all the time there

3. How will climate change effect Yellowstone? Will it extend fire season, will it have no effect on fires?

My reply.

Thanks for the email. I was not a ranger in 1988; I worked at the Canyon Lodge for the park concessionaire. We got evacuated from the lodge in mid-August (?). We got notice that we had to leave late one afternoon and we had to be out of the park the next morning. We were all in our 20s so we had an evacuation party. The fire that threatened us was called the Wolf Lake Fire and it was burning from Norris Junction toward us at Canyon. Working in the park was much like a college campus to us. You work, study, hike, party and sleep. When the season ends, everyone goes their own way and that group of people are never together again; at least not as a whole. So the evacuation was swift and gave our group of friends little time to say goodbye. Late that night a small group of us hiked into the woods just west of Canyon Junction and walked through the burning forest. The weather that night was calm and we were able to basically stroll amongst the burning trees. We had been told that the animals were rushing away from the fire as if it was a Bambi movie; that was not the case; elk and bison were just methodically weaving their way around the burning forest. We watched two massive bull elk sparing in the smokey haze as the sun came up. It was surreal. Before leaving Yellowstone that fall, I got a job working at the Wolf Lake fire camp. I worked the roads back near Canyon. We would let fire trucks and workers through and answer questions for tourist driving on any open sections of road. With 52 fires and 793,880 acres burnt that summer, there was always some open roads. We worked 16 hour days seven days a week. A friend of mine Jay and I rented a cabin near Lake Tahoe for winter with all the money we made as fire fighters. 80% of Yellowstone’s trees are lodgepole pine and they reseed naturally during fire.

Nearly every decision made about how to manage Yellowstone is based on science. You should do some research on the Yellowstone Center for Resources or YCR as it is referred to in the park. It is staffed with some of the best biologists, geologists, historians and geographers in the world. Much of the research money comes from other places as college professors and other professionals study different aspects of Yellowstone.I worked out of there as a Wolf Project technician during a winter wolf study.

Climate change is already seen in Yellowstone. Rivers and lakes are thawing an average of 22 days earlier than they were just a few decades ago. Plants that live at the upper tree-line, which is determined by temperature, will adapt and move into the alpine zones just upslope. Less alpine will have effects on the plants and wildlife that utilize that zone. Longer growing seasons at lower elevation will change the makeup of plant communities as some out compete others. Invasive species from different climate zones will move into spaces that may not have been available previously.

Its a crazy world out there in nature.

Thanks for the questions and good luck. George Heinz