Resource Management

Yellowstone’s unique geological and biological resources inspired its creation as the world’s first national park in 1872. The National Park Service is legally responsible for preserving, unimpaired, the park’s natural and cultural resources and values for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Yellowstone Center for Resources (YCR) works to fulfill those responsibilities.

The Yellowstone Center for Resources (YCR) was created in March 1993 to centralize the park’s science and resource management functions. The goals of the YCR are to gather, manage, and analyze data that helps the park better manage natural and cultural resources; understand and mitigate the environmental and historic consequences of proposals; preserve and curate rare, sensitive, and valuable cultural and natural resources; work with park partners to meet resource management goals; and promote transfer of knowledge to other park staff, partners, and the public.

YCR Organizational Chart

The Natural Resources Branch helps preserve and increase knowledge of Yellowstone’s resources in these areas:

  • Wildlife
  • Fisheries & Aquatic Resources
  • Air Quality
  • Water Quality
  • Geology
  • Ecology & Bioacoustics

The Wildlife Management Team manages the wildlife within the park and the various wildlife programs associated with Yellowstone, including:

  • The grizzly bear management program
  • Wolf Restoration project and various research programs associated with it,
  • The Interagency Bison Management Plan, in conjunction with the State of Montana
  • Management of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and trumpeter swan populations

Yellowstone participates in a nationwide interagency air quality monitoring network designed to determine levels of air pollutants, trends in air quality, and compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards. YCR staff collect samples and data on atmospheric deposition and wet (acid rain) and dry atmospheric deposition at Tower Ranger Station, visibility (fine particulates, PM2.5) and gaseous pollutants (ozone and sulfur dioxides) at the Lake water tank, and carbon monoxide and fine particulates at Old Faithful and at the West Entrance. The samples and raw data are sent to various national programs for analysis.

Water quality monitoring of Yellowstone National Park’s major surface waters is done by the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Section staff in cooperation with the Greater Yellowstone Network’s Inventory and Monitoring Program. The purpose of the long-term water quality program is to acquire baseline information for Yellowstone’s surface waters that can be used to evaluate overall ecosystem health, ascertain impacts of potential stressors (e.g., road construction activities or accidental sewage spills), and identify any changes that may be associated with water quality degradation. In general, physical and chemical characteristics of the park’s waters are related to seasonal changes, elevation, precipitation events, and presence or absence of thermal features.

The air and water quality monitoring programs jointly operate various meteorological, snow, and stream monitoring systems throughout the park, in conjunction with the National Resource Conservation Service (NCRS), the National Weather Service, and various other state and federal agencies.

The two main priorities of the park’s Fisheries Program are the preservation of cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake, which has the largest remaining concentration of genetically pure inland cutthroat trout in the world, and restoration of fluvial populations of native trout, many of which have been lost because of non-native species introductions.

Protection and monitoring of the park’s geothermal resources remains the focal point of the park’s geology program.  In addition to active monitoring of the various geothermal attributes within the park, there are two other primary focal points for the Geology Program.Montana Water Rights Compact: The Montana Water Rights Compact, established in 1994 between the state of Montana and the National Park Service (NPS), protects Yellowstone’s geothermal features by limiting groundwater withdrawal in a designated area north and west of the park.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory:  A partnership set up by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with the NPS and the University of Utah, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) monitors volcano and earthquake hazards in the park using a network of 26 seismic and 13 GPS leveling stations. In a continued effort to improve its volcanic and seismic monitoring capability, the YVO upgraded equipment at existing locations and installed equipment at new locations, as described in the Volcano and Earthquake Monitoring Plan for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, 2006–15.

The natural soundscape of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has many biological sounds with important ecological functions for reproduction and survival. Birds, mammals, amphibians and insects often need to hear or produce sounds to attract mates, detect predators, find prey, or defend territories. The natural soundscape of the Yellowstone delights visitors during the fall elk rut, during birds’ spring choruses, along rushing streams and in the delightfully still and profoundly quiet days and nights of winter. Natural soundscapes are a resource and are protected by National Park Service policies, and is the focus of the YCR Bioacoustics office. Many park visitors come to national parks to enjoy serenity and solitude and expect to hear sounds of nature. Sounds associated with human activity, including road traffic, aircraft, and snowmobiles often impact these natural soundscapes and are an important and growing source of concern. Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) National Park initiated a soundscape monitoring program in 2003.

The Cultural Resources Branch helps preserve and increase knowledge of Yellowstone’s resources in these areas:

  • Archeology
  • Archives, Library, and Museum Collections
  • Ethnography
  • Historic Road Rehabilitation
  • Historic Structures
  • Yellowstone History

Archeology in Yellowstone National Park is critical to understanding the pre-contact and historical record of the Greater Yellowstone Area. By studying the types of stone that were used and discarded, staff can track the early human residents as they lived and traveled in the park and beyond it, for example. Because the intensity of use varies through time as environmental conditions become more or less favorable, the archeological sites and their contents also provide a means for interdisciplinary investigations of past climate and biotic change.

Yellowstone National Park’s archives, library, and museum collections comprise more than 5.3 million items that document the cultural and natural history of the park, making them the second largest group of collections in the National Park Service (NPS). They include some of the first photographs taken of the park by William Henry Jackson; Thomas Moran’s original field sketches from the 1871 Hayden Expedition; one of the most comprehensive collections of postcards, souvenirs, and ephemera of Yellowstone; and a rare book collection. The archives collection consists of nearly 3,000 linear feet of historic records that document the history of Yellowstone since its establishment in 1872, while the library contains more than 20,000 volumes related to Yellowstone’s history, past and present.

The goal of the archives and museum program is to properly preserve and document the park’s cultural and natural history, and to make them available to as wide an audience as possible through on-site research, the Internet, facility tours, and temporary exhibits. The archival collection is one of nine affiliates of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the only one located in a national park. Because of this affiliation, the park retains permanent federal records on-site rather than transferring them to NARA facilities. In addition to federal records, the archives includes donated historical records and collections, records of park concessioners, and an extensive oral history collection. The archives and museum collections are heavily used by park staff and outside researchers studying all aspects of park history. The primary objectives of the Yellowstone Research Library are to document the history of Yellowstone National Park by preserving all relevant books and papers, and to select, organize, and make accessible books and related materials that will assist park staff in the performance of their duties. The library also makes its resources available to the public; independent researchers; students; concessions employees; the local community in Gardiner, Montana; residents of the state of Wyoming; and park visitors through the Wyoming Library Database (WYLD) of the Wyoming Library Consortium.

The goals of the Ethnography Program are to develop the programs, guidelines, and information needed to help management identify and protect culturally significant resources of peoples traditionally associated with the park, and to support relationships between the park and the peoples whose customary ways of life may be affected by park activities.

Yellowstone National Parks historic roads are a nationally significant example of early public road construction. Cultural Resources staff make every effort to insure that rehabilitation of these roads retains their integrity of materials, workmanship, feeling, and association through the use of natural materials and a design philosophy that calls for preservation of historical curves and blending with the natural landscape.

In addition to providing facilities for visitor use and park management, many Yellowstone structures have historical, architectural, and/or engineering significance. The park’s National Register designated Historic Districts include the Grand Loop Road, Lake Fish Hatchery, and Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Also on the National Register of Historic Places are the Lake Hotel, Queen’s Laundry Bath House in the Lower Geyser Basin, Post Office in Mammoth Hot Springs, and six National Historic Landmarks: Fort Yellowstone and five influential examples of park “rustic” architecture—the Old Faithful Inn, Northeast Entrance Station, and Norris, Madison, and Fishing Bridge museums.

The Resource Operations Branch is responsible for providing operational support to the other branches and to other sections of the park.

YCR’s Vegetation Group helps carry out the National Park Service’s responsibilities for the protection, perpetuation, and restoration of Yellowstone’s vegetation communities and their enjoyment by the public, management of threatened or endangered plant species, mitigation of human-induced effects, and assessment of threats from external sources.

The Spatial Analysis Center (SAC) provides a variety of GPS (global positioning system) and GIS (geographic information system) services to park staff and Yellowstone partners by repackaging technology and technical data to suit a variety of information needs.

The Professional Support Branch consists for administrative support functions, plus the Resource Information Team and the Research Permit Office.

The Resource Information Team synthesizes scientific and technical information and makes it available in language and formats that are accessible to researchers, other agency scientists, interested members of the public, and park managers who need to take research results into consideration when making decisions about park policies and priorities. Through presentations, events, printed and electronic publications, and outreach efforts, staff strive to promote discussion of park issues and policies by a variety of participants; contribute to the scientific body of knowledge about the park; and promote resource conservation and visitor enjoyment through improved understanding of ecological issues.

Finally, Yellowstone National Park is the proud host of numerous research studies each year. The Research Permit Office is tasked with issuing permits to researchers who conduct scientific studies in a variety of disciplines and monitoring their fieldwork to ensure that it does not negatively affect park resources or conflict with other park goals or missions. National Park Service policy also requires the NPS promote research in the park, and collect and appropriately disseminate the results of park-related scientific inquiry to the widest possible audience.  Stakeholders include research scientists, park staff, land managers, and the public. This is accomplished through various means including scheduling research talks and disseminating journal articles, theses, and research reports to interested parties.  The Research Permit Office staff provides general park information and logistical support to researchers throughout the year, and accompanies researchers in the field, enabling the park to better understand the project’s needs as well as ensuring that no park resources are harmed.

The Compliance Branch ensures the park is complying with all relevant state and federal environmental laws, and prepares Environmental Impact Statements and related documentation, and works with the Cultural Resources Branch in the preservation of historic structures and other historical features of the park.