Controversy Amid Beauty

Yellowstone Sign_Gayle Mary_smallerThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

My husband, our dogs and I spent two days in the summer majesty of Yellowstone National Park during the July 4th weekend. I once lived in this grand part of the United States, serving first as education director for the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (then just the Grizzly Discovery Center), and later as editor of the West Yellowstone News. Driving into and through Yellowstone was always an amazing experience – observing elk, bison, trumpeter swans, and sandhill cranes, and many other animal species, as well as watching Old Faithful and Castle geysers, among others, explode with fountains of steaming water. Yellowstone is a watchable park, but it’s also a treasure of smells and sounds, from the phosphorous geysers and mud pots to the aromatic and colorful wildflowers, from the bugles of bull elk to the splashing of geese and ducks in the myriad of rivers. I am partial to this peculiar, popular national park!

Amid the beauty of mountains, streams, lakes, flora and fauna also quakes thunderous controversy. Reintroduction of grey wolves in 1996 brought major howling from ranchers with lands on the outskirts of the park, and the continual slaughter of the wooly bison as they migrate outside national park lands in winter pits landowners against environmentalists. I’ve written stories on both issues, and I’ve seen both types of these large mammals while inside, and outside, of the park. Yellowstone is strikingly beautiful; Yellowstone has been, and remains, in the crosshairs of controversy.

Yellowstone’s Issues

Bison by RiverBison – Yellowstone remains the final stronghold for the ancestors of America’s last free-ranging bison. Also called buffalo, these animals went from a hefty 60 million to nearly extinct in less than a century. Bison jams replaced bear jams inside Yellowstone’s borders; where once people could view black and grizzly bears along the roadsides inside the park through the early 1970s, now bison cows, bulls, and calves frequent the roadways and block traffic; even while resting in the distance, they cause tourists to stop their cars in the middle of the highway to take photos. These animals may be popular to those visiting Yellowstone, but to landowners in Montana, they can be a nuisance and cause fear of transmitting brucecllosis to cattle (however, no documentation exists that bison cause this disease, which was actually brought in by and existed in bovines in the first place).

Wolves – Not seen often even today, the grey wolf once roamed through Yellowstone’s forests and prairies. But, like most of these wild canines in America, the species became extinct during the early 1900s. A controversial plan to bring this predator back to Yellowstone took root during the mid-1990s when wolf packs from Canada were transported and transplanted into the national park. Numbers have increased and the controversy remains, especially regarding the “hunt” now going on in surrounding states and the wild animals’ ever-increasing range. I’ve seen a few wolves during my Yellowstone visits, and I was enthralled to be a news reporter during one of the early releases back in the ’90s. My mind vividly remembers the eyes, the howls, and the sprinting of these magnificent creatures as they left their holding pens. What once was is now again … but, for how long?

yellowstone snowmobilingSnowmobiling – For nearly 20 years, snowmobiling in Yellowstone has been a hot-button topic, particularly between small businesses in the nearby communities and environmentally-minded groups in and outside the region. For several years, no one could keep up with what “the rule” for that particular winter was, creating confusion not just for business owners, but also for machine riders. Noise levels, air pollution, and environmental destruction were, and are, among the issues raised. The current Winter Use Plan allows for just a few individual/non-guided snowmobiles in the Park as well as for guided snowmobile and snowcoach tours. My husband and I took a snowmobile trip into Yellowstone as our honeymoon adventure; this year we celebrate 15 years of marriage and are highly considering returning to that magical winter place as our anniversary/Christmas gift to one another during which time we’d take a snowcoach tour. As editor of the West Yellowstone News, I took a snowcoach trip once and thoroughly enjoyed learning from the knowledgeable guide and experiencing Yellowstone’s landscape and wildlife during a season of frigid temperatures, icicle-like frosted trees, and mounds of swirling snow..

Jardine SignGold Mine – The mid-1990s also brought a mining controversy to the Yellowstone area, when the New World Gold Mine was proposed just outside the northwest boundary near the small towns of Jardine and Cooke City. Stream and land pollution as well as noise and air pollution and the simple idea of tearing up an area recognized as a World Heritage Site created ill will with people who saw the mine as a major job-creator in an area rift with low-paying, seasonal jobs and those wanting to keep the landscape as pristine as possible. The mine didn’t materialize and the lands were eventually sold as part of a land trust, helping further advance the region’s tourism industry and protect the area from mining.

Yellowstone History

From creation as the world’s first national park in 1872 to today, Yellowstone is an object of both beauty and controversy. From the flight of the Nez Perce Indians, during which the conflict resulted in the death of a Park tourist in 1877, to the continued tirade regarding wolves and bison, this gem of the Rockies continues to inspire and attract… and cause debates. Last year, more than 3.5 million people visited the national park; those numbers bring about discussions of eliminating vehicle traffic and going to a bus system. Even the creation and administration of the park ignited controversy nearly 150 years ago.

Conflict in Stories

As writers, we find both beauty and controversy in our stories. Our characters, whom we mold and shape into interesting personas, experience conflict to help move the story along. One of my works in progress, “Bo: A Bison Grows Up in Yellowstone,” relates the fiction-based-on-fact story of a young bison as he learns to survive. The story will feature wolves, tourists, winter, Bison in Parkand the final decision: does Bo leave the security of the park during an especially harsh winter with the possibility of being shot by Montana agricultural interests or does he stay in Yellowstone and face possible starvation? Does he survive or does he not, no matter the decision he makes? I’m considering having the reader “write the ending,” in an effort to make a stronger impression about one of the most important issues still facing Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area.

What types of conflict do your story characters face? What beauty is portrayed in your stories? What about your life – do you find conflict in the midst of beauty, and how if so, how do you balance the two?

Do you enjoy visiting national parks and other places of natural beauty? Do these places also have elements of controversy associated with them?

I hope each of you has opportunity to visit a national park one day – they truly are America’s, and the world’s, treasures!

Wildflowers_Idaho Meadow_with logFun Yellowstone Facts:

  • Native American tribes lived and hunted in and around Yellowstone for thousands of years. Tribes included Crow, Shoshoni, and Blackfeet, among many others.
  • John Colter, who took part in the Lewis & Clark expedition, visited Yellowstone in 1807, and his stories of the thermal features and other elements of the park sparked doubters to coin the term “Colter’s Hell.”
  • In 1870 and 1871 expeditions to the area explored portions of the now-national park; among the 1871 crew was the famous painter Thomas Moran (a mountain in Grand Teton National Park is named for him).
  • From these expeditions came the call to action to create Yellowstone as a national park, setting aside more than 2 million acres as a public “pleasuring-ground,” preserved “from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within.” President Grant signed the legislation known as the Yellowstone Act of 1872.

Learn more about Yellowstone’s history at

Yellowstone LakeGayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults and a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. She enjoys traveling and visiting America’s beautiful national parks and forests, finding inspiration in nature. Visit her website at

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22 thoughts on “Controversy Amid Beauty

  1. I visited Yellowstone a few times with my family when I was younger. Once while I was in high school, we stayed at Old Faithful. This was several months after Mt. St. Helen’s in Oregon blew, and my younger brother kept calling Old Faithful Mt. St. Helen’s.


    1. I’ve never stayed at the hotels in the Park, but I have eaten at Old Faithful Inn and Lake Hotel — those buildings certainly have a lot of history! The geysers are certainly fascinating! Thanks for stopping by and commenting and sharing your memories, Abbie!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As usual, a very good post. I love that you work to be balanced in this controversial topic. I too love Yellowstone and believe it can be a beacon of diverstiy and knowledge for generations to come, but getting folks to that place, not easy. Just like our characters and their conflicts, resolution can be hard to find. Doris


    1. My journalistic background drilled “balance” into me, at least as far as a writer goes, but I do have my personal opinions about many of those subjects. I hadn’t realized until I moved away how much I treasure that place … but living there in 50 below zero weather JUST WAS NOT FOR ME! IF I win the lottery, I will spend more time there but only from May to October! Thanks for your sharing your thoughts and comments, Doris!


  3. Very interesting post! I had no idea all these controversies were going on with Yellowstone. My family road-tripped up there when I was little. My parents loved national parks and often took me to Sequoia, Yosemite, and the Arches. However, despite the beauty of Yellowstone and our excitement at being there, my most memorable moment is suffering from asthma from the sulfur fumes of the geysers. I had terrible asthma and allergies as a kid. My mom hustled me away from Old Faithful when she realized what was happening and I couldn’t breathe. Once we were away from them, I was fine. That was our last trip to Yellowstone and from then on we spent most summers in Sequoia.


    1. I’ve not been to the parks in California, Sarah, but they are on my “bucket list.” I’ve traveled to many in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Montana, but there are SO MANY to experience, and I hope to travel to many more in the future. What an experience you had when you did visit Yellowstone! That could be woven into a story or poem, I’d say. Thanks for sharing your memories and thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It seems like there’s nothing ever simple, is there? Fix this, it hurts that. There simply aren’t any easy answers in the world.

    Nicely written.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Gayle. One can tell that you were once editor of the West Yellowstone News. You are way, way more knowledgeable about the park and the issues it faces than the average guy. I visited the park in 1980, along with Glacier. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Camped overnight there; rested on our sleeping bags outside our tents and watched the August Perseids meteor shower. Great memories.


    1. WOW, Mike, that would have been SO AMAZING to have witnessed! I was WOWED by a full moon there in September back in 1994 — watched the golden orb rise from the horizon with steam billowing in the background as elk bugled: I will NEVER forget that! Yellowstone is an amazing place with a colorful history … that can be said of many of our national parks, and one reason I enjoy visiting them. Thanks for your comments, your kind words, and your memories!


  6. One of my favorite memories is visiting the park with my parents and siblings as a kid and staying in the old log cabin near Old Faithful Inn. The bears rattled the garbage cans at night outside the door. We counted over 60 bears thoughout the park, most of them sitting at the side of the road begging as the tourists fed them bread or whatever they had in their car. To the day my dad died, many years later, whenever we encountered a long stream of cars on the road, my dad remarked, “Must be a bear in the road!”


  7. Thanks Gayle. I would love to visit Yellowstone someday. I just can’t get my eighteen wheeler in there. I have visited other National Parks, and I love them. You did a great job of describing each nearly extinct animal. Cher’ley


    1. You can park your rig in West Yellowstone or Gardiner and take a shuttle bus into Yellowstone, Cher’ley — there are many ways to enjoy this special place and I hope one day you’re able to do so.


  8. Great post Gayle! I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but really want too. I saw a program recently that showed many of the positive impacts the wolves are having on Yellowstone. I’m close to Yosemite and have been camped there a few times. There are redwoods so tall they almost touch the sky. Regarding conflict, it seems to be essential to writing drama. I hate it in real life.


    1. I hope to visit the Redwoods and Yosemite one day, Travis. I have a friend who lives in San Bernardino, and I’ve been to Joshua Tree — parks in the northern part of California are on my bucket list! I hope you get to see Yellowstone one day — it’s truly magical! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  9. Wonderful post, Gayle and not just because of the photo of the place named Jardine. 😉 I’ve not been to Yellowstone but managed to get a little way into Yosemite when I did my California to Vancouver, Canada road trip. We were driving to Yosemite on the 23rd December and only got so far before we came to a set of closed park gates. Snow was expected but it was fabulous to get the chance to drive through even a small section of those majestic, huge trees. However, we didn’t see much wildlife- I guess we were still too near ‘civilisation’.
    There has been a huge controversy about the reintroduction of the wolf to Scotland. One of the main issues is that under Scottish law people generally have a ‘right to roam’, providing they do no damage to property. This makes it very difficult to ‘enclose’ even very large areas for predators like wolves.


    1. I had no idea wolves were reintroduced to Scotland — that amazes me due to the number of people compared to Wyoming, which has less people than many big cities. And though you can’t enclose the Park to keep the wolves or any other animal “in” there are still many wilderness areas where these creatures can be undisturbed … although that, too, may not be the case much longer. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Nancy — and yes, I threw that photo in just for you! 🙂


  10. Great topic. Only been to Yellowstone once, briefly. Loved the diversity, the four distinct areas. It seems many national parks are going through big changes and controversies. Here in CA Yosemite is in constant flux. Right now they’re trying to backtrack and get rid of a lot of the commercial build up that happened in the past. Trying to make it more “natural.” The increase in the number of tourists over the years was causing damage. Now they limit the number of people who can come in. Still it seems more crowded every time we go there.

    It’s so wonderful that these national treasures have preserved and are being cared for.


    1. I agree, Kate — we may be loving our parks “to death”, but I am thankful there are so many available to the public so we can observe and hopefully learn and cherish. Thank you for your comments and insights!


  11. Gayle, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Yellowstone. The animals there like all animals that live in National parks and refuges don’t know where the human boundary lines are and shouldn’t be expected to respect them.
    I spend a lot of time in parks and refuges observing and photographing the wildlife. They truly are a national treasure and I hope they remain intact for generations to come.


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