Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: A Photo Essay

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a wild, extraordinary place. 

It’s a generally intact ecosystem; all the wild critters that were here a couple of centuries ago when Lewis and Clark passed through the Northern Rockies – wolves, grizzly bears, bison – are still here. It’s remote; the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Thorofare region, is farther from a road than anywhere else in the lower 48. And it’s legendary; millions of people from all over the world travel to Greater Yellowstone each year to inhale its splendors.

NRDC fights hard to protect Greater Yellowstone and its wild inhabitants.  And these days, there seems to be no shortage of fights (e.g., wolves, bison, grizzly bears, whitebark pine, oil and gas drilling, and on and on).  But every now and then it’s important to pull yourself away from the environmental battles and just be grateful for Greater Yellowstone and its magic.  For me, at this time of year, that usually means a long cross-country-ski with my mentally unstable canine sidekick, Aldo.

But for those of you reading this from afar, below are some incredible pictures from conservation photographer Dave Showalter that capture the grandeur of this special place.  Dave’s a passionate defender of Greater Yellowstone, and the following images of his from the southern part of the ecosystem highlight the importance of the buffer lands outside the national parks and also remind us what we’re fighting for.

Enjoy Dave’s photos and captions, give thanks for Greater Yellowstone, and, of course, keep fighting for it.


"The 44 and Upper Hoback Aerial View" -- With LightHawk aerial support, I made this image to advocate for protection of two threatened parcels in the Wyoming Range. An area called "The 44" has been protected, and we now await a decision by the U.S. Forest Service on the Noble Basin PXP drilling plan that would allow 136 wells and all of the associated infrastructure in the Upper Hoback. The Grand Teton on the horizon makes the connection of roadless wilderness to the Greater Yellowstone and emphasizes that some places are too wild and too special to drill. 


"Bull Moose In Sagebrush, Grand Teton National Park" -- Nearly all of our western wildlife use sagebrush during the year. For a short time in winter, moose feed on bitterbrush. This one was photographed on Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. 


"Lookout Peak Sunset, Wyoming Range" -- I hiked up Lookout Peak for this sunset vantage point to survey the planned drilling area in the Upper Hoback below. Storms over the distant Wind River Range gathered pink light, and I had the entire wilderness to myself. An area this wild is no place for an industrial zone. 


"Pronghorn on Winter Range" -- With a backdrop of the Wind River Range in Wyoming, pronghorn graze a wind blown ridge. Pronghorn, including the celebrated Teton herd, migrate and disperse throughout the Upper Green River Basin seeking exposed grasses to sustain them through the harsh winter. 


"Greater Sage Grouse Strut" -- A male sage grouse displays, or struts, for the attention of a female on a lek in the Upper green River Basin. Roughly half of the remaining Greater Sage Grouse live their entire lives in Wyoming's sagebrush country. The species was recently designated "Warranted, But Precluded" from protection under the Endangered Species Act. 


"Upper Green Evening Light" -- A sunset aerial view of the serpentine Upper Green River making its way through rolling ranch land. Conservation easements with private land owners allow ungulates to move freely over long distances in the Upper Green River Basin.


"Frosty Mule Deer Buck, Pinedale Mesa" -- A member of the Pinedale Mesa mule deer herd on winter range. The deer travel 40-50 miles to winter on the Mesa.


"Wolf and Grouse" -- This gray wolf was traversing a hillside when he happened to flush sage grouse that were camouflaged under sage during a spring storm. I learned from Wyoming Game & Fish that the wolf was in the Cora area because a thousand elk were stacked up for migration to the Gros Ventre Wilderness. 


"LaBarge Gas Fields Aerial View" -- The Jonah, Pinedale Anticline, and LaBarge gas fields are enormous developments that have fragmented the landscape and converted the land to single-use industrial complexes. While they contribute high-paying jobs, there are significant impacts to air and water quality, recreation, wildlife, and our Western heritage. 


"Pinedale Mesa Winter Drilling" -- In 2010, drilling was allowed in winter on Pinedale Mesa, which is crucial winter range for mule deer. The Pinedale Mesa mule deer herd has declined by 60% since 2001, and 30% of the deer died in a single migration event in the spring of 2010. Harsh winters are one variable in deer mortality, but it's impossible to overlook the pressure of gas drilling on critical habitat.  


"Pronghorn Female and Juveniles, Grand Teton National Park" -- I observed and photographed the Teton pronghorn herd on a snowy day in October. They were very active and in rut -- the next day they were gone -- on their 150-mile journey over the Gros Ventre Mountain Range to the Upper Green River Basin.

(Dave Showalter is a conservation photographer focused on the American West. Dave's current "Sage Spirit" book project is a collaboration with conservation leaders across the West to preserve the the most important wild lands and migration corridors for wildlife, recreation, anglers and hunters, Western heritage, clean air and water, and future generations. Buffer lands around our national parks provide critical habitat for many wildlife species -- in that sense, they are as valuable as the national parks. As a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Dave believes that powerful imagery combined with advocacy is one of our best tools for responsible land management. Dave and his wife, Marla, live in Arvada, Colorado, with their adopted yellow lab, Abby. To learn more, visit Dave's website, blog, or contact him directly at [email protected].)

About the Authors

Matt Skoglund

Director, Northern Rockies office

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