The May 2016 issue of the National Geographic is dedicated entirely to the first national park in the United States, Yellowstone. It showcases a plethora of astonishing images that stretch from perspectives of both beings that are attempting to blend their independent existences within: the domesticity of humans and the wild life of animals. Photographers and journalists alike travelled in helicopters, planes, boats and on foot with geologists, biologists and animal experts to discuss and experience the rich and complex ecosystem as it works to adapt to the influx of human influence.
The park, located primarily in the state of Wyoming but extends into Montana and Idaho, is over 5,581 kilometres of sublime natural expressions of flowing life, captivating the human eye since its establishment by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. But it was not always simply the innocence of the human eye witnesses the thriving of life within this spectacular inhabitation. Very early on, it was the greedy heart and hierarchical attempt at balance that damaged the evolution of many species known to reside in the park. A medley of rare and majestic species roam Yellowstone and rely on its unique selection of resources. Some of those animals are ones easily categorized as the tame and easily observed: sheep, bison, fish and elk, to name a few. But natural ecosystems thrive and maintain a healthy equilibrium through the presence of the tame counterpart: the predators. And it has been the predators who have historically felt the heaviest of blows from the interference of man, all the way back from before the park's establishment and most recently in reaction to three individuals' deaths in 2011 and 2015 by a female grizzly bear.
It was in the early 1870s that market hunters quickly had their impact felt by killing elk, bison and bighorn sheep. A single anecdote accounted for the loss of about 2,000 elk near Mammoth Hot Springs in early 1875 by men named the Bottler brothers. It is estimated that the removal of hides and abandonment of elk carcases attracted bears and led to an increase in grizzly deaths during the Bottlers era. A slaughter caused by freely roaming wagon tourists occurred between 1871 and around 1881. When ownership changed over from Nathaniel Langford, a previous bank clerk and railroad publicist, to the U.S. Army in 1886, a philosophy of protecting the more innocent, misconceived "good" animals distorted the outlook of visitors, civilian scouts and noncommissioned officers. Many of the officers were ordered to kill the unfortunately labelled predatory animals, which at the time fell upon the lives of mountain lions, coyotes, timber wolves, and even beavers and otters because the damns they built could possibly flood the park. It was not until the Lacey Act in 1894 that caretakers had the authority to arrest and persecute poachers. But even before the Lacey Act came to be, bears were not classified as within condemnatory parameter because their attraction to the general public overrode their potential danger toward people and the herbivores and docile creatures overseers were claiming to protect.
With the increase of horse and wagon tourism in the 1900's, park owners began noticing the natural magnetism the presence the grizzly bears had to visitors. The human presence also added an extra element of food resources — bears were beginning to be drawn to garbage bins, dumps, and any area that had not been sufficiently cleaned of nutrition. The bears started moving closer to humans, and the humans loved it. They took photos, awed and crowded around them. This brief peak behind the curtain of a beautiful wild animal's routine intrigued and inspired many onlookers. Humans did, and continue to flock to Yellowstone for a glimpse of the grizzly. But this voyeuristic desire has not remained as non-intrusive as many tourists have believed they were capable of — and unfortunately not all have educated themselves enough to comprehend the interference a human poses in the habitat of a drastically different species than ourselves.
Three deaths, two in 2011 and most recently in 2015, resulted in the execution of two female grizzlies for simply being what they were: wild. The question that continues to remain in the minds of the writers and photographers who visited Yellowstone is this: how can the line be walked between protecting the creatures of Yellowstone while maintaining the mantra that was carved in stone just outside the entrance: "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people?” It is an age old inquiry as to whether humans and animals can live and thrive on harmony without one or the other being supremely effected. In recent years, due to the limitations, laws, and compassionate outlook of the current superintendent and park advocates, a generous increase in the population of the previously savaged predator numbers have been steadily observed. The wolf, grizzly bear, beaver, bison, elk and bald eagles are in abundances. Strong efforts have been made to protect the crucial migration boundaries of the American pronghorn. So it is clear that human beings are working to maintain the balance between human and wild, to the point that allows the untamed to be untamed and for the human to witness their ongoings as respectfully as possible. Yellowstone stands as a successful wildlife refuge currently, but like the human personality and behavioural range, it is a fluid and changing ecosystem that must adjust to its surroundings, dichotomous to that of a human's.