The hardest obstacles to overcome are those that aren’t immediately apparent, such as my two case of dehydration causing me vertigo and discomfort. Much like my body’s dysfunction, causing me those symptoms due to lack of water and electrolytes climate change gives visible signals of its effects on our planet. Just as my body overheated, similarly the Yellowstone to Yukon ecosystem’s keystone species have suffered due to warmer, shorter winters and elongated summers. As we hiked into this landscape we dealt with obstacles, and observed them from within.
As the days had progressed some blisters formed as we climbed higher we came across Whitebark pines that contracted blister rust. Where we apply ointment and moleskin to blisters, trees apply sap to blister rust. Yet, these wounds are open to infection, and for the trees rodents and beetles. Rodents gnaw on the sap filled bark, removing it and in doing so girdle the tree. Just as we have have intruded into these mountainous regions, so has blister rust as it has followed humans from Asia to America, and with global climate change up the slopes.
We followed the blister rust up the mountain, we also spotted another traveler how was moving up the slopes, pine beetles. Where we practice Leave No Trace(LNT), the beetles practice their own concept of the abbreviation by leaving no trees. These beetles are natives of the region, yet have adapted their diet from Lodgepole pines to whitebark pines, due to warmer temperatures. The beetles have decimated many of the old groves of the higher reaches of the mountains, with nearly 1-5 trees left standing out of hundreds. As we’ve taken our problems in stride, so have the pines those that remain are resistant to the infection and can withstand the beetles voracious appetites. These pines will retain the biodiversity of these slopes as silent sentinels biding their time, until they can repopulate the area. As we have focused on minimizing our impact as we trek the beetles have generalized theirs, by including whitebarks as a new food source.
Trekking promotes minimalism, meaning we only have the food we carry in and out. Compared to us grizzly bears are at an all you can eat buffet. They are generalist omnivores and according to Kerry Gunther of Yellowstone National Park Staff consume upwards of 266 species, both animal and plant. They particularly eat the seeds of the whitebark pines as a prime source of their fat reserves. On our final day in the Snowcrest Range we saw a grizzly right front paw print on the Lawrence Creek Trail 669, an area where the bears are recolonizing. Grizzlies were removed for several decades in the 1900s as a means to control their population, to prevent damage to property, and to retaliate for harm to humans. New conservation regimes have began to return the bears to their historical range and numbers. This has been accomplished by the listing of the bears as threatened via the Endangered Species List. Just as we must conserve energy on the trial for trekking to complete 3-8 miles a day at elevation, we must also conserve these environments to allow connectivity genetically between these species. This will also allow for greater resource collection by the bears and their offspring.
These new methods are being championed by the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, operating for 20 years. They aim to increase connectivity as a means to increase connectivity, continually as a means to reunite previously isolated bear populations in the region. These corridors will also serve as viable area for the bears to gain access to food. These will be done to aid in their conservation and preservation over the years to come.
As we continue on the trail there will be many good and bad events, with proper planning and precautions they will all be small footnotes of our larger journey. The same can be said of the environmental restoration, conservation, and preservation. If someone has a heart attack, it can give you a lot of information. It can tell you about their health, the shock they’ve received, and many other things. The same can be said of the global ecosystem, you wouldn’t wait for a structural collapse, or a heart attack, before you acted, would you?