“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Ecology, the science of nature, is at a crossroads. While the impact of human activity continues to ravage Earth’s climate and fragile ecosystems, we have the opportunity to rethink our role in society today. And to do so, we will first need to forge a new ecology—an effective version of conservation science that makes a difference by translating the truth about natural ecosystems to humankind. During an epoch we are more disconnected from nature than ever, it’s time we learn to coexist and adapt to changes in the dynamic ecosystems we are part of.
HIPPOCRATES HAD IT RIGHT
It’s also time we craft and adhere to a Hippocratic oath towards the species, communities, and regional ecosystems we both affect and rely on, to undertake an ethical responsibility to learn about the inner workings of these natural systems, and then translate that knowledge into adaptive decision-making—a prognosis for recovery and restoration. We must do more than simply take the pulse of the ecosystems we study, we must develop a comprehensive care plan for the ecosystem's continued health and well- being. As decision makers, we must also recognize that healthy environments are critical components of healthy bodies as well as healthy human societies.
A NEW SCIENCE OF CONSERVATION
We seek to create, foster and inspire a uniquely 21st Century brand of ecology that forges healthier policy in a constantly changing world while informing all shareholders of their reciprocal stake in—and responsibility for—the future health of earth’s ecosystems.
Such an Adaptive Ecology as the basis of a new science of conservation calls for investigations into the cause of consequence of natures’ unsolved mysteries including environmental crises and crimes against nature—a Sherlock Holmes approach, if you will. And that’s no easy task. These goals demand we champion new approaches and new insights into the complexity of nature, how it responds to both natural and human- induced impacts, and how those responses affect all species including humans. At the same time, we must find new ways—green technologies, public-private partnerships, and socio-ecological forecasts—to further reveal ecological intricacies so that all shareholders can join forces to resolve environmental conflicts and innovate new sustainable policies.
TRANSLATING SCIENCE INTO SCIENCE-BASED POLICY
Investigating and translating natures’ machinations is the work of adaptive ecologists. It will provide the timely ‘stories’ that can bridge the ever-expanding gulf between scientists, policy makers, and the general public so we can jointly make decisions for a healthy, resilient ecosystems. But it is up to us, the ecologists, to share these stories with other shareholders: we can provide a voice for these ecosystems, so long as we speak up. Frankly, the scientific community must do a better job of sharing and translating our research to managers, decision-makers, and the general public in accessible ways that produce successful outcomes. To say there is a failure to effectively communicate is an understatement of Yellowstone proportion. So in order to spur new ways of thinking about ecology, talking about ecology, and making ecology as critical and relevant to everyday lives as the weather or the human body, we need to be objective, brave translators.
YELLOWSTONE: THE LABORATORY FOR ADAPTIVE ECOLOGY
Adaptive Ecology, that places all of us in the middle of natures’ complexities, has the perfect laboratory for this new science of conservation outcomes: Yellowstone, with its intact ecosystems, its diversity of controversies and solutions, and its sacred place in imaginations around the world. So let’s talk about our approach and how we can use Yellowstone’s natural and policy experiments as a benchmark of science, stories, lessons, and lasting solutions.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has"
So what is the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center (YERC), and why does our network of people believe it can be a leader in an emerging Adaptive Ecology movement?
YERC'S FOUR PILLARS
Since 1993, YERC has conducted research in and around Yellowstone National Park on an ecologically diverse set of projects. In doing so, we’ve taken a unique, ‘road-less- followed’ approach to understanding the complex, inner workings of an ecosystem, founded on three pillars:
1.) Collecting longterm datasets that capture real trends better than the average research project that lasts just two field seasons. For example, what does a short-term study tell you about how a 35 year old grizzly bear responds to changing food sources during its lifetime, much less a population of grizzlies living here for a thousand generations?;
2.) Analyzing these data at appropriate spatial scales and at different levels of biological organization—genes to regional ecosystems. From the meter-by- meter foraging path of a red fox to the wall-to- wall satellite measurement of its critical habitat components across the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, our approach provides a total picture, not a myopic view, and
3) Collaborating with agencies, universities, and other private organizations so that our work is relevant, accessible, and put to good use solving real world problems. In over 50 cooperative agreements, we’ve allowed science—the ultimate arbitrator—to seek sustained solutions and resolve conflicts between ecosystem shareholders…
And now, we are adding a fourth pillar:
4) Translating our science into adaptive decision-making for the health of ecosystems. That’s why our programs are dynamic, data-driven, communication-based, and solution-centric.
OUR LEGACY IN THE ECOSYSTEM
Over 500 technicians, interns, students, and employees have worked for YERC in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem together with agencies, university faculty, and the private sector collecting priceless datasets that span dynamic events—forest regeneration following the great fires of 1988, restoration of gray wolves in 1995, dramatically changing elk and bison herds, mega-drought, the spread of pathogens, ongoing human policy conflicts, and more. We have applied our experience and expertise in multiple dimensions within and far from the park's boundaries acquiring a long list of public- private partners that have worked with us along the way. Part of this success is because, as an independent, private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are unfettered by political pressures and special interests: our responsibility is to the ecosystem and its diversity of shareholders. Part is because our organization is adaptable, agile, able to recognize, and respond to, changes in the research climate like the need for greater communication with the public: our new journal and expansion of other popular media products complementing peer-review publications will make our rock-solid science available to everyone. Another part of our success is because our people have a legacy of experience working and living in this ecosystem.
We are among those shareholders and caretakers with an interest in the future of a healthy Yellowstone.
THE DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES OF ADAPTIVE ECOLOGISTS
Aldo Leopold once said, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
And now, at a time when the issues affecting the health of ecosystems are reaching crisis levels and the need for an Adaptive Ecology and the solutions it can provide has never been greater, we are ready to put our knowledge, our skills and experience, and our access to critical data and talented people, to work solving our ecosystems' latest problems.
At YERC, we think like an ecosystem. We strive to see the fierce green fire in the eyes of a wolf, respond like a 10,000 year old meandering stream, listen like a boreal owl to a rustling vole, and imagine a healthy future. We must further understand the complex interdependence—the balance—of nature from genes to ecosystems and from minutes to millennia. And we must react and adapt to its changing nature. In reality, Adaptive Ecology is something YERC has been doing since 1993.
"Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.'"
Our approach is the culmination of lessons learned from the creation of the world’s first national park—your ecosystem. Wallace Stegner said that our “National parks are the best idea we ever had” as echoed in the award-winning PBS documentary film series on National Parks. In his most recent book called Half Earth, E.O. Wilson made the argument that the only way to save the biosphere—the living part of our earth that includes millions of other species—is to add to, and connect, the protected areas on earth, many of which are modeled after Yellowstone National Park. The book’s concluding paragraph is a call, a challenge, to adaptive ecologists and ends with a Hippocratic oath. It embodies our mission and our beliefs at YERC: We should forever bear in mind that the beautiful world our species inherited took the biosphere 3.8 billion years to build. The intricacy of its species we know only in part, and the way they work together [interdependency] to create a sustainable balance we have only recently begun to grasp. Like it or not, and prepared or not, we are the mind and stewards of the living world. Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding. We have come a very long way through the barbaric period in which we still live, and now I believe we’ve learned enough to adopt a transcendent moral precept concerning the rest of life. It is simple and easy to say: Do no further harm to the biosphere.
YOUR ROLE IN CONSERVING YOUR ECOSYSTEM
YERC wants to be prepared for this future and we need you to help us to do just that: obtain a better and deeper understanding of the intricacies and interdependence of our biosphere so that we, as stewards, can design and implement the diagnostics and prognoses—a health care plan—for ecosystems, the basic subdivision of earth’s biosphere, using Yellowstone as a continuing model. If we succeed then our future generations will inherit the legacy we humans owe our planet: to recover, restore, and sustain its ecosystems.
The tradition, immensity, and potential of what Yellowstone represents is difficult to comprehend. We hope you get an inkling of that in our website but more importantly, because all ecosystems are in trouble, and we want to join our team to create, foster and inspire this new ecology. We must adapt and adopt this Hippocratic oath for our ecosystems.
GET INVOLVED WITH YERC AND YELLOWSTONE
At YERC, we have a variety of opportunities for you to get involved in this great idea for you to get involved in this great idea started in Yellowstone 144 years ago, and to share its lessons around the world in other places that we cherish and depend on. We want you to stay informed of the issues we are working on through our field notes, popular media products, and peer-reviewed publications. Hopefully they will not only educate you on the issues that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) faces, but also inspire you to find out more about the issues confronting your own home landscapes and other ecosystems.
There is also a diversity of opportunities for researchers across the career spectrum at our headquarters in Bozeman, Montana and across the GYE where we work. We supplement our full-time staff with seasonal field technicians, interns, and work-study students from nearby Montana State University—check our careers page for current job postings for these and other possible research jobs at YERC. We also welcome researchers who work in—or want to work in—the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, inviting them to use our facilities and equipment, networks and data, and on-the- ground experience to benefit their own research on your ecosystem’s issues. We serve as a refuge for such migratory researchers, ranging from graduate students seeking data and support, post-graduate researchers looking for experience to build their resumes, up to experienced researchers, retired or on sabatical, who want to apply their expertise while enjoying one of the world's premiere wild places. Take a look at our Volunteer page to see if we have any projects needing hard workers in exchange for housing, per diem, and the experience of living and working in Yellowstone, or contact us through our Collaborate page with your own ideas for making our lab at YERC—and your ecosystem in Yellowstone—part of your career. While there, you can read the stories of other creative folks who have gotten themselves solid professional experience and adventures of a lifetime working with YERC in a variety of capacities.
Finally, you can support YERC and its research by donating to the organization or directly to one of our projects or specific needs on our donate page. There, you can also order an eye-catching map of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that belongs on the wall of every one of its shareholders. And you can find out about other ways to support YERC and visit us here in Yellowstone.
BECOME AN ADAPTIVE ECOLOGIST
This is your ecosystem and we all—including scientists—are at a crossroad at a time when they are in trouble. We must do something. So we invite you to take a look within YERC and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Our hope is that you will care about these issues as much as we do. And that you will become an adaptive ecologist, get involved in exploring an ecosystems’ mysteries, understanding cause and consequence, seek new solutions, forge new policies, and truly conserve ecosystems build around one of the greatest ideas