Big Sky hosts conference for the first time

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Approximately 300 scientists, researchers, conservation groups and management partners met on Sept. 11-14 at Big Sky Resort during the 14th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Hosted by Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park, the theme of this year’s event was “Tracking the Human Footprint,” and conversations explored the value of public lands, human impacts on the ecosystem, and joining science and public opinion to properly steward the Greater Yellowstone, among others.

This year’s conference was held in Big Sky in order to highlight the visitor-use theme and the region-wide increase in growth. It was the first time the conference has been held outside of Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks.

“It’s wonderful to be in this recreation-based economy, talking about the importance of the human footprint as we think about people and animals moving across the landscape,” said Yellowstone Forever President and CEO Heather White during opening remarks on Sept. 11.

White referenced a lecture she’d recently attended with science writer David Quammen.

“What his advice was to all of us when we’re talking about conservation and science, was to keep it human,” she said. “So much of my work and the work of people in this room has been to keep it wild, but in order to keep it wild, we need to keep it human. We need to understand human behavior, we need to understand the hearts and minds, how we get people to express and fully embrace conservation values, and how we can get ground breaking research to really resonate.”

Ray Rasker, the executive director of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, gave the keynote address that same evening, discussing the value of public lands from an economist’s standpoint.

Recreation is 2 percent of gross domestic product in the U.S., he said. “That’s twice the size of the sale of automobiles. It’s bigger than the pharmaceutical industry. It’s twice the size of mining. So, outdoor recreation is a massive industry. It’s diffuse, it’s spread all over the place.”

But Rasker added that in addition to recreation and natural resource extraction, like mining or timber, public lands are of economic value for their ties to heritage and spirituality, ability to engage youth and diversity, provide for drinking water, increase business recruitment and improve quality of life.

“Federal public lands have always been an asset,” he said. “It’s a very complex mosaic of stories and every community has their own stories.”

At EBS press time on Sept. 12, breakout workshop and panel discussions were under way. See the Sept. 28 edition of EBS for a full recap of the conference.

Visit trackingthehumanfootprint2018.org to learn more.