Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:05 AM


MEYER, Grant A., Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, PERSICO, Lyman P., Geology Department, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA 16546 and WATT, Paula Muir, Math and Science, University of New Mexico - Gallup, 200 College Road, Gallup, NM 87301,

As the world’s first national park created in 1872, Yellowstone forms the core of what is often considered the most intact ecosystem in the northern temperate zone. Yet it has not been immune to human impacts. Exclusion of the upper Soda Butte Creek basin from park protection allowed hard-rock mining to continue, resulting in extensive contamination downstream in the park when a tailings dam failed in 1950. The dam-break flood featured extreme peak discharges but short duration, so that while physical floodplain destruction was limited, large volumes of acidic pyrite- and Cu-rich sediment were deposited at high floodplain levels. These deposits contribute to chronic, low-level in-channel metal pollution and limitations on aquatic life and floodplain vegetation, particularly in upper reaches.

A more complex impact to small streams began with beaver trapping in the early 1800s. After trapping bans and wolf extirpation (the beaver’s main predator) by park managers, beaver rebounded by the 1920s, aided by an unusually wet climate. However, elk competition with beaver for willow and aspen also increased markedly in the absence of wolves. Combined with drought in the 1930s, scarce food and dam resources resulted in beaver dam abandonment on virtually all small streams in northern Yellowstone by the 1950s. Some infer that abandonment caused widespread channel incision and drying of floodplains, but only ~9% of reaches incised after the mid-1900s loss of beaver dams, locally exacerbated by floods after the 1988 fires. Many remain unincised or began downcutting earlier in the Holocene. Wolf reintroduction has aided willow recovery, yet beaver recolonization has been hampered by still-sparse willow and aspen on some reaches and recent extreme droughts causing ephemeral flow in some small streams that hosted beaver in the 1920s. Droughts that restrict streamflows and promote postfire debris flows, floods, and sediment loading have visited Yellowstone throughout the Holocene, but will increase in severity and duration with anthropogenic warming, limiting prospects for beaver recolonization and increased riparian productivity. Compared to regional streams dammed, canalized, and dewatered for irrigation, human impacts to Yellowstone streams remain minor, but they will not be spared the effects of rising temperatures.