Trumpeter swan cygnets released in Yellowstone National Park

This photo provided by the National Park Service shows, Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist Lauren Walker participating in the release of eight young trumpeter swans (cygnets) at Alum Creek in the park's Hayden Valley near Mammoth, Wyo. Saturday, Sept.19, 2020. The National Park Service and several organizations have been working to rebuild the population of trumpeter swans in the park, which peaked at 72 in 1961 and fell to just four in 2009 and 2010. (The National Park Service via AP)

This photo provided by the National Park Service shows, Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist Lauren Walker participating in the release of eight young trumpeter swans (cygnets) at Alum Creek in the park’s Hayden Valley near Mammoth, Wyo. Saturday, Sept.19, 2020. The National Park Service and several organizations have been working to rebuild the population of trumpeter swans in the park, which peaked at 72 in 1961 and fell to just four in 2009 and 2010. (The National Park Service via AP)

AP

Yellowstone National Park may be well-known for its role in rebuilding populations of large mammals like grizzly bears, wolves and bison, yet trumpeter swans have a similar story of dogged recovery that is not as well known.

“They were reduced to only a few individuals and have made a big comeback, yet they are still struggling in Yellowstone and the Tetons,” Evan Shields, a Montana State University graduate student who is studying the birds, told The Billings Gazette.

The reasons for the decline of trumpeters in the park could include: an increase in tourists who may disturb nesting parents, leaving eggs vulnerable to predators; drought and climate change that has reduced the number or quality of wetlands and their food supply; and predation.

Study

Although he had previously worked with compelling species like mountain lions and wolves in Yellowstone, Shields sees the swans as “awfully charismatic birds.” After all, they are big — weighing more than 20 pounds and with wings spanning 8 feet. That makes them the largest wild waterfowl on the continent. They can also live a long time, up to 25 years, and will mate for life.

In an attempt to understand why the birds are struggling to survive and reproduce in the park, since 2018 Shields has been talking to park scientists, collecting and collating existing data in search of answers. He hopes to publish his findings next spring.

Release

On Sept. 19, staff from the park, Wyoming Wetlands Society and the Ricketts Conservation Foundation released eight young swans, called cygnets, at Alum Creek in the Hayden Valley. Such releases have taken place every year since 2012. Since then, more than 40 birds have been freed.

“This release is part of an ongoing restoration project to increase territorial pairs of swans which have undergone a decades-long decline in the park,” according to a park press release. “Researchers are collecting population data such as nest success, number of territorial pairs, and the number of cygnets produced each year. This data may help determine the reasons for the decline.

“Recent releases and other restoration efforts have bolstered the population to over 20 birds and five territorial pairs, including natural reproduction in some years,” the park’s staff said.

Similar cygnet releases have taken place in the Madison, Bitterroot and Blackfoot valleys in Montana, as well as the Jackson region in Wyoming.

Survival

The idea of releasing young birds is that they will imprint on the area and return to nest. Trumpeters won’t breed until they

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Climate change could interrupt Yellowstone geysers

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — A team of scientists and storytellers will soon be creating futuristic murals to help Yellowstone National Park’s visitors understand what the park will look like late this century.

“The temperature is going to be 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than it is now, but that doesn’t mean very much,” University of Wisconsin ecologist Monica Turner told the Jackson Hole News & Guide this summer. “What we’d like to do is show them.”

Her research — and the coming murals — is focused on Yellowstone’s lodgepole pine forests, which are projected to burn more frequently, leaving vistas more open and meadow-filled. Other vegetation will likely shift on the landscape, as will the species that live there.

As they set the scene for the mural of Old Faithful, perhaps the famous geyser ought to be dormant.


A new study headed by U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist Shaul Hurwitz shows that during the driest of times, Old Faithful goes dormant. If those conditions repeat — and climate scientists forecast a much more arid environment come the middle of this century — it could have major implications for Old Faithful and Yellowstone’s approximately 500 other geysers.

“Eruption intervals might increase,” Hurwitz said. “Or if it’s going to be as arid as it was … it might even stop the geyser.”

The dry period in history when Old Faithful is believed to have gone dormant fell about 650 to 800 years ago, just before the Little Ice Age. Hurwitz and seven others recently detailed the suspected century-plus lull in the pages of the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, where they published the article “Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Geyser Shut Down by a Severe Thirteenth Century Drought.” Co-authors included tree ring scientist John King, research ecologists Greg Pederson and Justin Martin, research chemist David Damby, earth and planetary science professor Michael Manga, geologist Jeff Hungerford and hydrologist Sara Peek.

Mineralized wood that former Yellowstone naturalist George Marler found near the Old Faithful eruption mound over 60 years ago is partly what inspired the study. Building off that discovery, Hurwitz and his collaborators secured a research permit and collected 13 additional chunks of wood from near the geyser.

“We used radiocarbon methods to date those pieces,” Hurwitz said, “and they all came within like 100 years of each other.”

The similarities in age were significant because all the wood studied came from trees — likely lodgepole pine — that would have been growing during the 13th or 14th century, which was a period of severe regional drought all over the western United States. Trees, of course, wouldn’t fare too well near Old Faithful’s orifice if the geyser was regularly showering 200-plus-degree water into the air and onto the ground.

“The trees wouldn’t have been growing there if the geyser were erupting,” Hurwitz said. “Today if you go to any Yellowstone geyser there are no proximate trees.”

Although it was a period of dormancy that enabled the trees to grow, it was Old Faithful’s

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