Mississippi River BasinExpedition

Male elk, Rocky Mountain National Park.  ·  © Alison M. Jones


The 18 million acres of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, treasured national parks, over 10,000 hydrothermal features and the Continental Divide. Known for Yellowstone National Park, the birthplace of the global park movement in 1872, this region contains major tributaries in two of NWNL’s case study watersheds, the Mississippi and the Columbia. The Snake River, flowing south and west from the Continental Divide, is the Columbia’s largest tributary; and the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, flowing north and east, are major tributaries of the Mississippi. The size of West Virginia, this temperate-zone ecosystem at the southern terminus of the Yellowstone-Yukon migratory corridor is home to iconic species such as wolves, grizzly bears, bison, cutthroat trout, elk, moose and more. Industries relying on the region’s natural resources include tourism, recreation, mining, forestry, agriculture and ranching.


NWNL’s spring 2008 expedition will focus on issues in the headwaters of major tributaries of the Columbia and the Mississippi River Basins that provide examples of broader themes, challenges and management strategies within all NWNL case study watersheds. Topics of study on this visit to the Greater Yellowstone region include:

  • The implications of the presence or absence of key species in ecosystem conservation and restoration – with a focus on research documenting trophic cascades influenced by wolf populations;
  • The impacts of nonnative invasive aquatic species – with a focus on the causes and implications of the decline of Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations;
  • The implications of ecosystem disturbance resulting from climate change – with a focus on the mountain pine beetle and the decline of whitebark pine;
  • Floodplain protection and restoration efforts – with a focus on past protection efforts and proposed restoration projects within the Yellowstone River Floodplain; and
  • Western water rights and water quantity concerns – with a focus on instream flow and groundwater management efforts in Montana.

Additional topics of study will include the impacts of mining, off-road vehicles, and infrastructure development.