restricted access Day 8: Forever Wild
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174 d ay 8 Forever Wild In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. —John Muir, 1918 Our morning routine is a little different today: we have a cold breakfast and prepare for an early departure (figure 8.1). The shoreline we have left to paddle has more rocky stretches with a long fetch, and with fifteen- to twenty-five-mile-per-hour winds in the forecast, we do not want to be caught out. Flights in and out tomorrow (in for my twin, coming to visit me, and out for Eric, who has classes starting up the next day) are the real driver, our return to the world of schedules. By 8:00 a.m., we are under way. The lake is a glassy reflection of sky, the air cool and moist from last night’s storm. Soon forest replaces the lakeshore meadows of Park Point. Shafts of low-angle sunlight do their best to find a way between the conifers, highlighting the misty air. Slowly, the sun wins, dispelling the shadows and humidity. Along with them goes the morning chill, so after an hour of paddling we pull in at Clear Creek to shed some layers and grab a snack. The mood today is bittersweet. Sweet, because it has been a great trip and because tonight holds the promise of hot showers, pizza, and beer (and, for me, because it has been several months since I last saw my twin). But also bitter, for obvious reasons: our time in the Thorofare is over, Josh and Eric will soon be leaving, and I have likely spent my last night in the wild for the year, if not ever. And for a not-so-obvious reason : looking ahead (a natural thing to do on the last day of a wilderness trip), I have only a few weeks left in Yellowstone before I uproot myself and move to Missouri. As is clear by now, I need (or will soon need)   FOREVER WILD 175 full-time care, and lacking a significant other, my parents have stepped up, but I will have to move in with them. Looking around here, I see hints that the future for the Thorofare might be as tumultuous as my own. Clear Creek is the site of the cutthroat trout surveys that have tracked their precipitous decline caused by lake trout. Depressing enough, but actually seeing the creek reminds me of global warming, a much more far-reaching challenge not just to trout but to a host of other species. Changes in Yellowstone are already occurring, with higher temperatures, smaller snowpacks that are melting earlier, and matching earlier peaks in stream flows all pivotal changes at Clear Creek. If enough drying occurs, the creek may lose the kinetic energy it needs to keep its mouth to the lake open. Lacking that, wave action will build a sand bar across the mouth, the creek water percolating through the porous sand (figure 8.2). This would cut off trout spawning habitat for the lake-bound cutthroats, adding another survival challenge to those already posed by lake trout and whirling disease . While this sand bar phenomenon has not yet happened to Clear 8.1. The last day, 2014. Josh helps load the boats for an early launch. Photo by Eric Compas. Used with permission. 176 DAY 8 Creek (it is too big, for now), it was widespread on smaller Yellowstone Lake tributaries in the drought of the early 2000s. Make the droughts longer, drier, and/or hotter with more global warming, and the species may have too little spawning habitat to sustain itself. Like the whitebark pine, it may become overwhelmed, another casualty of a hotter planet. In the face of such uncertainty, park managers are trying to strengthen the resilience of the cutthroat trout population. The lake trout gill netting program, for example, seeks to minimize the threat from that fish, which will (if it is successful) make the cutthroat population better able to recover from occasional blockage of spawning streams. Similarly, by propagating strains of whitebark pines that are resistant to white pine blister rust, managers seek to improve that species’ ability to cope with drought and pine beetles. The common idea in these efforts, then, is to promote resilience by minimizing a different stress to the plant or animal. Resilience is a buzzword now among academics, conservationists, and land managers searching for ways to cope with climate change and 8.2. The mouth of...


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