The long-time exclosure near Cinnabar, Montana

In the post about degraded land in Yellowstone across the Yellowstone river from Gardiner, I mentioned an already long-existing exclosure.

I found my photo of it. It was taken about 8 months ago. I think it’s quite amazing.







  1. brent young Avatar
    brent young

    Degraded by what?. Is this cattle or wildlife due to limited winter range?..Thanks

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    This one is all wildlife. There are no cattle in Yellowstone Park.

    The problem, I think, is that this land was added to the Park during the Great Depression after many years as private land that had already been cleared, grazed, farmed.

    So even though wildlife became the only use, there wasn’t much to come back.

    I wish I knew the history of the exclosure in the photo. It is natural regeneration from the early days when the land became part of Yellowstone Park; or something later? Was anything done to reseed the land inside the exclosure to create the native vegetation you can see?

  3. brent young Avatar
    brent young

    Thanks Ralph. I spent 10 days backpacking through the Washaki and then over Eagle Pass into Yellowstone and what was very heartening was the incredible amount of Wolf and Grizzly bear indication. Absolutely beautiful country. Also interesting was the change in Elk paterns compared to when I last came here 12 years ago..Anyway, thanks for clarifying my question….Good news here in Washington state is we’re finally getting wolves!..

  4. Kurt Westenbarger Avatar
    Kurt Westenbarger

    I didn’t see the original post about degraded Yellowstone so perhaps this is rehashing but: Be careful looking at, and drawing conclusions from, exclosures. Remember that what’s inside an exclosure (in Yellowstone anyway) is an unnatural situation. Yellowstone should be grazed/browsed by various animals. Many plants have adapted to this pressure and adjusted to dynamic wildlife population changes. Short term heavy grazing could actually be beneficial to some species. The experimental purpose of an exclosure is hard to determine by just looking at it but many are designed to study how plants react to grazing.

    There are numerous other factors to be considered when looking at the exclosure in the photo. Especially since this particular site was outside Yellowstone at the time of it’s creation and added later. Other questions I would like answered before drawing any conclusions would include:
    How long was the area grazed by domestics?
    How many domestics grazed there?
    Was the area ever seeded either privately, by early park managers (1872 – 1886), the Army (1886-1916), or NPS (1916 – present)?
    What non-native plants are present in and out of the exclosure?
    What are current wildlife populations in the area and are they historically high or low?
    What is the precipitation record for the area?
    What other historical and present human uses are in this area? (The site in question is near the old Gardiner train depot area, a cemetery, and road. I’m a tour guide and you could possibly find my footprints and those of my clients outside that exclosure fence as I’ve stopped there many times. I have helped create the impacts seen in the photo.)

    Anyway – I think you get my drift. Rather than drawing conclusions from this photograph it should demand more questions from the scientific mind.

    Not to say the area in question hasn’t been heavily impacted – it has.I know the area is being assess for restoration. I hear it will be very difficult to do. (Obviously I have a pet-peeve about grazing exclosure photos being used to draw conclusions – valid or not. 😉

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Kurt Westenbarger,

    You hit on the questions to be asked.

    I posted the photo in hope that someone knows something about this particular exclosure.

    There are a number of other exclosures in Yellowstone Park. None of them are so dramatically different in terms of ground cover, although several on the hill slopes into the Lamar Valley show the role wildlife play in keeping willows and aspens from covering the valley.

  6. outsider Avatar

    wow that looks hammerd, maybe we should be talking about buy up the base property for this lease so it can be properly restored.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    This is inside Yellowstone National Park. The land, previously part of a town (Cinnabar, nothing-is-left), also farmed and grazed by livestock, was added to Park during the Great Depression. Apparently it went from livestock to wildlife only with no rest.

    I posted this photo as an addendum to the article about the Park Service now undertaking an experimental project to try to restore the native vegetation on 22 acres of the parcel. An exclosure has gone up.

    I posted the photo to show that there has already been an exclosure on the parcel for a long time (and showing an obvious difference).

  8. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    A few years ago I found an article with pictures showing the condition of the northern Yellowstone elk herd’s range, written by George Wright. ( If it doesn’t say photos click the next in the text.) If I remember correctly he said at that time there were 12,000 elk on the range that could support 6,000. And recently there have been 18,000!

    “biologists made their recommendation that Yellowstone’s elk population also be reduced. In a February 1934 report documented with numerous photographs (and reprinted in Fauna No. 2 the following year) the Wildlife Division announced that, as a result of an overpopulation of elk, Yellowstone’s northern range had been overused to the point that it was in “deplorable” condition. The biologists believed that the situation had worsened since they first saw the area in 1929, and that it now threatened the survival of other animals dependent on the range. Arguing that the overpopulated herd was on the “brink of disaster,” the report warned that the next hard winter would cause starvation and death for thousands of elk.”

  9. JimT Avatar

    If I didn’t know better I would swear this was prairie dog habitat without the mounds the way it is closely chewed..


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan