The GYE includes not only YNP but also most of the adjacent lands at an elevation above 1,524 m (5,000 ft). These surrounding lands are used for ranching, agriculture, and recreation. The population of Park County, north of and adjacent to the northern range of YNP, is growing faster than the populations in most Montana counties.
In 1880, the population of Park County was 200, but after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881, it grew to 6,900 in 1890. Population growth has continued and today the county (population about 16,000) is dotted with many new developments and small ranches with increased fencing, as well as many semi-urban areas (Park County 2001).
This area was reported to be the ancestral wintering range of the northern range elk herd before YNP was established (Graves and Nelson 1919). The influence of development and farming was noted by Wylie (1882,1 19262) as early as the late 1800s and early 1900s. He said, “The buffalo, deer, and elk were accustomed to living on this plateau during the summer. In winter they migrated to lower and warmer regions outside the park area until settlements of farmers in the country surrounding the park made it impossible for them to use their long used winter homes.” All these factors fragment habitat and impede ungulate movements and access to foraging areas. This alteration of the landscape outside of YNP may have as great a potential to affect ungulate populations, their behavior, and the use of vegetation as do changing climatic conditions and reintroduction of wolves. Little is known, however, about the relative importance of each of these factors or their interrelationships.