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Sunday, January 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho Voices

Yellowstone gift shop encourages patrons’ care for climate

Mammoth concessionaire goes green for globe’s sake

Mammoth Hot Springs are always growing, taking over nearby trees and leaving only dead trunks. The terraces build up one layer at a time, creating pools.  (PHOTOS BY MIKE BRODWATER)
Mammoth Hot Springs are always growing, taking over nearby trees and leaving only dead trunks. The terraces build up one layer at a time, creating pools. (PHOTOS BY MIKE BRODWATER)
By Mike Brodwater

The gift shop at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is one of a kind. Who would ever think that bison dung would be a product to purchase in a national park? The idea is a topic of conversation with a serious message for visitors to Yellowstone National Park: Buy green and help save the park and the planet.

The national parks in the West are showing the effects of global warming. Glacier National Park has seen accelerated melting of its namesake glaciers. Many have already disappeared and the rest are predicted to be gone within 30 years.

Globally, 98 percent of the glaciers are losing mass, with only a few exceptions that are gaining ice and snow. Pikas, small alpine animals found in high rocky terrain, are moving to higher ground. Biologists that study them are reporting that they used to be found at and above 7,000 feet. Now they have moved up to and above 9,500 feet because of climate change and higher temperatures lower on the mountainsides.

Polar bears have become the poster animal for climate change, and for good reason as the ice they live on is melting. Ice is required for these animals, as well as other arctic creatures, to feed, reproduce and to survive.

Actually, the lowly, overlooked frog is the indicator of the present global conditions. They are disappearing at an alarming rate believed to be caused by climate change.

So, what does a bison dung product sold in Yellowstone National Park have to do with global warming? The average American tourist is not able to effect major changes in the carbon load in the atmosphere like large industries or coal-fed power plants. However, if everyone gets involved, the awareness as well as the impact can make a difference.

Much of this information comes from Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. In a keynote address at the opening of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel gift shop, he said the organization’s purpose is to protect wildlife all over the world. When priorities were developed for his organization, the first was stopping global warming. The reason was straightforward: A temperature increase of only one or two degrees worldwide potentially could cause one-third of living creatures to become extinct.

Xantera, the concessionaire at Yellowstone, has committed to having less impact on the environment. The company offers services in national parks throughout the West, including the south rim of the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. Millions of visitors use their facilities, and the waste load is tremendous. The company is determined to reduce and recycle their waste.

The gift shop at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel has been converted into a “green” shop. The theme is selling sustainable gifts, meaning items with less impact on the environment. You won’t find imported, mass-produced plastic bears, deer or dinosaurs here. The items each have a score card giving customers information to make an informed choice.

Xantera believes that it is the first retail shop of its kind. There is a sustainability key posted, with 16 icons and an explanation for each one. For example, a sunshine symbol represents a gift made with renewable energy. Other options to consider: Is the gift organic, recyclable, biodegradable, locally made or made in the United States? A positive answer to each question increases the sustainability score. Next to each item are the icons applicable to that gift and the total score, as well as where it was made.

Bison dung mixed with recycled paper and made locally has a high score. Artist Daniel Hidalgo’s handcrafted artwork is for sale in the gift shop. This unusual wildlife art can also be checked out at

The Mammoth Hot Springs area is full of things to see and do. The hot spring terraces may at first seem dormant but are very much alive. Taking over nearby tree stands one thin layer at a time, the colorful pools can be found on the wooden walkways.

Many Fort Yellowstone buildings still are being used. The early presence of the U.S. Army and their history in the park can be found here. Lamar Valley, with all its wildlife, is close by. The hotel, cabins and campground make a good base for exploring the entire park. In the winter, this is the only area of the park open to car traffic.

With millions of people in the park each year, the Park Service and Xantera are promoting sustainable conditions in large ways.

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