Date of Award

Spring 2007

Project Type


Program or Major

Political Science

Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Stacy Vandeveer


The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is hailed as one of the most intact temperate ecosystems in the world. Within the ecosystem the Yellowstone cutthroat trout has been noted as both a keystone species and an indicator of ecosystem health. As anthropogenic induced stress and its effects on natural systems have become more readily apparent, a call has risen for a new holistic form of natural resource policy development and implementation. The Ecosystem Approach, based on the principles of sustainability, is a multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral policy paradigm, which serves that function for this study.

This research analyzed the extent to which natural resource policy in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has transitioned from a traditional reductionist approach to an Ecosystem Approach based on the case study of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The case study is based on empirical evidence gathered through interviews with state, federal, and non-governmental officials in the Greater Yellowstone and public comments submitted for a twelve-month status review pertaining to the petition to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout under the Endangered Species Act. Two bodies of theory have been engaged in this study. The first is the theoretical criteria of the Ecosystem Approach, while the second is the Advocacy Coalition Framework that has been utilized as the policy analysis framework for the study.

This research concluded that Yellowstone cutthroat trout policy is interrelated with numerous other sector of policy to include, public land management, private property rights, economics, demographics, and a multitude of debates that surround each. While Yellowstone cutthroat trout policy influences, and is influenced by, a number of factors, transition from a traditional approach to an Ecosystem Approach to natural resource policy development and implementation has been severely limited. The limitations of the transition, as reflected in the case study, stem from a lack of, overarching ecosystem-wide goals, inter-agency cooperation, public involvement and education, and the continued effects of historical policies.