Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly says he thinks he can get the park’s official fund-raising and education partner back on its feet even though it is on the brink of insolvency.
That partner is Yellowstone Forever which was formed in 2016 by the merger of the Yellowstone Foundation and the Yellowstone Association.
Sholly said the organization is now in deep financial trouble. “They took on a lot of debt," he said. "The philanthropy did not hit some of the levels that they thought it would.”
Now the organization is millions of dollars in debt and thanks to COVID-19, the income from its stores, education programs, and donations has plummeted. Sholly said that directly affects the park because money for the popular wolf program largely comes from donations solicited by Yellowstone Forever.
Sholly says he’s already planning budget re-allocations to protect the wolf program and added: “What I would say is this park has probably set up a structure that is too dependent on philanthropy in some critical areas. We’ve got to ensure that our federal spending plans allocate an adequate amount of money to ensure that if we have some sort of situation like we’re facing now, that we’re not going to impact critical programs like wolves.”
Some social media conversations suggest that the now-closed Yellowstone Institute run by Yellowstone Forever will be shuttered permanently and dissolved. Sholly says that is flat wrong.
“What I guarantee is there will be an institute and it will not be suspended indefinitely," he said. "It’ll likely be suspended for the rest of this year but that was largely going to happen anyway.”
But he quickly added that Yellowstone Forever needs drastic revamping and severe overhead cuts in order to survive. He said he is looking into ways to keep the Institute staff intact while the budget and COVID-19 issues are worked out.
Sholly plans to meet this week and next with the Institute staff and the Yellowstone Forever board.
“We’ve got to really pull people together here and come up with solutions that make sense," he said.
He would not commit to a timeline for taking action to make changes but asked for time to determine the best course of action.
We contacted Yellowstone Forever about its financial situation but have not received a reply.