Spring/Summer 2008, Volume 24.3
Sam Zeveloff, Breanna Bartosz, Kristen Gurr
On Wolves, Wildlife, and Weather: A Conversation with Douglas W. Smith
Dr. Sam Zeveloff received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Wyoming. He has been on the faculty of Weber State University since 1984, serving as Chair of the Department of Zoology since 1987. He is interested in mammalian ecology and conservation. Dr. Zeveloff recently gave a presentation on river otter reintroductions in Utah at the International Mammalogical Congress in Japan, based upon a collaboration with a student and a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist. Another one of his students has just completed a population analysis of a nearby mountain goat herd. Dr. Zeveloff has been fascinated by the raccoon for many years, an interest that resulted in his authoring the book Raccoons, a Natural History (Smithsonian Institution Press). He is now developing a second volume on the raccoon with Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kristen Gurr is majoring in Zoology and minoring in Chemistry at Weber State University. She is the recipient of the New Century Scholarship, which was created by the Utah State Legislature. Kristen has been a member of a research team studying shorebird ecology in Utah’s wetlands. She is currently employed by the Institute for Watershed Sciences and is a laboratory aide in Weber State’s Department of Zoology. Kristen’s plans include going to graduate school and becoming a wildlife conservation ecologist.
Breanna Bartosz is a senior at Weber State University where she will receive a BS degree in Zoology with a minor in Botany. After graduation, she intends to pursue a career in wildlife conservation or management. Breanna also plans on volunteering with Dr. Doug Smith on his study of the wolves in Yellowstone National Park. This June, she will be traveling to the Amazon River basin with Dr. Stephen Clark, a Botany professor at Weber State University. Her biggest goal in life is to be successful in work that has a positive impact on nature and to work with top-level mammalian predators, especially wolves.
Douglas W. Smith is currently the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone National Park. He worked as biologist for the project from 1994-1997 and has been with the program since its inception. Doug has studied wolves for 29 years. Prior to Yellowstone, he worked on Isle Royale with wolves from 1979-1992, and also with wolves in Minnesota in 1983. He received his Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology from the University of Idaho, and a Master of Science in Biology from Michigan Technological University. Smith received his Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno, in the program of Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology. His dissertation was titled Dispersal Strategies and Cooperative Breeding in Beavers. He has produced numerous publications on the subject of both the wolf and the beaver. Some of the publications authored and co-authored by Smith include: Yellowstone after Wolves, Wolf-Bison Interactions in Yellowstone National Park, and Wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Restoration of a Top Carnivore in a Complex Management Environment. He has co-authored two books The Wolves of Yellowstone (1996), a chronology of the first two years of the wolf recovery effort, and Decade of the Wolf (2005), summarizing the first ten years of wolf restoration in Yellowstone National Park. He has participated in numerous media interviews including four National Geographic specials and one BBC special. Doug is an avid canoeist, having run many wild and remote rivers within Alaska, Ontario, Nunuvut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. He and his wife, Christine, and two sons, Sawyer and Hawken, make their home in Gardiner, Montana. In September 2007, Dr. Smith lectured on "Ecology and Ecosystem Effects of Wolves in Yellowstone National Park" as part of Weber State University’s distinguished Ritchey Natural Science Lecture Series.
Read an essay by Doug Smith published in this issue of Weber.
What do you think it is about the wolf that has captured the public’s admiration, and what is it about the wolf that has resulted in it having an iconic image?
Well, I think one thing is that the wolf has been a scapegoat for so long, hated for so long. I mean, wolves were literally hated and persecuted for centuries, and I think once the public became aware of that, a lot of people felt bad about it. They’re kind of the underdog story where people want them to win now. The other thing that is important is that wolves were eliminated from most of the places they lived, and they’re only left in the wildest parts of the earth now. I think people feel that that’s cool, that they’re a symbol of wildness, and that they have an uncompromising nature; they would rather die than compromise. I realize that that’s an anthropomorphic way of putting it, but a wolf is going to be a wolf and is not going to adapt to civilization just to get along with people. So people kind of have this wild, pure, idealistic image of wolves, and they really have become the poster child of a lot of environmental issues.
What prompted your passion for wildlife, and wolves in particular?
I was raised in a rural setting, outdoors. My dad had a camp and so I always liked nature. My father encouraged being an outdoorsman and somehow when I was young, I think I saw a magazine article on wolves. I was born in 1960 and at that time, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, when I was getting interested in nature, wolves were at their lowest population level in North America. There were not very many of them. There were many bounty programs still in place and so the only places they lived were in the north. People didn’t really live much in the north, so they couldn’t get there to kill the wolves. That kind of twin passion—that north and that wolf that lived there—really were mysterious to me and romantic. I was very much interested in it, and every time my father saw something on wolves, which wasn’t very much back then, he would give it to me. And then my brother bought me a book on wolves that is still printed today, which was written by David Mech in 1970. He gave it to me for Christmas a couple years after 1970, and here I was with this wonderful book. And then it was just all over from there.
An interesting sideline to the story is that I still love the north, too, and since a young age, I’ve canoed. I’ve done eighteen canoe trips in northern Canada or Alaska. So those kind of twin passions that I got when I was young, the north and wolves, are still very much with me today.
I understand that you did your doctoral work on beavers and then later switched over to wolves. What made you choose working with wolves, or did the wolves kind of choose you?
The wolf work started before the beaver work. So, following up on the previous question, I was obsessed with wolves and got a job working with them in high school. And then right out of high school, I got a job as a technician in the Isle Royale Wolf Research Program and worked there as a technician during my summers as an undergraduate. I very much wanted to do a graduate project with wolves in my masters program, but I couldn’t. There was no funding; there was no opportunity. So the opportunity that I had was with beavers, and I did both my master’s and my Ph.D. on beavers because that was the opportunity I could get. I simultaneously continued to work as a technician for Rolf Peterson and Dave Mech as a paying job, often during my summers, because my field season for beavers was during fall and winter, and so I’d go back to working with wolves in the summer and beavers in the winter. I did that for about four or five years, and then I went completely with beavers for my Ph.D., thinking I would never again work with wolves. I couldn’t have my dream, but I had to be able to move forward and get an education. So I did that and then the Yellowstone wolf job came open, and I applied as any other candidate would. I think the combination that I was almost done with my Ph.D. and had a lot of wolf experience was a fine one. In other words, it’s a good thing that I jumped to beavers because I probably wouldn’t have been able to get a graduate degree in time. I might have had to wait too long, and things change.
Are there more opportunities for people to study wolves now compared to when you were in graduate school?
I think so. There are a lot of wolf studies going on now. Back in the ‘80s there were a handful of studies at the most. Funding was tight; funding is always tight. Maybe it’s because I’m aware of it, but I can think of probably eight to ten wolf research projects going on right now.
However, I found myself in the position that I was in my teenage years when I was writing to wolf biologists. I wrote to Dave Mech when I was fifteen, and I wrote to him again when I was eighteen and he gave me more addresses to write to, and I wrote to all of them. A lot of them didn’t respond. I’m getting people writing me now, and I’m trying to respond, mostly by email. I don’t get to all of them just because I get too busy, and I feel very badly about that. What I’m getting at is that a lot of people want to volunteer to work on wolves in Yellowstone, but not all of them are qualified. A lot of them come and just want to work on wolves. That’s the only thing they’re interested in and want to do. I was like that at one point but switched to beavers because it was the opportunity that was presented to me. I may have a little chip on my shoulder with people who say, "I just want to do wolves," whereas I think you should approach it with, "I’m interested in wolves, and I’ll take the opportunity if it comes to me, but I’m also interested in science—learning how to do science properly—and so any project that would be available to me would be good." In response to my volunteers who say, "The only thing I want to do is wolves," I try to say, "Have a broader perspective than that." I had it that way. I didn’t have a choice and so I had to do beavers.
The reintroduction of the wolf into Yellowstone and Idaho should be considered one of the most significant conservation accomplishments in our nation’s history. Could you think of another one or two conservation challenges that face us now that have the potential to also be regarded in this manner?
I think it’s kind of the same answer as the one to the question last night [during the Ritchey lecture] when someone asked, "Can wolves be in Utah?" Wolves are appropriate in some areas, but in most places they’re not appropriate. There’s a big debate about what’s the next most appropriate area. A lot of people are arguing for the southern Colorado/northern New Mexico area; other people, fewer, are arguing for northern Maine. Each of those places have their attendant problems, I guess you could say, but I think it would be good to reintroduce them at any of those locations because I’m very idealistically concerned about the fate of species from an ethical standpoint. Humanity has got such a broad footprint now that we just push and bully our way around, and other species have to sort of fall to the side. Ethically, I’m concerned about that. I think it would be good to get wolves established someplace else. I think too that our research showing their importance for ecosystem functioning argues for having them in other places that are appropriate. I don’t want to cram wolves down another group of people’s throats where they’re not appropriate, so you really do have to pick the place carefully.
In terms of what’s the next conservation challenge, I’m going to give you more of a generic answer and it’s not a very good one, but I feel that global warming is such an issue and everyone is locking on to it. I’m not sure the public is, but it is going to change habitats and animal distributions in a huge way, and you know that animals don’t have the ability to move around and find new places. The speed of global change is unprecedented, and because of my interest in the north, where systems are generally more pristine, I feel that growing consumerism will increase the demand for resources up there, regardless of the fact that these areas are very remote. I’m very concerned about that, because I think that there are only three or four places left on the planet that you could really call wild and pristine and kind of untrammeled by humans.
I have this special affection for northern Canada, and now all the issues that face this area are to develop it, to gain access. That concerns me greatly because there’s a lot of wildlife up there. Caribou come to mind the most in that they need an expansive landscape to move on. The north is very, what you call, "hungry country." You can’t make a living in a small area, and these expanses are being interfered with. I know that’s a really far afield answer, but in terms of my own work and hobbies, I’m seeing the north slowly get chipped away by global warming and development. They say that the world population is going to peak at an estimated ten billion and that we have six billion now. Well, even though people aren’t going to move to the north, they’re going to want the resources that are there. Ten billion people are going to want oil, and gas, and uranium, and diamonds, and all that kind of stuff. So I think that’s a great wildlife area right now that might not be in the future.
Did you originally think that the reintroduction would succeed back in 1995?
I thought it would succeed, but I didn’t think it would go as well as it did. The main reason I thought that is because I’m very familiar with the problems of wolves. They move a lot and when they move, they get killed by people. I mean, it’s just a fact of life: people kill wolves. You’re not going to be able to talk a significant segment of the public out of killing wolves; they just hate them. And so I thought they would move more and get killed more than they actually did. I thought that, eventually, the program would work because wolves are so good at what they do. I mean, they really are generalists and all they need is protection from human killing and adequate food, which is deer, elk, moose or caribou – whatever. There are actually record numbers of deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain west in some areas, and so if they weren’t killed, I knew they’d do okay. I thought more would have to die, but that was not true.
Do you have an emotional tie with the wolves, being one of the people that released them?
Unfortunately, I do. I say "unfortunately" because science is supposed to be a dispassionate endeavor. But I don’t think this is good. I am personally attached because I’ve been interested in this animal since I was a boy, literally a boy, and worked my way up through many volunteer jobs, building up my resumé to the point where I got this job. Since I’ve been there from the beginning and handled all the wolves that came in, and watched their population grow, I cannot help but be very personally involved.
I shouldn’t say this because it sounds callous, but when a wolf dies I don’t get bummed. I’m saddened when this happens, of course, but when you deal with wolves you have to deal with death. They die a lot and they kill a lot, so death is kind of an everyday thing. But I’m very attached to their well-being as a population and there are certain individuals that you identify with. The last wolf that died from the original reintroduction was in 2004. That was kind of the last link I had to the beginning. Back then I thought, "Well, jeez, we’ve been through all this together," which was a weird thought. I was kind of bummed when that happened.
This goes along with the last question, but it seems like the death rates of the wolves in Yellowstone are high right now. I was wondering, does the death of certain individuals affect you emotionally?
Less and less through time. I mean, you have to develop a hard heart on some of these things. As I said, a big part of life for wolves is death, either their death or another animal’s death. We just had a wolf hit last week on the road and I knew him moderately well. I remember feeling, "Oh, this is a drag," but I didn’t take that feeling home with me. I think in the early days, I did take that feeling home with me. Now I think more about it than I feel heavy-hearted about it.
What were the principal factors that made the reintroduction such a success?
I think the main one was that Yellowstone was probably some of the best wolf habitat in the world, and there were no wolves there. The two habitat criteria for wolves, as I said, are protection from human killing and adequate prey. Yellowstone was just burgeoning with prey. The northern Yellowstone elk population was at record highs. In fact, there’s a book chapter that looks at the amount of prey available to wolf populations across North America, and Yellowstone was the spot that had the most biomass available. It was at its highest point by far. So they had really good habitat and they had protection from humans, and those are really all they need. Those are the two keys. They just took off.
The wolf population growth rate was very high in the first five years. What caused it to stabilize in 2004?
I think that some of it was disease. I realize that disease is oftentimes considered "density–independent," if you know what I mean, but actually the denser the population was, the greater was the spread of disease. So in this case, the spread of the disease was "density-dependent." And that affected it. In other words, the wolves in the north obtained a very dense population size very quickly, and the two disease outbreaks in ’99 and ’05 affected the northern wolves more than the interior wolves. The other thing too, I think, is that social strife kicked in, especially in the north. Wolves began fighting with each other more, and more wolves were dispersing out of the park looking for places to go. So the combination of increased mortality and dispersal, I think, contributed to the stabilization of the population.
I didn’t realize that parvovirus and distemper were so prevalent in wolf populations, especially in 2006. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the subject, and if there was a plan or a way for the park to deal with this in this winter (of 2007-08).
Parvo and distemper, as far as we know, are both natural diseases, and it appears that they have run their course for many years. So the park’s response to that is to let nature take its course and to not intervene. Even if we did decide to intervene in the case of say, mange, which is clearly an introduced disease, our ability to affect the mortality is limited to almost nil. In other words, we’d have to capture all the wolves and vaccinate them multiple times, and that’s just not feasible. So our response to disease is going to be: we hope enough will survive it so they can continue to carry on afterwards. And so far, in two disease outbreaks, in ’99 and ’05, that has happened. The population has declined but they’ve bounced back.
I’ve read a lot about the ecological effects occurring in Yellowstone’s ecosystem now that this top predator has been reintroduced. Could you describe one or two of the most significant examples of these effects?
I think there are three or four so I’ll try to keep it brief. One is that wolves definitely impact the elk. Not alone, but in concert with other things. Having wolves in Yellowstone is a huge relief because Yellowstone had a high elk density. Some people take issue with that and say, "Well, the number of elk in Yellowstone is within a thousand year variation, and so if you look at the last thousand years, elk are within that timeline in terms of variation." However, there were just a lot of elk and what that did was suppress other aspects of life. Wolves have been involved in elk population decline. They’re not solely responsible for it, but have created opportunities for other life because elk were so dominant. The plants that elk eat and other animals that use those plants, like beavers and songbirds, are coming back. That’s one very significant thing.
Another is when wolves kill an elk, or a bison, or a deer, other animals feed on it—scavengers. Wolves have had really strong effects on the scavenger community. Initially, after wolves were reintroduced, the coyotes declined; we also had a very dense coyote population. Then lastly, grizzly bears use wolf kills, in one case in Pelican Valley, extensively. All of the grizzly bear’s foods are not necessarily secure. For example, whitebark pine is declining because of a disease that’s been introduced called white pine blister rust. When bears can’t get white bark pine nuts, they tend to steal wolf kills. Those are four pretty significant ecosystem effects.
Are there any benefits to studying wolves in Yellowstone, rather than in Alaska or Canada?
Yes, a huge benefit is access and proximity. And that’s a major, major, basic advantage which is often overlooked. This is hard for me to say because it’s my program, but we are learning things about wolves that nobody has been able to learn before, and that’s primarily because a road bisects seven wolf pack territories in the northern part of the park, and then the wolves that live in the interior of the park, compared to Alaska or Canada, are not that remote. Everything in Yellowstone is pretty accessible compared to the remote regions where most wolves live. We’re able to watch the wolves most days of the year and really get to know all the wolves in the pack, both the radio-collared ones and the non-radio-collared ones, and that’s just never been done before. The accessibility of Yellowstone wolves has really made the difference.
Because the reintroduction of the wolves was such a success, do you think we should duplicate this in more places?
I think so, but I think we should go slowly. Some people have gotten carried away saying things like, "Wow, it worked so good in Yellowstone. Let’s take this success story elsewhere." I think that the groundwork that you have to lay needs to be extensive. You need to be very careful about the biological suitability of an area and, as importantly, the social suitability of an area. The Mexican wolf, which is a different subspecies of the gray wolf, was reintroduced in the southwestern United States after wolves were in Yellowstone and central Idaho. They’re not doing that well, and I think the reason for this is that the social acceptance is lower. There are a lot of people there who just do not like them, and so they’re killing them more, and the wolves aren’t doing as well.
Wolves in and around Yellowstone are largely spreading only into Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, as if there’s an invisible fence preventing them from going elsewhere. Is this really true, or can they disperse throughout the Rocky Mountain and Intermountain west?
The simple answer is that they can disperse throughout the Rocky Mountain west. That’s a very simplistic answer. They have the ability to get there and they can move through all kinds of things, but they’re not doing well at it. There are so many people who don’t like them that they’re getting killed along the way. The more corridors they have and the more linkages they have, the better they’ll do. The only purpose those corridors and linkages essentially serve is to just give the wolves a way to go where they don’t bump into people. We’ve had a wolf go to Morgan, Utah, from Yellowstone. We’ve had a wolf go near Denver from Yellowstone. So they certainly don’t need pristine landscapes to move through, but that helps because they don’t get killed as readily.
What do you know about Utah’s plans for wolves to enter the state, and what are the major political issues that have influenced the state’s policy toward the possible establishment of wolves here?
I don’t know much about Utah’s plan. I know there are political problems with it. They went through a process where they had a committee of people that were involved in making the decision on what to do, and I heard through several friends that the agreements they reached were not honored through political maneuvering, essentially. So all the work they put into making a fair and balanced plan essentially got negated because of politics. I don’t know the details, but the people who were on that committee, the ones I know, were very disappointed. Utah is a state that’s got a lot of agriculture, and agriculture and ranching interests are very much opposed to the wolves. If wolves came back, that is a problem that needs to be dealt with because if wolves are near livestock, occasionally livestock will get killed. And so the question is, "Are there places where wolves can live year-round, summer and winter, where they’re not coming in contact with livestock?"
The other really big issue is hunting. I’ve read some accounts of people in Utah who feel that the wildlife habitat is receding there. It’s being lost for various reasons and deer and elk are having trouble. Adding wolves to the equation is one more thing that would cause problems. Even if that’s not the case in other areas of Utah, such as central and southern Utah where there’s not as much development and maybe not as much impact on the habitat, I’m not sure it’s good wolf habitat. But regardless, people would feel that they don’t want to compete with wolves—you know, the "wolf ate my deer" kind of thing. So I think that hunting and ranching are the two biggest issues.
What would you like to see happen with the wolf and livestock conflicts?
I think the first thing I’d like to see is land use planning. In other words, identifying where wolves belong and where they don’t belong. In regions that are remote and wild, where there is lots of public land, you have the wolves there and you’d try to keep the livestock out. I realize the sheep go into these areas in the summer, but the key is keeping some areas wild and not used for livestock. That’s a lot to ask, and a lot of people are opposed to that, but I think that’s the key. I think it’s not good to say wolves belong everywhere. Keeping them out of areas where there’s a lot of livestock use is important. In the areas in between, that’s really tough. In the areas we call the wildland-ranching interface, you’re probably going to have to combine what we call non-lethal methods, which is basically how you husband your animals and how you take care of them. You’re going to have to take more time protecting them from wolves, and occasionally wolves are going to have to be killed. I agree with a rancher when he says that wolves are a pain in the neck, because when wolves are around, you are going to have to work harder to keep your livestock from being killed. You might have to bring them in at night. You might have to put up electric fences. You may have to patrol or ride your livestock more. It will take more effort, and that would be in the places that are in between where wolves and ranchers coexist.
In Europe they have essentially eliminated depredation—in some areas, but not all. I don’t want to get too carried away with this, but they eliminated wolf predation on livestock by combining human presence with guard dogs and some animal husbandry techniques. But our culture here is not intensive enough for that. We killed predators in the West so they could turn livestock out on what we call open range. We just turned them loose in the mountains. To do that, you had to kill all the predators, and that’s what we did. So if you’re going to have predators—and this isn’t just wolves, but also coyotes, cougars, bears, and bobcats—then you’ve got to watch over them. They’re more prone to do that in Europe than here.
Are you aware of any major circumstances, such as climate change or natural resource extraction, that years from now could potentially have a negative impact on Yellowstone’s wolves or its other large carnivores?
Yes, I guess I don’t sleep well at night thinking about these things, but climate change worries me greatly. That’s just going to reshuffle the deck for the planet. I mean, it’s going to completely reshuffle it. What we’re in right now, for example, is a greater than ten year drought in Yellowstone. It’s affecting the amount of snow and the rain in the summer, and that affects elk conditions, and that affects wolves. If that kind of thing continues and gets worse, it’s not going to bode well for wolves in or out of Yellowstone. So that’s a huge threat. When we went through climate changes in the past—I’m talking about thousands of millions of years ago—it wasn’t as fast as this one and animals could move around more. If the climate changes, they could go to the climate that is more favorable for them, whether it’s south or north. They can’t do that now, so that’s a huge threat that I’m worried about. The wolves are largely confined to Yellowstone now. If something happens because of climate change, where are they going to go?
What is your opinion about the wolf hunts in Canada and Alaska, and how sometimes they have open shooting out of helicopters, virtually disassembling wolf packs every year?
I knew this question would come up at some point. There are two types of killing wolves. There’s a harvest, which is what hunters do and we do for all kinds of wildlife. With wolves, there are enough of them and their populations are durable enough that they can sustain a harvest, if it’s properly managed. You can kill a certain amount of them without really affecting their overall population. Wolf control is when you go in to kill most of the wolves, eighty to ninety percent. That’s typically done from helicopters. Alaska has been involved in that recently. My feeling about that is that it’s a last resort; it really should be a last resort. You should have exhausted all the other options in terms of management before you get to wolf control. I’m not against it, but I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s a good way to share the planet with other wildlife, especially ethically. My brother, who’s older than I am by quite a bit, is into the arts. He can’t fathom shooting an animal by flying over it in a helicopter. You know, hunting is designed around fair chase, sportsmanship. Flying over them in a helicopter with a shotgun is not, in his mind, ethical. A lot of people are against wolf control because of that. Not because of the science behind it, which sometimes is defendable, by the way. There have been cases that have shown that wolves are keeping the prey population low. They call it a predator pit, and the way to release them out of this predator pit is to remove the predators.
Another big predator in the Alaskan situation are bears, and that oftentimes isn’t discussed, but wolves tend to be blamed more. Another thing is that if your habitat isn’t good, killing a bunch of wolves isn’t really going to make much of a difference. What people tend to do is rush to judgment to use wolf control because it makes them feel good and it’s easy. I think what they need to know is what is causing the ungulate (hoofed mammal) decline. How many ungulates do you actually have? How many wolves do you actually have? So, in a few rare instances, I think wolf control is called for, but only rarely so. We have not dealt well with the ethics behind it. We just go and do it and say, "Hey, I live in Alaska. I know best." And I don’t think that’s the way it really should be done.
How close is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to removing the wolf from the endangered species list? Could you describe the issues at stake and where this is headed?
Well, the issues at stake involve the guy who’s in charge of that. He is a good friend of mine and a colleague, and he is desperate to get wolves delisted. He can’t wait to do it. One thing that I should say at some point in the interview is that wolves are not a job, they’re a lifestyle. You’re kind of who you are because of what you do. I suppose everybody’s like that to a degree. I have a stamp on my forehead because they really do affect my life. I guess this is true for a lot of jobs, but I know many marriages that have failed because of wolves. They’re just so intense in terms of what you do. My friend’s marriage failed partly because of that, and so he can’t wait to get them delisted. One reason he can’t wait to get them delisted is because then he’s going to go do something else. He really believes, honestly, that they should be delisted. There are plenty of wolves and the state wildlife agencies are good at managing them. It’s just that there are political battles over them that get in the way, so he’s working diligently through trying to get them delisted. It’s like a personal goal as well as a professional goal for him. I think the pieces are starting to fall into place, but there will probably be lawsuits and litigations.
What are your current and future plans for wolf research?
I think my two biggest ideas are some of those I presented last night at the talk. I’m fascinated by this, so to speak, under-the-hood look at them that nobody has done before; in other words, the composition of wolf packs and what the different roles are for different wolves in a pack. That’s just fascinating to me, and no one has looked at that. It really says a lot about why wolves live in packs, and why wolves are social because they share and cooperate. Do these bigger males—males are twenty percent bigger than females—do a lot more in terms of territory defense? We don’t see them defend territories very much, so it’s really interesting to look at. The other one involves the novel idea that wolves hit this limit and then socially control their numbers by a process called "self-regulation." That idea was first posed in 1967 by Canadian wolf biologist Doug Pimlott, and it’s since fallen out favor. It’s been rejected, and I think now we’re seeing that he may have been right in some situations. So following through with that is also going to be very interesting to me. The last one relates back to a previous question. In Yellowstone global warming is changing the relationship that wolves have to elk, given the declining condition in elk in early winter, a time when they should be in excellent condition. Watching that through time is absolutely fascinating to me. What will happen if we get two or three normal winters? Will everything reverse itself? What’s going to happen each winter? This summer and last winter were the two driest I’ve seen since wolves have been in Yellowstone. What’s this winter going to be like? These are all really fascinating questions to me, and because we have more than ten years of data, what each year brings in terms of wolves killing prey is "super fascinating" to me.