Wolf Symposium Reunites History Makers
It has been more than 17 years since gray wolves were returned to Yellowstone National Park -- the culmination of a massive, multi-year effort that required careful integration of numerous biological, political, economic and social perspectives. Earlier this month, a three-day symposium in Yellowstone brought together individuals who played a key role in the controversial reintroduction effort.
Gathering at Yellowstone's headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs were nearly 70 guests who helped make history in 1995: state and federal officials, wildlife biologists, wolf advocates, national park staff, nonprofit organization representatives, and major donors to the Wolf Project through the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
The purposes of the event, which was funded by the Yellowstone Park Foundation, were to celebrate the successes of wolf reintroduction, to recognize the roles of key players in this effort, and to record their first-person experiences for the oral history collection in the Yellowstone National Park Archives.
Some of the participants had not seen each other since the early years, and current funders of the Wolf Project had an opportunity to meet these leaders for the first time.
"The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone made news worldwide. It was a large-scale and daring attempt to reintroduce a top-level predator into an ecosystem where it had been absent for 70 years," said Yellowstone's oral historian Charissa Reid.
"While the park's archive contains many records from those early years of the Wolf Project, it has lacked the personal perspective of those who were directly involved in the preparation and then implementation of this bold experiment. Often we glean new details from these participants, and their stories help us to understand and document events in a cultural context," said Reid.
The collection of oral histories is a time-consuming and meticulous process. Subjects are interviewed by an oral historian, and each interview is recorded and later transcribed. The transcription process can take up to ten hours per interview. The recording and transcription are both catalogued for admission into the Yellowstone Archives to help current and future generations learn about Yellowstone's history. In addition, a monograph containing the transcripts from presenters and interviews at the event, plus event photographs, will be printed in 2013.
The timing of the event was significant, as a major chapter in the wolf recovery effort has closed, and a new one is beginning: the responsibility for wolf management recently transferred from the federal government to state governments.
"The more conversations I had with the attendees, the more it became apparent that wolf reintroduction was a special moment in history, populated by amazing people, who also had a little bit of luck on their side," said Reid. "Considering the many, many obstacles they faced, it is a miracle there are wolves in Yellowstone today."
The symposium's keynote address was given by Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Recovery Coordinator. Other speakers included Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Project Leader; Dan Wenk, current Yellowstone Superintendent; Karen Bates Kress, Yellowstone Park Foundation President; Bob Barbee, former Yellowstone Superintendent; and Mike Phillips, former Yellowstone Wolf Project Leader and now Executive Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund.
The three-day event also included a moderated panel discussion regarding lessons learned from the recovery experience, discussion about the future of wolf management, screening of film footage compiled by filmmaker Bob Landis during the landmark reintroduction events, and of course a pre-dawn wolf watching excursion to see some of the descendents of those original 15 wolves released in 1995.
Since 1996, the Yellowstone Park Foundation has contributed nearly $6 million to the Yellowstone Wolf Project, constituting 60% of the Project's total annual budget. Most of this funding, raised through private donations, goes toward ongoing research-related costs, including the collaring program.
Download the newly released Yellowstone Wolf Annual Report