Doug Smith Discusses 15 Years of Yellowstone National Park's Wolf Recovery Program

Get the Flash Player to see hear the audio.

Doug Smith, leader of Yellowstone National Park's Wolf Project, captured in February 2009 with 472F, a member of the park's Agate Pack. NPS photo.

Kurt Repanshek's picture

Fifteen years ago, back in 1995, a dream of seeing wolves running wild in Yellowstone National Park came to life, as the first of a handful or two of Canadian wolves were set free into the park. It was the culmination of a long-fought effort to see Yellowstone's ecosystem become whole once again with its complete prey and predator base. Doug Smith, who leads the park's Wolf Project, recently discussed the health of the program and what researchers have learned.


The Yellowstone National Park 1995 wolf reintroduction program was one of the best examples of the NPS living up to its vision and core values. The program was a resounding success and reversed the damage of the NPS exterminating wolves from the park, a half century before. The program still is a source of pride to many of us rangers and gives me hope that the NPS will again find its leadership footing and right its ship. It took leadership strength to pursue this project, and past Yellowstone Superintendents, Bob Barbee and Mike Finley deserve praise. One place that the NPS can start to regain its leadership "mojo" is in its policy regarding Yellowstone bison.

Bison management in Yellowstone is and has been shameful. The NPS has been greatly manipulated by the State of Montana and self-serving federal regulators for decades; all under the guise of protecting local cattle growers (follow the money) from Brucellosis. This is and always has been a scientific shame and the NPS knows it.

The fact is, if the bison were magically removed from Yellowstone with the wave of a wand, Brucellosis would still be present in Yellowstone, at nearly the same percentage as in bison, in other ungulate and mammal populations - both in and out of the park.

So,why is this a bison issue at all? It all comes down to the perception of Brucellosis management and the protection of Montana's "Brucellosis free designation," which allows Montana's cattle to be sold across state and international lines. It is always about the money.

The NPS has done an astoundingly poor job of managing this issue, as opposed to the work conducted with the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction Program. With every challenge, there is a opportunity. I suggest that the NPS use the political opportunity which the current Obama Administration presents to fix the Yellowstone Bison and Winter Use (snowmobiles) issue.

Taking on issues which expose and highlight our mission values is the quickest way to regain agency and leadership credibility...

In reading an old book Stealing of the National Parks (1985) I am couriuos if the intent of the Goverment in re-establishing the different species is the elimination of all human visitation by the "common people" and only allowing the privileged few to come within the parks. All across this nation I have been seeing this pattern evolve in the name of "Enviromentalism" Parks were originally established for presevation and not elimination of humans to see these sights for themselves. We are supposed to be stewards of the land. What I see is the establisment of "The King's Preserves". We need to start to be Stewards and not Eliminators, which we are on the road to doing.

Dear Fishtrek; I am one of the 'common people'. The National Parks are for us all and easily accessible to all. They are some of the least expensive vacation spots in the USA. The 'intent' of the Govt is to 'preserve' all species of creatures native to the park's ecosystem. Sometimes that means reintroducing native species that were hunted into extinction in a specific area. Sometimes it's restricting access to sensitive ecosystems and/or areas to allow native species to reestablish themselves. Admittedly, they don't always do the best job, but the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone is an example of when they do it right! Our job as park visitors is to treat those creatures and their habitat with the respect they both deserve. Unfortunately, not all park visitors are as careful of the wildlife and native flora as I am sure you (and I) are. Perhaps the wonderful words on the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone should be modified and placed at every National Park; For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People AND Native Creatures!

Would like to know if Doug was a "guide" at Penatentery Park, in Kirtland,Ohio about 20-30 years ago?? He looks like the guide we had, and I think same name. We are 75 now and are very impressed with his livelyhood!! Thanks for all you do, Doug, and stay well!! Gayle