Wildlife, Wonders, & Wilderness
Yellowstone Forever supports projects relating to wildlife, geology, science, ecosystem, and education to preserve Yellowstone's natural resources.
Yellowstone Forever is proud to support the park’s wildlife program, which enables Yellowstone’s research analysts and biologists to monitor, track, and understand the animals that call Yellowstone home. These findings help guide future conservation efforts both in the park and around the world.
Wildlife, Wonders, & Wilderness PROJECTS
Native Fish Conservation Program
In recent years, Yellowstone’s native cutthroat trout populations have declined significantly. Biologists determined the cause to be the introduction of several nonnative trout species, and especially the invasion of predatory lake trout in Yellowstone Lake. This precipitous loss of native trout is felt throughout the ecosystem, impacting predators such as bears, otters, ospreys, and eagles. Guided by the long-term Native Fish Conservation Plan, the National Park Service is leading a major effort to restore native fish populations to sustainable levels, with an emphasis on the continued, aggressive use of gillnetting boats on Yellowstone Lake. The overall intent of this program is to ensure that native fish remain to support natural ecological function, native biodiversity, and sport fishery purposes.
- Funding Needed: $1,000,000 annually matched by federal funds
Home on the Range
A historically large bison population in Yellowstone has led to significant concern as to whether there is “home on the range” for the most diverse and abundant community of wildlife in North America. The grazing of bison on grasslands is changing the landscape of northern Yellowstone, with unknown consequences for elk, bighorn sheep, deer, and pronghorn. Effects, in turn, could cascade through the ecosystem. This project will support the maintenance of GPS collars and coordination of data collection among park biologists and Yellowstone Forever citizen scientists who will monitor ungulate diet, habitat use, migration patterns, birth and survival rates, and population growth. Yellowstone Forever educators have committed to this project as a core component of every youth and college program where students come expecting to engage with a research opportunity.
Golden Eagle Monitoring
Yellowstone National Park is home to 19 breeding raptor species, including ospreys, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and golden eagles. The golden eagle, in particular, is a species of growing concern as it relates to conservation in the United States. However, little is known about the golden eagle—North America’s largest bird of prey—in Yellowstone. The goal of this project is to better understand the population dynamics and habitat of Yellowstone’s golden eagles, and identify how environmental changes affect eagle reproduction and survival. New findings will expand upon data collected during the five-year Raptor Initiative funded by Yellowstone Forever and help inform future management and conservation of this species.
Yellowstone Wolf Project
Since wolves were first reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, they have been the subject of much controversy, with disagreement surrounding population size, impacts on the elk population, and how to best manage wolves. Wolf management continues to be a high priority issue for both the regional public and the National Park Service. Yellowstone Forever provides the support necessary to maintain the nationally acclaimed Yellowstone Wolf Project, which focuses on the research, monitoring, and management of wolves in Yellowstone. The project’s research findings over the past 23 years have been crucial to formulating wolf management policy as well as contributing to an understanding of Yellowstone’s entire ecosystem.
- Funding Needed: $250,000 Annually
Yellowstone Wolf Interpretation Program
Yellowstone wolves have captured the imagination and fascination of park visitors from around the world. The wolf packs are highly visible, making the park the premier place to view wolves in the wild. Consequently, there is an important need for a program that focuses on outreach, visitor enjoyment, and management of human and wolf safety. The Wolf Interpretation Program aims to fulfill these needs by providing public outreach and education for the 25,000+ visitors who attend formal field education programs about wolves, and the resources necessary to manage wolf and human safety along Yellowstone’s roads. In the process, it will also help prevent wolves from becoming habituated to humans, facilitate visitor enjoyment through wildlife-watching opportunities, and help monitor wolves to collect biological data.
- Funding Needed: $50,000 Annually
Yellowstone Cougar Project
Yellowstone National Park is home to several large carnivores: grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and cougars. Ever since the return of the wolf to the park in 1995, it has become increasingly important to understand predator diversity in Yellowstone. For instance, what does it mean for the ecosystem that these large predators, and several smaller ones, are competing for territory and prey? Cougar population size estimates are essential in determining the impacts of large carnivores on Yellowstone’s ungulate population. This project supports the monitoring of Yellowstone’s elusive cougar population, contributing to a better understanding of how to manage large carnivores as well as the ungulate species, such as elk, that they prey upon.
- Funding Needed: $50,000
Yellowstone Wildlife Health Program
Because infectious diseases are more frequently being shared between humans, wildlife, and domestic animals, Yellowstone Forever started funding the Yellowstone Wildlife Health Program in 2007. Some diseases that currently impact or threaten Yellowstone wildlife include brucellosis (bison and elk), chronic wasting disease (elk and deer), white-nose syndrome (bats), and canine distemper (wolves and coyotes). In addition, many wildlife diseases are transmissible to humans, such as plague, Hantavirus, West Nile virus, and rabies. The program integrates ecological understanding—like early detection through targeted surveillance—with management decision making. Further work is needed to develop a comprehensive plan that will promote wildlife conservation and reduce disease risks to park staff, visitors, and local communities.
- Funding Needed: $100,000 Annually
Foraging Habits of American Black Bears on Yellowstone’s Northern Range
The black bear is the most common and widely distributed bear species in North America. However, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the few areas south of Canada where black bears coexist with grizzly bears. Although grizzly bears in Yellowstone have been studied continuously for more than 50 years, very little research has been conducted on the park’s black bears since the 1960s. Thus, there is a scarcity of current information available for park managers to use in making decisions on black bear management. In this study, a combination of GPS collars and non-invasive DNA techniques will help biologists learn more about the black bears’ population size and density, predatory rates on elk, home range sizes, movements, food habits, and habitat use.
- Funding Needed: $200,000 a year for 3 years
Loss of an Icon: Can Trumpeter Swans Persist in Yellowstone?
The trumpeter swan is North America’s largest waterfowl, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. Due to habitat loss and hunting, these majestic birds nearly became extinct in the lower 48 states by 1930. The population has largely rebounded after widespread conservation measures, yet have failed to thrive within Yellowstone, where the number of resident swans decreased from nearly 70 in 1961 to only five in 2010. Following management efforts, including the release of 20 cygnets since 2013, approximately 25 swans now reside in the park. However, none of them have bred. The goals of this project are to evaluate possible drivers of population declines—such as human disturbance, raptor predation, and climate change—while assessing the value of swan restoration efforts and the future of the park’s swans.
Abundance of Grizzly Bears on the Northern Range
The recent proposal to remove grizzly bears from Threatened Species status has been highly controversial, primarily due to the potential for hunting in states adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Also, controversies exist pertaining to changing habitat conditions and recent high levels of human-caused mortality. This project supports non-invasive DNA collection and radio collaring of grizzlies to determine their abundance, density, home range sizes, predation, and movements. Results will help managers determine the probable rates of bears injured during proposed state hunts and the vulnerability of park bears to hunting when they move outside of the park. As the delisting of grizzlies brings new challenges to park managers, this study will aid in future negotiations with state agencies on grizzly hunting regulations.
Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Plan for Yellowstone National Park
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious, fatal disease of deer, elk, and moose for which there is no vaccine or known treatment. Ungulate populations in and near Yellowstone National Park are at risk for infection by CWD for several reasons: the disease has been spreading toward the park’s eastern boundary, there are large concentrations of susceptible deer and elk in and near the park, and CWD has been confirmed in hunter-killed deer along Yellowstone’s eastern boundary. This project will implement a consistent monitoring program for the early detection of CWD and identify important factors that may influence the spread of the disease within Yellowstone. Action is needed before it’s too late and CWD becomes endemic within the park.
Songbird Monitoring Station
Although Yellowstone National Park is known for its wildlife, relatively little is known about its songbird populations. These small park inhabitants include Wilson’s warblers, willow flycatchers, gray catbirds, and many other species. To complement ongoing research, biologists will establish a MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) songbird-banding station in a willow-lined riparian corridor in Yellowstone’s Northern Range. Through this protocol, researchers will gain better information on songbird abundance and diversity, as well as productivity, survival, the ratio of juveniles to adults, and turnover between breeding seasons. Along with assessing demographic trends, the study will evaluate the status of Yellowstone’s willow habitat in supporting songbirds, and potentially uncover threats to these bird populations. Ultimately, the results will help park staff establish more informed and effective management practices.