‘Honest, hardworking, humble’: Yellowstone’s lead wolf biologist Doug Smith retires after 28 years

HELENA DORE Bozeman Daily Chronicle

BOZEMAN — Doug Smith was hired to restore gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the early 1990s. In the years that followed, his team radio collared 41 wolves, acclimated them to the environment, then released them onto the vast landscape of the world’s first national park.

At the time, Smith and his colleagues weren’t certain that wolves would become part of the fabric of the park. But the project turned out to be a resounding success. Wolves spread out, reproduced, formed packs and established territories.

It was a slow burn, but the animals fed on elk and other wildlife, which helped to restore balance in an ecosystem where predators had largely been extirpated. Within a decade, elk populations dropped and stabilized, and woody vegetation started to grow in more abundance.

After the reintroduction, Smith and his team monitored the wolves’ movements in and outside of Yellowstone, and they occasionally intervened. But with the main task complete, Smith didn’t know exactly what to do with his job. So he approached it as the scientific opportunity of a lifetime.

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