Wolves and Student Trips to Yellowstone National Park

Student travel to Yellowstone National Park is the perfect way to teach your students about this abundant ecosystem and it’s beautiful, mystical, and growing population of wildlife.

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This week marks the 20th Anniversary of Wolves being brought back into Yellowstone National Park. As we continue to lead student groups on trips to Yellowstone and other National Parks in the Western U.S., the director of our science and adventure programs Paul Belanger reflects about the growing number of wolves found at YNP thanks to the past 20 years.

by Paul Belanger, Director of Gtrek: Science and Adventure

It is hard to believe for those of us who live in the Rocky Mountain West that it was twenty years ago this week that the first 12 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Since that time and amongst great fanfare and controversy, the wolves have repopulated Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington. While many ranchers and hunters lament the success of the return of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains, it is without question that the return of the keystone predator has been a benefit to the ecosystem and Yellowstone National Park. Today, wolves remain one of the top draws for people coming to Yellowstone and when they get there, they see a healthier ecosystem.

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While I have personally stood in wonder watching wolves in Yellowstone several times, my most profound encounter with wolves came here in my own backyard of western Montana and the Bitterroot Valley. One fall day about ten years ago, while out in the mountains no more than four miles from my home, I sat on a rock on a ridge to take a break and enjoy the warm shining sun. Over my shoulder up on the ridge above me I spotted some movement. Pulling my binoculars close to my eyes I spotted what I first thought was a dog. Then I saw three, six, even eight “dogs” running around and I quickly understood what I was seeing. These are the wolves that I had heard about who recently began to inhabit this part of the Sapphire Mountains. Excitedly I watched as the pack moved about in clear view, even moving closer. Soon they were just a few hundred yards away and, as if on cue, they stopped and began to howl. Chills ran up and down my spine. I sat in stunned silence as I experienced with a sense of awe and wonder, wildness. Wildness as defined by Henry David Thoreau in his seminal book Walden:

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

So, on this day of celebration, let’s experience the “tonic of wildness”. It can easily be found right outside your door or in a magical place like Yellowstone National Park.

For more information on the success of the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction program, view the video at this link: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140128-how-wolves-saved-a-famous-park

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