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Yellowstone National Park

Manufacturing the wilderness

Yellowstone National Park covers 2.2 million acres (almost half the size of Wales), and is located in the western United States. It was established in 1872 as the USA’s first National Park. The park played a key role in the birth of ‘fortress conservation’ that forced the removal of Indigenous people from the land to create and protect an area of ‘wilderness’.

In 1926, the last wolf pack in the park was deliberately killed. Conservationists realised that the removal of wolves had knock-on effects on the ecosystem, leaving too many grazing animals. In the 1990s, the government decided to reintroduce wolves. This impacted local communities and their relationships with wildlife. Today the reintroduction of wolves is contributing to the restoration of ecological balance to the area.

Villain to hero?

The stories told about the wolves of Yellowstone have changed over the last 100 years. Once portrayed as the scourge of wildlife, they’re now viewed as a force for good. The presence of wolves has divided opinion over the years and continues to do so today.

Iconic wildlife

Yellowstone includes lakes, geysers, bubbling mudpots, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges, with forests covering 80% of the land. Most of the rest is grassland and valleys where visitors to the park can observe large, iconic mammals like bison. After decades of decline, Yellowstone biodiversity is recovering.

How far back?

Many places are missing important species due to changing climates, environments or human impacts. Similar to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, wild habitats can be restored by returning key species to an area. People have to decide on what baseline time to refer back to. In Russia, Pleistocene Park aims to recreate a vision of the Siberian steppe in the Last Ice Age which includes the revival of the extinct woolly mammoth. How far back would you go?

Photography credits

Close-up of wolf: NPS / Jacob W. Frank.

Wolf in the snow at Yellowstone: NPS / Neal Herbert.

Swan Lake from Bunsen Peak summit with Galltan Range in the background: NPS / Jacob Frank.

Canyon wolf near Mammoth Hot Springs: NPS / Jim-Peaco.