A week in
the wild

Students and professors from the College of the Environment made a classroom out of one of the world’s most closely monitored ecosystems: Yellowstone National Park. Explore their learning experience below.

Click on any section to jump ahead

Scroll to continue

The experience begins

Experience Yellowstone

Yellowstone hosts a complex ecosystem of predators, prey, scavengers and people — those who work with animals inside the park, as well as ranchers and others operating just outside its borders.

See what the UW students saw, hear what they heard and learn what they learned about wildlife management in Yellowstone. Click on any section to start exploring.

Scroll to continue

Meet the students

Meet the students

Who went to Yellowstone — and why? See what a handful of students had to say about their experience in the park. You can support immersive learning experiences at the College of the Environment and help propel students toward the careers of their dreams.

student one
student two
student three
student four
student five
student six

Loma
Pendergraft, Graduate student

Focus: Crow communication

It’s important for undergraduates to get involved in field research because it’s experience they can put on their résumés. It’s also a great way to get your foot in the door and network with other scientists in the field.
student one

Danyan
Leng, ’18

Majors: Environmental science and terrestrial resource management; economics

I’m originally from Beijing. It’s a really big city, and we have really fast economic development, but we also have a lot of environmental problems. I want to combine my majors and make an impact on my country.
student one

Hannah
Booth, ’18

Major: Environmental science and terrestrial resource management

I didn’t have a lot of field experience before this trip. I didn’t know if I could hack it, how difficult it would be or if I would even enjoy it. But now I’m really excited about fieldwork. I’m definitely going to pursue it.
student one

Gavin
Forster, ’18

Major: Environmental science and terrestrial resource management

Being out here in the wilderness and seeing the animals you’ve heard about in class — it just solidifies all you learned and makes it much more memorable.
student one

Courtney
Straight, ’18

Major: Environmental science and terrestrial resource management

It’s pretty cool being out here with the professors because they’re so into it. Even though they’ve seen these things a million times, they still get so excited about it. They’re having a good time and teaching us a lot.
student one

Andrew
Wang, ’17

Major: Environmental science and terrestrial resource management

There’s an essence we get to experience in the field that you can’t get by reading papers and being in the classroom.
student one

Scroll to continue

Predators

Predators

Scroll to continue

Predators // The student experience

On a foggy day, Aaron Wirsing points out possible locations where wolves could be on a distant ridge.

On a foggy day, professor Aaron Wirsing points out possible locations where wolves could be on a distant ridge.

After awaking from hibernation, a grizzly bear makes its way to an easy meal: a nearby bison carcass. While fattening up for winter, the omnivorous grizzly feasts on everything from berries to cutthroat trout to insects.

After awaking from hibernation, a grizzly bear makes its way to an easy meal: a nearby bison carcass. While fattening up for winter, the omnivorous grizzly feasts on everything from berries to cutthroat trout to insects.

Tyler, a TK title, holds a golden eagle. After drawing blood, weighing and measuring the bird, he releases it.

Tyler Bain, a research assistant, holds a golden eagle. After drawing blood, weighing and measuring the bird, he releases it.

During the weeklong course, students found many opportunities to record data that would be used for presentations at the end of the quarter.

During the weeklong course, students found many opportunities to record data that would be used for presentations at the end of the quarter.

At the site of a wolf-killed elk, biologist Ky Koitzsch explains how to conduct a necropsy, studying everything from the elk’s worn molars and bone marrow health to nearby wolf pawprints and raven droppings.

At the site of a wolf-killed elk, biologist Ky Koitzsch explains how to conduct a necropsy, studying everything from the elk’s worn molars and bone marrow health to nearby wolf pawprints and raven droppings.

“ To actually go there and get a sense of where a cougar hunts helps you understand how they interact with their environment.”
Matthew Malone, '18

Matthew Malone, ’18
Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management

Scroll to continue

Predators // Lecture in the field

“ The most common cause of death for adult wolves in Yellowstone is fighting to protect your family and your territory from a rival pack.”
Rick McIntyre

Rick McIntyre, Wolf Interpreter,
Yellowstone National Park

0:29 / play lesson

There was a British anthropologist who once said that there’s no two species on earth that are so similar in social behavior as wolves and humans. For example, we found here that the most common cause of death for adult wolves in Yellowstone — since we don’t have any human hunting or trapping — the most common cause of death is to die fighting to protect your family and your territory from a rival pack.

Scroll to continue

Prey

Prey

Scroll to continue

Prey // The student experience

Rick Wallen, the lead biologist for bison in Yellowstone, talks to students about his work.

Rick Wallen, the lead biologist for bison in Yellowstone, talks to students about his work.

Student’s-eye view: a morning drive; a talk about what animals to look for; exploring the surroundings for elk, bison, wolves and more.

Bighorn sheep are just one of the many animals that congregate in Yellowstone

Bighorn sheep are just one of the many species of animals that congregate in Yellowstone.

Gavin Forster, ’18,  helps collect data for John Marzluff’s ongoing bird survey.

Gavin Forster, ’18, helps collect data for John Marzluff’s ongoing bird survey.

“ The conditions weren’t perfect for the elk survey. It wasn’t nice out and it wasn’t easy, but it was something I was really happy doing.”
Hannah Booth, '18

Hannah Booth, ’18
Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management

Scroll to continue

Prey // Lecture in the field

“ Animals that are in really good condition have the luxury of not having to feed so much, so they can actually be quite vigilant.”
Aaron Wirsing

Aaron Wirsing, Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Sciences,
University of Washington

0:21 / play lesson

Animals that are in really good condition have the luxury of not having to feed so much, so they can actually be quite vigilant — whereas animals that are emaciated and desperate tend to have to focus all their time eating and not looking for predators. So, simply put, if you can see the ribs, and you can see the parts of the backbone and the hip bone sticking out, that animal’s not doing very well.

Scroll to continue

Scavengers

Scavengers

Scroll to continue

Scavengers // The student experience

Celestina Davidson, ’17, scans, or “glasses,” the hills for wildlife.

Celestina Davidson, ’17, scans, or “glasses,” the hills for wildlife.

Student’s-eye view: Slogs through mud and slush are rewarded with a picnic. A curious — and extremely intelligent — raven lingers nearby.

The close-up intricacies of a feather.

The close-up intricacies of a feather.

Two ravens make their presence known in the otherwise silent expanse of the Lamar Valley.

Two ravens make their presence known in the otherwise silent expanse of the Lamar Valley.

“ When we were watching the bears at the bison carcass at Blacktail Pond, there were also a lot of ravens, and John Marzluff told us all about their different social behaviors and interactions.”
Andrew Wang, '17

Andrew Wang, ’17
Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management

Scroll to continue

Scavengers // Lecture in the field

“ Rather than risk your life killing a bison, they wait for a carcass to show up — especially this time of year.”
Doug Smith

Doug Smith, Wolf Biologist,
Yellowstone National Park

0:21 / play lesson

A quarter to a third of all bison consumption by wolves is carcasses. And so rather than risk your life killing a bison, they wait for a carcass to show up — especially this time of year, especially during the rut. So this could be a huge subsidy for wolves and could be important in the impact of wolves on elk.

Scroll to continue

Neighbors

Neighbors

Scroll to continue

Neighbors // The student experience

• Malou Anderson-Ramirez (far right) talks to students about the challenges and rewards of ranching on the Yellowstone border.

Malou Anderson-Ramirez (far right) talks to students about the challenges and rewards of ranching on the Yellowstone border.

Horses, longhorns, goats and other domesticated animals pepper the many ranches in the expansive Tom Miner Basin, just miles from the Yellowstone Park border.

Horses, longhorns, goats and other domesticated animals pepper the many ranches in the expansive Tom Miner Basin, just miles from the Yellowstone Park border.

At the site of a wolf-killed elk, wildlife biologist Ky Koitzsch (center) explains to students how to conduct a necropsy.

At the site of a wolf-killed elk, wildlife biologist Ky Koitzsch (center) explains to students how to conduct a necropsy.

Zach Gregory, ’15, a wildlife technician working alongside Koitzsch, shows Jenny Brent, ’19, how to enter data on a necropsy form. Gregory took this class as an undergraduate.

Zach Gregory (right), ’15, a wildlife technician working alongside Koitzsch, shows Jenny Brent, ’19, how to enter data on a necropsy form. Gregory took this class as an undergraduate.

Like Gregory, Connor Meyer (left, facing camera), ’16, took this class as an undergraduate and works in the park as a wildlife technician. He leads Wirsing (right, facing camera) and the rest of the class to the site of a cougar-killed elk.

Like Gregory, Connor Meyer (left, facing camera), ’16, took this class as an undergraduate and works in the park as a wildlife technician. He leads Wirsing (right, facing camera) and the rest of the class to the site of a cougar-killed elk.

“ Going to Yellowstone with wildlife biologists is like going behind the scenes of a play.”
Nikki Furner, '18

Nikki Furner, ’18
Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management

Scroll to continue

Neighbors // Lecture in the field

“ Here at Yellowstone, we try to do a census of the bison population every year.”
Rick Wallen

Rick Wallen, Bison Biologist, Yellowstone National Park

0:36 / play lesson

Us humans in the United States do a census every 10 years of the population. Well here at Yellowstone we try and do a census of the bison population every year. So I will have my team for about two weeks go out in pairs, and split up, and classify every single group that we can find on the landscape. The way we do that is we put a couple people in the airplane on Sunday or Monday and we fly around, and it helps us figure out the distribution of the animals. It helps us organize our daily expeditions to get out in the field and go find all of those groups.

Scroll to continue

Back to Washington

Yellowstone National Park has long been a bellwether for scientists to study how ecosystems work. Learning about both wildlife and humans there has given students an experience they’ll bring back to their classrooms in Washington — and their careers in the wide landscape beyond.

Read more about who the students met in Yellowstone, the animals they saw and studied, and what they discovered about the challenges and rewards of careers in wildlife management.

Read more

Scroll to continue

What you care about
can change the world

The University of Washington is undertaking its most ambitious campaign ever: Be Boundless — For Washington, For the World. When you support immersive learning experiences at the College of the Environment, you can make it possible for students to get hands-on experiences that propel them toward the careers of their dreams.

Navigate