Explore how fire, wolves, and bison keep ecosystems healthy in one of the wildest places in North America.
Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada and the Blackfoot tribal lands outside the park are one of the few places where you can get a sense of North America as it was before Euro-American settlers arrived. Only five percent of Canada’s native grasslands remain, and they are right here, filled with iconic native animals like wolves, grizzly bears, cougars, and eagles.
Hike off-trail through rugged, secluded parts of the park, past grizzly bears and herds of elk, and on Blackfoot tribal lands closed to the public, to help researchers untangle the complex interactions between wolves, elk, fire, and bison. Waterton National Park Natural Resources staff set prescribed fires to keep aspen from taking over the native grassland. Where there are no wolves, elk eat the aspen shoots that grow after burns, clearing space for grass to grow. But here in Waterton, wolves are scaring the elk, making them avoid aspen, where it’s harder to escape wolves. This tips the scale back toward expanding aspen stands, and decreasing native prairie. The missing piece? Bison. Wild, free-ranging bison historically kept these grasslands open by trampling aspen and tearing them up with their horns.
This research contributes to helping Waterton Lakes National Park Resource Conservation staff understand exactly how this food-chain reaction works. You can help by measuring how much vegetation elk are eating, and how the prescribed fires are shaping plant populations and affecting habitat for bison. You will also spend a day on the trail of wolves, following their tracks in areas of high wolf activity, such as their rendezvous sites and travel corridors.