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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Yellow Dave Tuesday, October 22, 1996

Tracking wolves with numbers
Reported by Deb Guernsey

Hi. My name is Deb. I have been working on the Yellowstone Wolf Project for about one year and seven months. I am now working as the assistant to Mike and Doug, the biologists on the project — but I started out as a volunteer. I would like to tell you about some of the many duties that are expected of a volunteer.

During the last few weeks, you have heard how wolf biologists Doug Smith and Mike Phillips ensure the success of wolf restoration in Yellowstone. Last week, Doug told you a little bit about how he uses telemetry equipment to track wolves from the air. Every time Doug flies, he writes down very specific information on every single wolf that he picks up either by radio signal or by actually seeing them (called a "visual"). The same thing is done when we track wolves from the ground.

The location of each wolf is part of the data we collect. We use a universal numbering system to keep track of their locations. It is called Universal Transverse Mercator, or UTM. This sounds complicated, but is actually just a series of plotted numbers on all topographic maps that helps biologists mark exactly where the wolves are. The numbering system is universal because each number stands for the same location on many different maps. If we collect enough data over the course of time, we can draw conclusions about things like the behavior or movement of certain animals, in this case wolves.

The data we collect is entered into a computer so that, over time, biologists can look for patterns in the wolves' movement or behavior. This helps biologists better understand how and why wolves do what they do. It also may help us to understand how they fit in with other parts of their surrounding environment such as plants, soil, and other animals like elk, bison, and bear.

One of the tasks first given to me when I started volunteering for the wolf project was to enter this data into the computer. It is very important to be sure this information is entered correctly so that the biologists can draw accurate conclusions from this data.

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