Restoring Fire, Wolves, and Bison to the Canadian Rockies

Wildlife & Ecosystems

Restoring Fire, Wolves, and Bison to the Canadian Rockies

How do three forces of nature—fire, wolves, and bison—shape the landscape? Explore this burning question in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

This project will help scientists and park staff to understand how rewilding can shape a critical ecosystem.

Help researchers untangle how the relationships between keystone forces, fire, wolves, and bison, and their impacts on elk and aspen, can keep this wild landscape intact.

The leadership of this national park strives to use natural forces like wolves and fire to create a healthy ecosystem. But since Euro-American settlers knocked natural relationships off kilter as they settled the land 150 years ago, these forces of nature need to be restored.

A volunteer measures the height of an aspen sapling.

A volunteer measures an aspen tree.

You can think of this ecosystem as a three-legged stool. The “legs” are keystone ecological forces: fire, predation by wolves, and bison herbivory. Euro-American settlers eliminated all of these, but today this system is gradually being rewilded. Wolves returned on their own in the early 1990s and the park began setting prescribed fires. But fire and wolves may not be enough to stabilize our ecological three-legged stool. All of this creates an exciting opportunity for you to help study the ecological impacts of restoring fire, wolves, and bison. This research is also important because it engages the Kainai First Nation and the Blackfoot confederacy, to whom bison, fire, and wolves are sacred, in restoring their ancestral landscape.

The wildcards? Wolves and bison. Wolves made a comeback in the park 25 years ago. Researchers think that as a result, elk aren’t mowing down sprouting aspen as expected. Young aspens draw lots of elk, and elk draw wolves—making the elk skittish and less likely to linger as they eat. Wolves can only do so much to keep grasslands open without the help of bison trampling aspen, to help keep grasslands open.

Help researchers find out if their hypotheses are correct, and what they can do to foster natural relationships between the forces at play in this wilderness.

About the research area

Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada, North America & Arctic

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:



The Scientists


Research Associate, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

ABOUT Cristina Eisenberg

Dr. Eisenberg, a forest ecologist and wildlife ecologist, became interested in wolves when this keystone species returned naturally to the remote part of Montana where she and her family have lived for over two decades.



Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


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