Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Joe Bryan

Second Advisor

Mara Goldman

Third Advisor

Emily Yeh

Fourth Advisor

Najeeb Jan


This dissertation is composed of three case studies on the management, conservation, and politics of grizzlies, wolves, and bison in Yellowstone National Park and the Greater Yellowstone region. Watching, looking, observing, studying, and researching name the primary practices which give life to the relationship between people and wildlife in Yellowstone. This, however, is mitigated by practices on the boundaries of the Park which, sometimes, constitute very different relations with Yellowstone wildlife. How this occurs and what it means is different for each species. In the case of grizzlies, the managerial shift to the principle of natural regulation and the research of the Craighead study team in the 1960's were instrumental in redefining relationships between wildlife, people, Yellowstone. These two factors coupled to then emerging knowledge of Yellowstone’s grizzly population softened the political boundaries that distinguished the (preservationist) space of the Park with the public and private lands that surrounded it. This in turn led to the eventual realization of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). However, the realization of that vast ecosystem with the Park at its core was a response to perceived administrative-management need, one that blurred boundaries in the name of grizzly conservation. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995, and their subsequent expansion onto the wider landscape, is best understood as a release of forces that went well beyond the delimited nature of the Park or the more expansive ecology of the GYE. These forces found expression in the intensity of discourse that emerged in the wake of reintroduction and continues to the present moment. This is evident in how interlocutors talk of wolves which often entails them describing an explicitly socio-political world of agents, powers, forces, and dynamics that only indirectly, if at all, relate to wolves as flesh and blood animals. Bison and bison management has been a primary site of efforts to re-inscribe particular historical and social claims onto the "ecology" and "habitat" of the GYE. Though each articulates very different interests and concerns, Montana ranchers and Native American tribes have made the most substantial claims in this regard.