When wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone, some unexpected species benefitted.
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Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

On a quiet hike in Yellowstone National Park, some lucky visitors might get to hear an amazing sound: the howl of a gray wolf.

A wolf howling in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. Image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

They might even get to spot one of these beautiful animals darting across the landscape. In fact, today, the chances of seeing a wolf in some parts of this park — such as Lamar Valley — are so good that some people come just to wolf-watch.


A female wolf standing in a road near the Lamar River Bridge in Yellowstone National Park. Image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

But for most of the 20th century, it was impossible to view these animals at all inside the park.

In fact, it was hard to see a gray wolf anywhere in the lower 48 states. That is because ever since settlers moved west, they feared the great gray wolf. The fact that wolves started killing livestock didn’t help either.

So, starting in the late 1800s up until the 1920s, wolves were hunted and poisoned by ranchers and predator control programs in order to protect people, livestock, and other “more desirable” wildlife species.  In the end, not a single breeding pair of wolves remained in Yellowstone National Park.

Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone National Park in October 1993. Image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

When Yellowstone lost its wolves, it caused some big problems for the whole ecosystem.

Wolves are apex predators, which means they are at the top of the food web. When wolves were eliminated, it caused what scientists call a top-down trophic cascade. In other words, the whole ecosystem became unbalanced.

“Most ecosystems are best when they’re balanced,” Doug Smith, project leader for the Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone, said in a National Park Service Q&A. “Having a lot of different kinds of things at moderate numbers is better than having a lot of any one thing.”

Without wolves, there was a lot of one thing: elk. And biodiversity across the entire park declined as a result.

Two bull elk at Blacktail Deer Plateau. Image by Neal Herbert/YellowstoneNPS.

Why? Because without one of their major natural predators, fewer elk were dying. Their numbers grew so much that they ended up overgrazing large areas of land, leaving them vulnerable to erosion and defoliation.

This hurt plants and other animal species. Willow and aspen trees started dying off — and that hurt the species that relied on these trees for their survival, such as the birds that use them as nesting grounds and the beavers that use the wood to build dams and survive the winter.

The numbers of rabbits and mice species fell, too, because of all the overgrazing. They simply had fewer places to hide from predators.

Everything started to change after scientists reintroduced 41 wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

A newly arrived wolf is released from its cage into a pen in 1996. Image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

From 1995 to 1997, wolves were captured in Canada and northwest Montana and transported to Yellowstone. Once there, each was radio-collared and temporarily penned so biologists could make sure they were healthy.

Then they were released into the wilderness of the park.

Park rangers prepare to release a wolf into the park in 1996. image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

The wolves thrived in their new home.

The newly formed packs spread out and established their territories, and the large populations of elk and deer provided them with ample prey. And because they were inside the national park, the animals were protected from hunters. So their numbers grew.

The Gibbon wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park. Image via Yellowstone/NPS.

Before long, the wolves started changing Yellowstone’s ecosystem all over again, but this time for the better.

The first thing that happened was the number of large prey dropped. In 1995, Yellowstone was home to about 18,000 elk, but by 2015, that number had dropped to 4,500, helping restore the ecosystem's natural balance.

Elk on Mount Everts in Yellowstone National Park in 2014. Image by Neal Herbert/YellowstoneNPS.

Scientists think this happened, at least in part, because wolves started to change their prey’s behavior. Deer and elk started avoiding areas where they could be easily hunted, such as open valleys and gorges, which caused those areas to regenerate. Plants started growing on the riverbanks and erosion decreased, causing rivers and streams to actually change course.

Meanwhile, birds, beavers, mice, and bears started returning to those once-barren areas.

A western meadowlark in Lamar Valley in the spring of 2015. Image by Neal Herbert/YellowstoneNPS.

The landscape of the whole park transformed, and the ecosystem as a whole became healthier.  

A grizzly bear and her cub. Image by Jim Peaco/YellowstoneNPS.

Because they are carnivores, wolves often get a bad rap — but the Yellowstone story shows just how important they are to our planet.

The ecosystem in Yellowstone is complex and always changing, but recent history has shown scientists and ecologists how important wolves are to keeping the natural balance. It is true that wolves hunt large animals, but they are not just killers — they also help other species thrive.  

A wolf from the Canyon pack in Yellowstone. Image by Diane Renkin/NPS.

We all know the story about the “the big bad wolf.” But today, Yellowstone National Park is helping us learn a different story about wolves, and this is one is a lot happier.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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