The Foundation is proud to support the work of wildlife ecologist Arthur Middleton, Ph.D. and wildlife photojournalist Joe Riis as they study and document elk migrations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). The duo recently garnered national and international recognition as the first recipients of the newly created Camp Monaco prize, a $100,000 grant that will help fund their research over the next two years. Learn more about the Camp Monaco Prize and Prince Albert II’s visit to Cody, Wyoming here and here.
Each spring in GYE, thousands of elk migrate from far flung winter ranges in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, to high elevation summer ranges near the core of Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Migratory elk link the ecosystem’s outermost foothills to its deepest, mountain wilderness. Their abundance sustains diverse carnivores and scavengers, attracts tens of millions of dollars to local economies, and inspires national and global conceptions of the beloved YNP wilderness. These migrations define the GYE, both ecologically and culturally. However, the migratory elk of the GYE are facing an unprecedented array of ecological changes and conservation challenges. Beyond the recent recovery of their primary predators, wolves and grizzly bears, elk populations are being impacted by hotter and drier summers, invasive species, housing development, and introduced diseases. Several herds have experienced sharp declines. Yet even as the challenges grow clear, the management of GYE elk migrations remains highly fragmentary. Research focuses only on one herd at a time, management authority is divided among seven agencies, and public interest is fractured among more than 100 nongovernmental organizations. Remarkably, the public has never seen so much as a map of the GYE elk migrations’ extraordinary geographic scope. Until a new collaboration is forged among state, federal, university, and non-profit partners to transcend these boundaries, we risk a silent erosion of one of the GYE’s most unique and valuable ecological phenomenon.
To promote more effective conservation and management of migratory elk populations and their habitats, Arthur and Joe will lead scientists, agencies, and the public through a “re-discovery” of elk migration as a singular, trans boundary phenomenon operating at the scale of the entire ecosystem. Their primary goals are to 1) provide the first ever description of the migration routes, seasonal ranges, and population trends of GYE elk migrations; 2) identify the effects of climate on migratory elk behavior at the whole ecosystem scale; and 3) broaden public awareness of the GYE elk migrations by creating a 20-minute documentary film, a traveling photography exhibition, and “real time” migration displays that allow the public to view elk movements live via satellite. Each of these initiatives aims to provide the new knowledge, tools, and inspiration that are necessary to manage and conserve the GYE’s iconic wildlife migrations in a rapidly changing world.