Women of the Northwest

Kathy Dimont: Wolf studies in Glacier National Park and Creating a Space for Diversity in Yosemite

March 13, 2024 Kathy Dimont Episode 89
Women of the Northwest
Kathy Dimont: Wolf studies in Glacier National Park and Creating a Space for Diversity in Yosemite
Show Notes Transcript

Exiled wolves
Wolf Monitoring

From studying wolves in Glacier National Park to advocating for diversity in Yosemite National Park, Kathy Dimont shares her captivating story and experiences. 

Kathy worked with scientists from the University of Montana to study wolves who were  moving into Glacier National Park from British Columbia.

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Jan: All right.

Kathy Dimont: Today I'm here with Kathy Dimont. Hi, Kathy.

Jan: Hi.

Kathy Dimont: It's nice to have you here.

Jan: Nice to be here.

Kathy Dimont: We tried to get together before and it was not successful. So we're down in Bend and where you live and going to have a good time. I'm interested to hear about the study that you did about wolves.

Jan: Okay. That was when I was Glacier National park in Montana, and I was there from 1986 to 1991. And that might not be right.

Kathy Dimont: I was there a while ago.

Jan: It's been a while. And basically it was an administrative job and I worked for the science department. And there were people doing all kinds of very specific research on things like eagles and mountain sheep and brown trout, all sorts of things. And in the meantime, the wolves started to move back into the park. They'd been extirpated. They started to move back in, coming on their own. Nobody moved them. They came in from British Columbia and there were some people at the University of Montana who were fascinated by it and who were really excited to come in and study it. And so I did things like give them the permits that they needed to come in and do the studies. And then wolves are very charismatic and they attract all kinds of attention. And we had people like CBS Sunday Morning and all kinds of people that wanted to come in and learn more and see more and show more. And we had some dynamite photographers who did get some pretty good pictures.

Kathy Dimont: That's cool.

Jan: So we had basically a national audience because it's a national park, because the other thing, we have exclusive jurisdiction. Oh, Glacier National park was a park before Montana was a state, so we didn't have to go by any state laws or county laws or whatever. We were doing what was under the Endangered Species act. We were operating under national Park Service policy and with all the university people coming in and working. So what I did more than anything else was just make sure that the information that went out was accurate and could be verified.

Kathy Dimont: How did you verify things?

Jan: I had all the science on the ground. I had all the people in the University of Montana out there with their magic dart guns and putting collars on the wolves and tracking them with.

Kathy Dimont: So you were. Yeah, just right from the source. And there wasn't a lot of Internet at that.

Jan: And they didn't get to do anything without me saying they woman. Not so much that as they just had to come through my office to get to the permits to do what they were doing. And we were all thrilled that they were willing to do it because we didn't have anybody. And they were great.

Kathy Dimont: What kind of permits did you have to have?

Jan: Well, you cannot go into a national park and start darting animals without any.

Kathy Dimont: House and say, that's.

Jan: And I didn't have that kind of power. But my boss, you know, I would take then the things that Diane Boyd or whoever else said they were going to do and say, here's what they're doing, and he would sign off on it and it would all work. And then more and more people wanted to know more and more. And so I put together a brochure which the local cooperating association paid to publish. And then we put out thousands of those. I mean, every time somebody wanted to know something about the current wolf situation, we hand them one of those.

Kathy Dimont: And then did you have to make the brochure 1.2 and 1.3?

Jan: Well, I don't know what they've done since I left, but when I left it, they were still selling it, but it know about this big and it unfolded twelve times and people could learn everything they needed to know about wolves. And then wolves were really elusive. And so nobody came to glacier and saw wolves like they do now in Yellowstone because wolves are very almost, I don't want to say acclimated, but they're comfortable where they're in the main valley and people get to see them all the time. Nobody came to glacier and got to see wolves. They were very elusive and stayed very much in the backcountry.

Kathy Dimont: So when your scientists started out, how did they decide where they were going to look first?

Jan: Well, I'm not real sure who spotted the first ones, but there was up the North Fork and they knew where to start and they knew that they were coming in from there's, you know, the border's right there. This is one. If you want to go to Canada, you have to get your hiking boots just. And the border is, I don't know what you call it. They cut down trees, you have a buffer, and the wolves use that. Okay. Any smart animal is going to use a broken trail rather than fight its way through the bushes. So that was really easy to see, too, where the tracks were coming through. And wolf tracks are very distinctive. They're about as big as your hand.

Jan: Oh, really?

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: Why did the wolves start coming down, leave where they were?

Jan: You know, when a pack gets big enough or when they just tend to separate off and start their own family, only the, they used to call them alpha, the alpha male and the alpha female, they've changed what they call that now. And I don't remember what it is. But only the main two mate.

Jan: Okay.

Jan: Then they have pups and the whole pack raises the pups. They have aunts and uncles and sort of the community.

Jan: Right.

Jan: And then as the younger ones get older, they often break off and start their own packs.

Kathy Dimont: Like teenagers.

Jan: Pretty much exactly like teenagers. And then also there's food, glaciers, just full of prey animals that they could eat. So I'm sure it was really appealing to them.

Kathy Dimont: Everything's just a natural environment. So nothing's hunted.

Jan: Exactly. There hasn't been any hunting there in forever.

Kathy Dimont: So what were some of the interesting things they found out?

Jan: I think a lot of it was that they do the families, they raise their families just like people do. There's a real tendency to anthropomorphize wolves because only the two major male and female, mate. And because they do raise them as a family and they do have babysitter wolves and they do have bring them to the kill and let everybody gets to eat. And I think they're also really gorgeous.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy: And I think there's a charisma to that where people are not all that enthusiastic about what beavers are. I don't know, I like all of them. But wolves really do have a.

Jan: They're kind of regal, too. Yeah, a little bit regal, yeah.

Kathy: And the other thing is that they're perceived as being big and strong and capable and the apex predator. And they're actually not that good. They've proven that they really fail, like 90% of the time when they try to chase something down to eat it. Really?

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: And of course they take the weakest. And that's the other thing is that it's probably not politically correct or whatever, but they take the ones that are wounded or that a deer with a broken leg is the easiest one to take down.

Kathy Dimont: The path of least resistance.

Jan: Yeah. And so they do really well. They eat really well and they take care of each other. And then, like I said, when they grow up, some of them break off and start their own packs.

Kathy Dimont: So then I'm assuming then the wolf packs increased.

Jan: But they haven't taken over or anything. The things that people fear that they'll wipe out everything. There won't be a deer left, there won't be an elk left. And of course, the neighboring ranchers and farmers were really worried, and for good reason. Nobody at Glacier said, oh, don't worry about a thing. They won't bother your sheep because they do.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: And they not only will go in and kill a sheep, they'll go in and kill as many as they can get, right, and leave them.

Kathy Dimont: And sheep are just like healthy sheep are being attacked if you just stand there.

Jan: You know a lot about. More about sheep than I do. But we were told sheep are not that bright.

Kathy Dimont: They are not.

Jan: And they don't do much to protect themselves. So we had people who were threatening us with violence, and we had people who said they were going to come in and kill every wolf they could find. And what we did was try really hard to make these people understand that we got it. We understood that this was your kid's college education, walking around in that pasture out there, and we didn't want to have them hurt, either. So we got a couple of partnerships, and the most functional one at the time was with defenders of wildlife.

Jan: Okay.

Jan: And they gathered a huge amount of money that they made available to compensate ranchers that could. They had to be verified kills. You couldn't just show up with a dead sheep and say, right, but if you had wolf prints next to the kill, you got your money.

Jan: Yes.

Jan: And we had meetings and we talked to people and we understood. And there was one older woman. Well, she was a really old woman who was incredibly charismatic, least to me, she seemed. And she talked about having grown up there back when the wolves were very prevalent. And then, of course, they got wiped out. But when she was a girl, she remembered coming home one time. It had snowed a lot in between when they had gone to church and when they were returning and the horses were struggling to get back home. And the wolves came, and this woman was riveting. I mean, you could picture those wolves taking out those horses and you could picture the family being bereft, because without those horses, they had no help. So we did. We understood what they were up against and we wanted to make sure that we weren't the bad guys, that we had a job to do as far as the endangered species and as far as keeping the park as natural as possible. But we didn't want to hurt anybody in the process.

Kathy Dimont: Well, what's a trade off? Are you going to hurt the wolves? If you're not going to hurt the wolves, you're not going to hurt the people, right? I mean, as far as you're protecting.

Jan: The wolves, you're also going to protect the people. We're going to try. We're going to try really hard. We're not going to say, well, sucks to be you. Right?

Kathy Dimont: What about, did you offer things like fencing?

Jan: We didn't.

Kathy Dimont: Great Pyrenees?

Jan: We didn't. I don't think we even had that option because the government's really right. I mean, try to find a way to buy a fence for a farmer.

Jan: Right.

Jan: Good luck. But defenders of wildlife came in, and I know they compensated people when they had an actual loss, but believe it or not, there weren't very many losses. When there are that many deer and elk, they need to go and bunnies and God knows what all else they would eat. And the other thing about wild animals is that they're incredibly intelligent in things that you don't really think about. They know where the boundaries are. They know. One time, this is a long time ago, one time Rocky Mountain national Park, and I think it was in the 60s.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: They had so many elk and so many deer that they started trying to round them up and drive them out of the park, and they couldn't do it because when they got to the boundary, all the ungulates would turn around and go right back over. All the cowboys, all the ranger cowboys would almost get run over because they would not leave the park. They knew that there were people outside that boundary that could shoot them. So I'm not guaranteeing that the wolves won't go outside the park. Right. But for the most part, they know where they're safe and they know where they're not.

Kathy Dimont: That's fascinating.

Jan: There's no warranty on that, but they are smart and they do know.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: Was that a finite study or is it.

Jan: It's not even a study. It just was just known.

Kathy Dimont: Yeah, there may be.

Jan: I sent you those studies.

Kathy Dimont: In fact, I'd like to link to those in.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: I'm sure he'd be very grateful if he did that. I know he's such a good guy.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: But the scientists that were there and the studying they were doing, are there still people studying it, or was that.

Jan: There's so much going on now at Yellowstone that I think that's where a lot of the focus is. And I don't know what's still going on at Glacier as far as the wolves are concerned.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: Everybody I knew that worked there has retired.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: Because you're an old lady.

Jan: I am old. And believe it or not, most of the people I worked with there were older than me at the time.

Kathy Dimont: Yeah. So it's a new generation there. Well, I'm sure that was an experience that has just kind of stuck with you forever.

Jan: It did.

Kathy Dimont: It really kind of molded you in some ways.

Jan: But then I moved on to other places and did other things, and all the work at Yosemite was entirely different and entirely unrelated. And I loved every minute of that as well. So overall, it was one terrific career.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: I wonder about probably the people, the scientists who were doing that was probably like their major, their studies that they know to get them motivated to do something like that, too. What they were.

Jan: There was a whole wildlife ecology department at the University of Montana, and that's where most of these people came from. And then I forget what his actual office was, but there was a state senator, I think, and I could be wrong, but he worked with us, too, and he was a professor at the University of Montana and a state senator, state representative something. And he was in and out of there all the time. And he was really good at getting money for these. Um, and the Forest Service also, which is a totally separate federal agency, used to find ways to fund some of the stuff that we did, too. So we were pretty good at getting money. Know, especially you end up on CBS Sunday Morning, you end up.

Jan: Oh, yeah.

Jan: Getting air. Right.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: Saying, oh, yeah, we want to save the, and, you know, there's a romance involved with, of each kind of wish that would go away because we also had grizzly bears and we also had all kinds of other exciting things going on. Yeah. The most widely recognized grizzly bear researcher in the world worked right down the hall from me. She did DNA research on grizzly bears before anybody knew what DNA research was.

Jan: Really?

Jan: Yeah. Amazing one.

Kathy Dimont: That's fascinating. Yeah, that'd be interesting.

Jan: She got a huge grant to study and try to figure out how many grizzly bears there were.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy: And she did it by they rub against the trees so the fur get pulled out. And she took fur samples and sent them for DNA and found out that there were about twice as many grizzly bears in the park than we'd ever thought there were, which meant essentially that they didn't require all the protections that we were putting on. So she came out with all this very well documented research and in the meantime, John McCain, very famous man, had just torn us up one side and down the other about how stupid it was to be spending all this money on grizzly bear research. And then when her research proved that we didn't need all the protections that the environment, he kind of had to swallow. Darn, it was kind of fun. We really kind of enjoyed it. Well, what do you think about that? Later when he became kind of this icon of decent conservative Republican, it was still kind of fun to poke fun at him.

Kathy Dimont: Oh, my gosh. So now there's just like they've made their home the wolves have made their home.

Jan: They're just a part of everything. Everybody just accepts that they're there.

Kathy Dimont: But they haven't overgrown everything.

Jan: No.

Kathy Dimont: Take an ower?

Jan: No, and they haven't, to my knowledge, and I haven't been there in a long time, but to my knowledge, they're not discouraged on the landscape that people were afraid they would be, which is.

Kathy Dimont: Interesting in itself because you have a certain mindset and then you find out, oh, that's not the way it really is.

Jan: Well, and I don't know enough to say this with any authority, but animals tend to limit their populations when they get crowded.

Jan: Right.

Jan: And there's absolutely, I don't have one shred of scientific proof of that. But you would think if they came in and they had all this elk and deer that there would be thousands of them and you'd eventually have to start shooting them. And that's not been the case at all. And they haven't caused havoc around all the ranchers and farmers like coyotes do at our house. And I don't know a thing about coyotes.

Kathy Dimont: I have never seen a wolf in the wild, but I've seen coyotes.

Jan: Well, the only wolf I've ever seen in the wild was one that somebody darted. I never saw one just wandering around.

Kathy Dimont: Yeah, just wander around. Yeah. But they go in a pack. I mean, they just attack in a pack. And they're just.

Jan: So when I got to Yosemite, the University of California was in the process of trying to build a new campus somewhere in the Central Valley. And they were doing that in response to some really serious criticism that this huge university complex was serving only the white middle and upper classes of California, when California has the most diverse population known. So there were people at Yosemite who were equally concerned that we've got this huge national park within spitting distance of the Central Valley. But if you stood at an entrance station and watched what came through, they were all white, middle class people. Why weren't we serving anybody from this huge area of the country that was full of every possible nationality? So they said, gathered, do something about it. And I said, right. He said, the whitest old white woman you're ever going to meet. I'm so white, I'm blue, and you want me to figure this out? Okay, I'll give it a shot. So went down and I got to work with the most brilliant people I've ever known ever in my life. And they decided they were going to build that campus in Merced, and they were going to start way ahead of time. Making sure that the kids in the Central Valley were ready to go. So we went into middle schools, all of us, and recruited. We told the teachers that we wanted the best and the brightest. We didn't say anything about color or nationality. We just wanted the best and the brightest. And guess what? It was every color you can imagine.

Jan: Wow.

Jan: What do you know about that? And we had money. The university had money. So I got to take these groups of kids up into the park for the summer, and then I got to get every scientist that Yosemite had, and we had a bunch to teach classes.

Jan: Wow.

Jan: The school district gave them AP credit for the classes. The university got their kids lined up for entering as soon as they were old enough. And I got, which I didn't know I was going to get. But if you get the kids, you don't just get their family, you get the extended family.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: So Yosemite visitation in the ten years I was there changed dramatically. I mean, if you go now to an intern station at Yosemite, you will see the actual human beings from the Central Valley coming to visit the park. Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: Which probably did not then, because it took some doing.

Jan: It took some major doing. And my best example was when I took the only black park ranger we had. I took the only. I don't know what he was, but he wasn't white.

Kathy Dimont: Person of color.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: I mean, he wasn't mexican. I don't know. It didn't matter what he was. I needed him. So he came with me, and he had the full regalia, the guns and the mace and all the stuff hanging off. And I was talking to the mothers who did not want to give their children to this old park ranger where she was going to take them, where there were lions and tigers and bears and God knows what. No said. But they also heard that these were the kids that were going to get the scholarships. These were the kids that were going to get the pick of the litter admission for the University of California, Merced. And this one woman came up to me and she literally was sobbing and she had tears streaming down her face. And she said, I never spent the night away from home until I was married, and I have never spent the night away from my husband. And you want to take my little girl into the woods? And I said, I do, and I will keep her safe. And see, this guy is Mike with all of regalia. I said, if I ask him to, he will spend the night standing over your daughter, making sure she's safe. And he stood there going. And she let her come. And that was really like the seed, because once I got her, I got her entire clan. And if I had her clan, then I had the next clan and I had all these kids and I still have her. She had a baby not very long ago and I was one of the first people to get a picture of it. And there were some amazing kids.

Kathy Dimont: How stimulating.

Jan: My favorite kid of all, I think I still hear from him too. He's mexican and he got his green card. And I found out he never would brag about anything ever. But I found out he spoke eleven languages.

Jan: Really?

Jan: Including Hebrew and Mandarin. Go figure.

Jan: Wow.

Jan: One day I found him in the Mariposa grova, giant sequoias, speaking to a busload of chinese tourists in Mandarin, probably with a mexican accent. I don't know. Most amazing kid. Stunning kid, tour guide for. Yeah, go figure. And we had just a bunch of amazing, wonderful, brilliant. And now he's got a PhD and he's teaching in Dubai. He's teaching French in Dubai.

Kathy Dimont: And I imagine that when that girl went home and told her mom how amazing it was, that made all the difference.

Jan: Well, and the university was smart. When the programs ended at the end of the summer, they would have these huge extravaganzas that invite the parents.

Jan: Sure.

Jan: And we would show them the films that we had taken during the summer and the kids would get up and give speeches and we just won them over. And it worked.

Jan: Yeah.

Kathy Dimont: Look at all those extraordinary people.

Jan: Really. And they are just wonderful. Just wonderful.

Kathy Dimont: How cool is that? And you didn't think you were capable of doing that?

Jan: And look what you did.

Kathy Dimont: Kathy, this has been really interesting. I'm so glad we got together.

Jan: Oh, I'm so glad you liked it.

Kathy Dimont: I think this might be one of the favorites here.

Jan: Oh, I had a good time.

Jan: Yeah.

Jan: All right. Thank you.

Jan: That's all for today. Did you know it's easy to share an episode with your friends when the podcast is open? Look for three dots, click on them and you'll see various options. You can download the episode, play it next or last, go to the show, save the episode, or copy the link. Isn't technology amazing? Hey, I'm looking forward to you joining me next time. I hope you have a great week.