Wildlife Management and Science

NPS ranger Rick Varner climbs high into the trees to replace broken bear cable systems.

NPS ranger Rick Varner climbs high into the trees to replace broken bear cable systems.

NPS photo.

A great diversity of wildlife lives in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Endangered bats flutter through forests at night, and at dusk elk roam through the remote Cataloochee valley. If you're lucky, you might glimpse a bear taking a nap on a tree branch, or an otter slipping into a shady pool. From the streams to the skies, animals here have one thing in common: their well-being depends on good management by the park's wildlife management team.

What is wildlife management?

Ever since the early years of the national park in the 1930s, rangers have been responsible for the health of wildlife within its boundaries. For many years, though, there weren't separate resource management rangers, education rangers, and law enforcement rangers-there were just "park rangers," and these people did it all. Gradually, as park visitation increased, rangers who dealt with wildlife became more specialized: they studied biology and wildlife management in college and graduate school, and became experts in their field.

Today, many of the Smokies' wildlife managers have dedicated their lives to keeping the Smokies' animals healthy and wild. While there are only three permanent, year-round wildlife managers, an additional 4-5 people plus 6 interns come on board during the busiest months: January-August. Managers work long hours, often in the backcountry, searching for invasive hogs, monitoring elk and bear populations, fixing broken cable systems for hanging backpackers' food, mapping habitat for endangered species, and much more.


What projects are Wildlife Managers working on now?

Click below to learn about wildlife managers’ work in the Smokies:

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