Historic Wildlife Observations

Using Historical Accounts (1796-1881) to Inform Contemporary Wildlife Management in the Yellowstone Area

Lee H. Whittlesey, Sarah Bone, Allison Klein, P. J. White, Ann W. Rodman, and David E. Hallac


Describing historic wildlife communities is important for evaluating changes in ecosystems over time and developing contemporary objectives for conservation and restoration. The early historical record in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has been analyzed many times using a small number (~20) of written accounts, with interpretations vigorously disputed among historians, scientists, and other stakeholders.

We compiled a comprehensive narrative of thousands of first-hand accounts of wildlife in the GYE during 1796-1881 to enhance understanding of the native wildlife community. We quantitatively summarized and queried information in a georeferenced database to clarify conflicting past perceptions and gain insights for contemporary management. Analyses suggested wildlife was plentiful and widespread in the GYE prior to Euro-American colonization, with a community composition similar to modern times. However, bison were eliminated from some areas (e.g., Snake River Plain) by the 1840s and there was considerable slaughter of many wildlife species during 1871-1885. In their accounts, observers preferentially mentioned larger species based on their personal and professional interests. Mammals smaller than deer were rarely mentioned and there was a bias towards visual evidence rather than sign or sounds.This analytical approach of compiling large numbers of written accounts, categorizing them in a relational database, and analyzing output from queries could be used in many areas to clarify historic wildlife conditions and provide reference information for modern conservation decisions.

Download Database (.csv file)

Data Elements for Historic Wildlife Observations

Data Element Data Description Data Type
Sighting Animal Type of animal sighted Text
Sighting Evidence Type of evidence for sighting Text
Sighting Evidence Comment Comment regarding Sighting Evidence Text
Sighting Quantity Number of Animals sighted Text
Sighting Presence Did sighting declare presence of identified animal? True/False
Sighting Evidence of Absence Evidence of the absence of any sighting Text
Sighting Provisions Related Was food, other than that taken from wildlife, mentioned in the observation? True/False
Sighting Evidence of Provision Evidence for a true Sighting Provisions Related Text
Sighting Native American Presence Sighting mentioned presence of American Indians True/False
Observation Year Year observation was made Number
Observation Season Season observation was made Text
Observation Month Month observation was made Text
Observation Day Day of month observation was made Number
Observer Name Name or description of person making observation Text
Observer ID Unique Identifier for person making observation. Can be used to differentiate similarly named individuals Text
Observer Years Years of observations made by observer Text
Observer Participation Level of participation of the observer (first hand, second hand, third hand, unknown) Text
Observer Point of Origin Observer's place of origin Text
Observer Notes Notes or questions regarding the observer Text
Observer Profession Observer's career or profession Text
Observer Official Status Whether the observer was a government official or not Text
Observer Gender Gender of observer Text
Observation Location Location of observation Text
Observation Comments Comment regarding observation Text
Trip Participants These are the known participants in the trip. They occur in the narrative, but may not make their own observations Text
Trip Number Participants Number of participants in the trip, if known Number
Trip Purpose Purpose of the trip, if known Text
Trip Comments General comments from the narrative that will help explain the trip Text
Trip Start Year The year in which the trip began Number
Trip Start Month The month in which the trip began Text
Trip Start Day The day in which the trip began Number
Trip End Year The year in which the trip ended Number
Trip End Month The month in which the trip ended Text
Trip End Day The day in which the trip ended Number
Trip Digital Route Available Availability of digital route in the Atlas ofYellowstone project True/False
Source Document Cited source document Text
Source Page Page of cited source document Text
Source Author Author of cited source document Text
Source Date of Publication Date of publication for source document Text
Source Title Title of source document Text
Source Subtitle Subtitle of source document Text
Source Publisher Publisher of source document Text
Source Publisher Location Location of Publisher of source document Text
Source Comments Comments regarding source document Text

Last updated: October 4, 2016

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