Welcome to Aaron Wirsing's Personal Fundraising Page!


Hello, and thank you for your interest in my wolf research!

I have long been captivated by the ecological effects of large predators. Indeed, as a fifth grader I drew two pictures of killer whales chasing prey that currently hang in my office at the University of Washington. Now, I have the exciting opportunity to pursue this lifelong interest as a scientist by studying the impacts of gray wolves that are naturally recolonizing Washington. With your help, I hope to discover how the return of this iconic top predator will reshape Washington’s wildlands.

Thanks so much for your time and support. Now let's learn about Washington's wolves!


Raised of $12,000 goal.






Days Left
This campaign ended on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014

Our Project & Need
Gray wolves are naturally recolonizing Washington State, offering a rare opportunity to study ecosystem responses when a top predator returns.

A gray wolf photographed by a stationary camera in our study area in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington.

For the last two winters our team has been placing animal-borne cameras and global positioning system (GPS) collars on white-tailed deer and mule deer to monitor how these prey species are responding to the arrival of wolves. So far, we have placed cameras on 48 deer and GPS collars on 43 deer. To capture the deer we have been using cage traps, but our capture rates are low, with one deer being caught every 2-3 days.

Example of the cage traps we have been using to capture deer.

Last winter we tried capturing deer using a specialized method from a helicopter. We caught 15 deer in one day. The capture process was quick, with the deer being safely released after about 20 minutes of processing. It would have taken us a month of work on the ground to capture the same amount of deer.

Aerial capture of animals is being increasingly used by researchers.

We have been successful in generating enough funding to continue capturing deer using the cage traps on the ground. But our goal is to capture another 280 deer over the next few winters using the aerial capture methodology.

You can help us achieve our goal by donating to our crowdfunding campaign.
We are seeking to raise $12,000 to assist with the costs of aerial capturing deer this coming winter.

If we exceed our funding goal it will provide us with additional resources for our broader project that is examining how the return of the wolf to the American west reshapes the environment. For example, if we exceed our target, additional funds will be used to purchase GPS collars for other predators such coyotes, cougars, black bears.

We look forward to working with you to achieve our goal.
If you are interested in learning more about our project some information is provided below.

Researchers (left to right) Apryle Craig; Thomas Newsome, PhD; Justin Dellinger; Aaron Wirsing, PhD; Carolyn Shores.

Our Project
Large carnivore populations have collapsed worldwide because of human persecution and habitat loss. The resulting lack of top predators in many areas has affected smaller predator populations, their prey and even vegetation.

However, gray wolves are now naturally recolonizing many areas of the United States following their reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in 1995 and 1996.
This offers a rare opportunity to study ecosystem responses when a top predator returns.
For example, since 2008, fourteen wolf packs have been established in Washington State after an absence of 80 years, but much potential wolf habitat remains unclaimed. This scenario creates patchiness in wolf distribution that allows for a natural experiment to test whether and how the return of this “top dog” to the American west reshapes the environment.

Our project is primarily focusing on the impacts of wolves to the hub of the food web in this ecosystem: white-tailed deer and mule deer.

These two species are crucial prey for other North American carnivores such as cougars, coyotes and black bears. Given their abundance, broad distribution, and varied diets, mule and white-tailed deer are also ecologically influential grazers in the American west.

Finally, these deer are economically important as both game species and competitors with livestock. Consequently, our findings will be of great relevance to carnivore conservation, habitat management, hunting and agriculture. 

White-tailed_deerjpg       2012-mule-deer-malejpg
White-tailed deer (left) and mule deer (right).

What Distinguishes Our Project From Other Wolf Studies
Our project is unique in that Washington’s wolves are not occupying protected areas or wilderness, where the majority of previous wolf research has been conducted.

Rather, the wolves have established territories in regions that are also used and managed by humans. Consequently, the return of wolves to Washington offers a rare and exciting opportunity to ask whether the ecosystem effects of top predators already documented in parks and preserves such as Yellowstone National Park also occur in areas that are shared with people.
Furthermore, most previous research on wolves in the United States has focused on interactions between wolves and elk or moose. Little is known about interactions between wolves and white-tailed deer or mule deer.

Sharing Our Findings
Our findings will be widely shared with the public through a research website, presentations at local schools, community centers and wildlife management agencies, television shows, newspaper articles, and scientific publications and presentations.

In fact, our research has already resulted in a television show titled “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear” produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
Click here to watch the video

Who We Are
We are a collaborative international team of researchers from the University of Washington, Oregon State University, Florida International University, the University of Sydney, and the University of Maryland.

In 2012, we joined forces to better understand the ecological roles played by top predators like wolves.

We have focused our research on Washington’s wolves because the patchy distribution of this top predator in the Pacific Northwest offers the rare chance to track ecosystem changes in areas with wolves in comparison to nearby sites that have yet to be recolonized.

Where We Work
Our study is located in the Okanogan Highlands of northeastern Washington, where the Strawberry and Nc'icn wolf packs have settled. We have four study sites: two that are home to wolf packs and two control areas that have yet to be recolonized by wolves. The control areas will serve as baselines for establishing the magnitude of ecosystem changes in the wolf-impact sites.
study sitejpg
Map showing the home range areas of wolves in our study area, plus our two control sites.

How We Conduct the Deer Research
To examine deer responses, we are collecting behavioral data using animal-borne cameras, global positioning system (GPS) collars and scat samples.

The video captured by the animal-borne cameras enables us to document food choices (we can watch every bite the deer take!) as well as reactions to the threat of wolves (e.g. how often the deer scan their surroundings for approaching predators).

The GPS collars do not provide video footage, but they allow us to track the movements of instrumented deer over the course of a year.

We can use locations from these collars to ask if deer avoid areas where they are likely to be attacked by wolves (valley bottoms) and if deer move to safety (into cover) when wolves are nearby.

Scat (aka poop) samples we collect provide us with another way of documenting deer diets. These samples could reveal that deer change their diets when confronted with wolf danger, possibly because they stop eating certain foods that are located in areas that are risky.
deer camjpg
The animal-borne cameras provide an “animal’s eye view” of the environment and can be used to examine patterns of feeding, habitat use, and vigilance (i.e., looking out for predators).

Additional Research Topics
1. Mule Deer Fawn Survival: Our research team is interested in how wolves affect survival of mule deer. We are focusing specifically on this species because mule deer have declined throughout the western U.S. since the 1980’s. The cause for their decline is unknown, but it has generated concern in conservation, wildlife management and hunting communities, as the mule deer is an iconic symbol of the American West and an economically important species.
To study the impacts of wolves on mule deer populations, we are examining the survival of mule deer fawns in areas with and without wolves, because fawn survival drives population dynamics of deer species.

We are using expandable Very High Frequency (VHF) radio collars to determine fawn survival. These collars track the fawns’ location and alert us if a deer fawn dies, so we can quickly find the fawn and determine why it died.
Mule deer fawn fitted with an expandable collar.

2. Wolf and Coyote Interactions: We are also studying  the response of one of the major predators of deer fawns - the coyote - to wolves. The coyote is a common, widespread smaller predator that expanded its range across the U.S as wolves were locally hunted to extinction. Wolves historically controlled coyote populations through competition and direct killing.
A coyote within our study area.

Now that the true ‘top dog’ is returning, the question remains if wolves can suppress coyote populations to historical levels and increase the survival of coyote prey species such as deer fawns. Importantly, coyotes are a major predator of deer fawns whereas wolves preferentially take adult deer.

Rise of the coyote: will wolves suppress coyotes as they return to the western U.S.?

To assess wolf-coyote interactions, we are comparing coyote population density and diet using a combination of scat and track surveys, and potentially GPS collars, in areas with and without wolves.

Scat samples will tell us whether other carnivores shift their diets in order to reduce competition with wolves, while also yielding DNA that can be used to generate population estimates.
By deploying GPS collars, we will be able to track the movements of other carnivores throughout the year and, consequently, ask if other carnivores change the way they use the landscape when in the presence of wolves.

Other carnivores we plan to study in this manner include cougars and black bears.

3. Wolves and Vegetation: To explore plant responses to wolf recolonization, we are establishing paired herbivory exclosures (deer fences) and control plots (no fencing) in wolf and non-wolf areas.  We will measure plant characteristics including height, growth and species representation.  Any differences between the exclosures and controls will reveal the impacts of feeding by deer.  Collecting deer pellets in wolf and non-wolf areas will reveal differences in deer diet composition between wolf and non-wolf study areas.  
Our findings will inform the ongoing debate about whether wolves can indirectly affect plant communities by altering prey foraging behavior and help us to predict how Washington’s forest landscapes will change in the face of wolf recolonization.

cage for webjpg

Accomplishments So Far
In 2012, we received a grant from the National Science Foundation that has supported much of our work to date.
We are also supported by smaller grants and/or logistical help from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, Conservation Northwest, Mule Deer Foundation, Safari Club International Foundation, Seattle City Light, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and United States Forest Service.
With our existing support, we have successfully completed field work for two winter field seasons (December through March of 2012-2013 and 2013-2014). This has included:
  • Fitting wolves with radio-collars in collaboration with the Colville Fish and Wildlife Department.
  • Deploying 25 white-tailed deer and 23 mule deer with animal-borne camera collars to record feeding behavior.
  • Deploying 22 white-tailed deer and 21 mule deer with GPS collars to track year-round movements.
  • Erecting four remote camera grids, one per study area, with each containing 16 stationary cameras for a total of 64 cameras.
  • Delivering a series of presentations on this project to 8th grade environmental science classes in the Mercer Island School District and to undergraduates at the University of Washington.
  • Collaborating with PBS to shoot a documentary on our work titled, “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear”.

The Next Steps
Over the next four years we are aiming to:
  • Construct 240 herbivory exclosures (fences) to measure deer impacts to plants in wolf and non-wolf areas.
  • Collect mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyote, wolf, cougar and black bear scats for diet composition analysis.
  • Place animal-borne camera collars on 20 more white-tail and mule deer, respectively.
  • Place GPS collars on 120 more white-tail and mule deer, respectively.
  • Place GPS collars on 5 more wolves.
  • Place GPS collars on 20 coyotes and cougars, respectively.
  • Place 120 fawn survival collars on mule deer fawns.
  • Survey coyote populations using scat surveys.
Your Contribution is Vital
Some of our next steps will be funded by our existing grants. For example, our NSF grant will cover the establishment and monitoring of the deer exclosures, but we have yet to obtain the funds for other key steps.

In particular, we need your support to fund the aerial capture of deer for collar deployment during our upcoming winter field season (2014-2015). If we exceed our funding goal of $12,000 then it will provide us with additional resources for our project.

For example, a five dollar donation will help us to purchase DNA vials and other laboratory equipment. Larger donations will be used to purchase additional GPS collars for wolves and the other predators such coyotes, cougars, black bears.

For specific ideas about how your donations will contribute to our research effort you can view our impact items.

Thanks for your support!

With your help, we did it! 

  Published on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 at 04:26 PM (PDT)
After an exciting month, we've exceeded our goal! In addition to raising much needed funds for deer captures this winter (our field season begins next week!), we also made many new friends and forged new partnerships along the way. We are so grateful to our many supporters and hope that you had fun keeping track of the campaign.

As a small token of our appreciation, we encourage you all to continue checking in with our Washington Wolf Project Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Washington-Wolf-Project/366986966789878) and lab blog (http://www.predatorecology.com/blog), where we'll be posting regular updates about our wolf research and other endeavors.

Finally, we want to pay special thanks to Matt Racz and Ross Sylvester, of USEED, whose support and guidance made the campaign process much more efficient and enjoyable. You guys are the rock stars!

Three howls for wolf research in Washington!


  Published on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 at 07:00 PM (PDT)
We've reached our goal of $12,000!

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this project so far! For those who remain interested in supporting our work, please know that your gifts can still really help. Most importantly, we still need funds to purchase GPS collars for tracking other canivores in our study system, in particular cougars like the one attacking one of our camera-collared mule deer in the picture below. 

A mountain lion attacks a mule deer equipped with one of our animal-borne cameras. Watch the full video using the following link:


Final Week 

  Published on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014 at 03:25 PM (PDT)
With our campaign goal in sight, we hope that you will consider donating by this Friday (the 14th) to promote science based management of wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Every contribution helps!

Our remote camera "captures" a bobcat, one of the many species that could be affected by the return of wolves to Washington. 

Possible wolf sighting along the north rim of the Grand Canyon 

  Published on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014 at 12:56 AM (PDT)
From the picture below, it appears as if a lone gray wolf has made it down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon (see The Washington Post). If confirmed, this possible recolonization event will serve as another reminder that we need more studies, like ours, of what happens to native ecosystems (and local economies) when wolves reclaim former haunts.

wolg gcjpg
Photo courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity

One Week To Go! 

  Published on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014 at 04:36 PM (PDT)
Thanks to more generous donations, we've shattered our week three goal, reaching 81% with one week remaining.
Please help us to bring the effort home! Every donation counts.

An elk (perhaps looking out for wolves?) captured by one of our remote cameras.

Another huge boost! 

  Published on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 at 08:42 PM (PDT)
We're flying high after another incredibly generous 'Top Dog' donation (thank you Colleen Sorensen!), pushing us tantalizingly close to our goal of 75% by the end of this week. Thank you so much to all who have supported us thus far, and for those who are new to our campaign, please know that even a $5 donation makes a big difference.

A coyote caught on one of our remote cameras.

New Update 

  Published on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at 09:14 PM (PDT)
Big news: yesterday we got our second +1.5k "top dog" donor!

Thank you to this anonymous donor who catapulted us all the way up to 60%, wow!

Our next goal is to reach 75% by this Friday.  Can we do it?

Even small donations will show support for wolf conservation and help us monitor more animals this coming winter, like the mule deer in our study area below.

mule deerJPG

Our new goal 

  Published on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 at 11:57 PM (PDT)
It's been an exciting two weeks for the Top Dog Returns campaign!

We're nearly at 50%, and are looking forward excitedly to reaching our new goal of 70% by next Friday.

Even $5 donations will help us contribute to science-based management and conservation of wolves in the Pacific Northwest.


The photo above is of a moose with two curious calves in our study area. Moose are an important prey species for wolves, and northeastern Washington is one of the few areas within the state with a wild moose population.

First "top dog" donor 

  Published on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM (PDT)
This weekend we surpassed 40% of our funding goal thanks in part to an incredibly generous donation from Scott and Sarah Dahl, our first "top dog" level supporters.  Our entire research team sends you a huge thank you, Sarah and Scott!

All donations to our research will improve the conservation and management of wolves, an endangered species in North America, and deer, the most popular game species in North America.

More deer-cam video! 

  Published on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 at 11:34 PM (PDT)
Please help us to reach our 30% goal by the end of tomorrow (October 24th). Even a $5 donation will make a huge difference.

In the meantime, please enjoy this brief video of a mule deer equipped with an animal-borne video camera checking out its winter surroundings in eastern Washington.


Looking at Leaves: Plant Surveys 

  Published on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 at 05:41 PM (PDT)
Are wolves having an impact on plant communities by changing deer popluations?  Here is one component of our plant measurements which will help answer that question.  We visit randomly selected places in the wolf and non-wolf areas to sample plant species and deer browse.  We stretch a surveyor's tape out 10 meters and write down all plant species that intersect the line and how much deer browse I observe.  We also note the slope of the hillside and if deer or cattle sign (scat, tracks, etc) are present.  2014_10_02 veg sampling 030JPG

New Update 

  Published on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 at 04:02 AM (PDT)

Thanks to all of our supporters, we're at 25% of our funding goal!! The photo above is of a wary wolf pup investigating our remote camera station.  Can you spot the second, hidden pup?

Help us push past our 30% goal by Friday. Even a $5 donation helps us to study wolves and their prey.

Thank you, Wolf Haven International! 

  Published on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 at 11:07 PM (PDT)
Check out the Facebook post Wolf Haven International did to spread the word about our crowdfunding campaign:


Wolf Haven does important conservation and educational work by rescuing displaced wolves and providing them with lifetime sanctuary as well as offering educational programs to the public about wildlife.  They also are important members of the Species Survival Plan for the endangered red wolf and Mexican gray wolf.

Thanks, Wolf Haven!

We've launched! 

  Published on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 at 04:42 PM (PDT)
We're off to a great start but still need your help. Thanks to all who have supported us thus far!

The wolf pictured below was captured by one of our remote cameras in 2013.


New Update 

  Published on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014 at 10:19 PM (PDT)
Munch munch: Here's a short clip from one of our Go-Pro style "deer cams" that we use to record detailed footage on how deer respond to predators. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACWczlx3fk8

Graham Ray

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tom webber

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Molly McCarthy

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Alyssa Winkler

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Bob McCoy

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Barbara Panneton

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Aubrey Gallegos

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Carolee Grummer

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Alice Sargeant

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Nancy Warren National Wolfwatcher Coalition

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Peter Ossorio

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Ashley Jones

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Richard & Barbara MacMillen

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Glenda Wardle

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Deborah Silvis

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Julia Silvis

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Lisa Crawford

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Sara Cope

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Robin Snow

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Mike and Megan Gallegos

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colleen sorensen

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Winston Thomas

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Debbie Kovar

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Dianne Giovanne

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Matteo Malchiodi

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Shane White

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Marcia Velencia

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Carol Bogezi

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Anne & Martin Roughley

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Sarah and Scott Dahl

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Julia Szilard

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C. Alina Cansler

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Daniel Bjerre

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Karl Wirsing

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Hally Swift

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Cassie Colton

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James Bevan

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Denise O'Meara

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Sheila White

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Nicholas Owens

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Jorge Tomasevic

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kenneth hayne

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Andrew and April

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Liliana Munoz

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Yvonne Bayfield

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Louise Chau

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Jacqui Hayes

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Nancy Silvis

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Jane Thompson

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Kate Thornborough

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Nancy Wirsing

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Jeff Silvis

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Elliot Koontz

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Molly Shores

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Fay & John Thornborough

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Georgie Lee

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Andrew Ah Toy

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Megan Ritchie

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Aaron Greenville

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Ronan White

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Brooke Sargeant

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Andrew Taylor

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Tim Maddren

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Daisy Turnbull Brown

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Chris Howden

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Fiona Roughley

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Thomas Gallegos

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Kaeli Swift

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Carolyn Shores

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Matthew Racz

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18 supporters have chosen not to be listed for "The Top Dog Returns: The Impact of Wolves in the American West".

Make an Impact

Lil Howler

Give $5

GPS uploads for up-to-date information on animal locations via satellites, nitrile gloves for scat collection, or trap bait for a deer capture. These supplies allow us to analyze the impact of wolves on deer diet composition.

Awesome Analyzer

Give $25

Scat sample analysis, one day of fuel to access remote sites, or video analysis of deer GPS collars.

Great Grazer

Give $100

Are wolves changing deer grazing patterns? Your contribution will purchase one vegetation exclosure fence to compare deer grazing habits in wolf and non-wolf areas.


Give $250

Are wolves impacting fawn survival? Your contribution will help us answer this question by providing a deer fawn VHF collar to monitor fawn survival in wolf and non-wolf recolonized areas.

Aerial Capturer

Give $500

Deer collaring via aerial capture on a helicopter. Your contribution will allow us to quickly and safely catch and equip a deer with a GPS or animal-borne video camera collar.

Top Dog

Give $1,500

GPS collars for deer, coyotes or cougars provide a breadth and depth of data on how wolves are affecting deer and other carnivores in the ecosystem. The data from these collars allow us to analyze if wolves are altering daily and seasonal movement patterns, amount of time spent eating, diet composition, and more.