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Dr. Nathan Varley


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In 1995, Nathan began volunteering as a field biologist for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Recovery Project.  Ecological studies required tracking the Druid Peak Pack during winter months of 1996 and 1997. Nathan has gone on to guide over 1,000 people.  National Geographic's Joel Sartore captured this image of Wolf 31 in June of 1997. 



Nathan Varley grew up in Yellowstone National Park in the tiny community of Mammoth Hot Springs.  His parents have been biologists and park rangers that have lived and worked in the park for 3 decades.   Following in the family footsteps, Nathan studied biology at Montana State University where he earned B. S. and M. S. degrees.  The ecology of mountain goats in the Absaroka Mountains on Yellowstone's eastern edge was his research topic.  Further adventure in wildlife studies took him among moose in Alaska, guanacos in Patagonia, and pine marten in Idaho.  His trails have led home as often as afar, where Yellowstone's coyotes, bears, river otters and gray wolves became primary study subjects.  As a contributor to the historic gray wolf restoration project he has often been in the field tracking wolves.  His research at the University of Alberta focused on the relationship between wolves and elk after wolf reintroduction.  With his wife, Linda Thurston, Nathan owns his own wildlife touring business group, The Wild Side, LLC, which specializes in outfitting groups to view wolves, other wildlife, and all that the Yellowstone wilderness has to offer.  A defining purpose, if one can be offered for any person, would be to champion a land ethic that places the highest value on our wildlife and their habitats, and in so doing, forever preserve and enjoy the places that have provided his life's inspiration.



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A red fox peers around a tree in the forests of Yellowstone.  Nathan captured this photograph working on the production of Landis Wildlife Films'  The Otters of Yellowstone


Nathan's Resume


Phone  406 223 2152

P. O. Box 769  Gardiner,  Montana   59030-0490


*   Ph. D. in Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta.  Date of graduation: October 2007.  GPA: 3.90.


*   M. S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Management, Department of Biology, Center for Mountain Environments curriculum, Montana State University. Date of graduation: January 1996. GPA: 3.91.


*   B. S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Management, Department of Biology, Montana State University, Bozeman.  Date of Graduation: June 1991. GPA: 3.86



Instructor or Naturalist Guide for outdoor education groups with:

*   Yellowstone Association Institute, full-time, part-time, and seasonal, 1996-2007

*   The Wild Side, LLC, self-owned adventure travel business, part-time, 2006-present.

*   Yellowstone Ecosystem Research Center, full-time and  seasonal, 1992-1996

*   University of San Francisco Wildlands Studies , Asst. Professor for summer field courses, 2000-2002, 2006

*   Defenders of Wildlife, part-time, 2003-2007

*   Fischer Outdoor Discoveries LLC, guide, part-time, 2004-2006.

Most programs are 1-10 days, averaging 3 days, at an equivalent level of 60 hours per week.  Roughly 24 outdoor programs worked per year, 1998-2008.  Work included interpretation for groups of all ages visiting Yellowstone on many subjects related to the park's natural and cultural history and sciences.  Skills include wildlife observation and natural history interpretation, and wilderness travel (backpacking, skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking).  Current Wilderness First Responder, first certified in November, 2004.


 Elk Research Supervisor, Ph.D. student, University of Alberta , in Yellowstone Park.  Conducted elk ecology studies, 2002-2005, 60 hrs per week. Supervisor: Mark S. Boyce, Professor, University of Alberta .  Radio-tracked elk from the ground and air (40+ hours aerial tracking, 2002-2003), 2001-2004.  Supervised 4-6 technicians in the field, trained them to use radio telemetry, snowshoe and hike to remote field sites, trained them in the assessment of carcasses for cause of death, age, condition, and other data.  Collected elk browse information at willow and aspen stands, 2002-2004.  Trained technicians to identify various forage species.  Assisted with capture and handling operations 2003 including preparing collars and collar kits for capture team, handled samples after capture.  Analyzed data on elk movements and habitat use, 2002 to present, includes use of MS excel and other spreadsheets, statistical programs, and GIS applications in ArcView and ArcMap.  Write and prepare technical reports and scientific articles for peer review.  Articles listed in publications section.

 Yellowstone Gray Wolf Recovery Project, Yellowstone National Park , volunteer field biologist, seasonally 1995-2005.  In 1995, 1996 and 1997 spent 6 winter months working 60 hours per week.  Supervisor, Douglas W. Smith, NPS.  Work included tracking, radio-telemetry from the ground observation, 500+ hours watching gray wolves interacting with ungulate species using spotting scopes; field necropsy, located ungulates that died in the field, investigated cause of death, age, condition and other data collection; capture and handling; winter camping, 1999-2005, assisted with winter expedition, two weeks of snow camping to observe wolves and bison interact in March of each year.

 Assistant Producer for National Geographic, Landis Wildlife Films, and Partridge Film Productions.  Assisted with the production of wildlife films including Return of the Wolf, 1995-1999; The Otters of Yellowstone, 1996-1997; The Living Edens: Yellowstone , 1999 to 2001, Return of the Wolf Pack, 2000-2002.  Work included 60+ hours per week full time, collection of multimedia like sound, video, and photographs; film editing; preparation of support documents including scientific articles, and field reconnaissance. 

Also appeared as a naturalist for media productions including Nature, Time, ESPN2, National Geographic, The Jason Project, and BBC assignments, in Yellowstone National Park, 1995-2002.

 River Otter Research Team, field biologist, for University of California-Davis , searched for otters along Yellowstone ’s lakeshores and rivers, collected scat samples, collected fish scale samples from anglers, 1999-2000.  Supervisor, Bill Wengeler.

 Alaskan Moose Research Team, field biologist for University of Nevada-Reno at Nelchina Basin , south-central Alaska , 1995.   Lived ”in the bush”, radio-tracked moose from the ground, radio-tracked moose and wolverines from the air, observed moose and collected data, operated ATVs.

 Mountain Goat Research Team, M. S. student at Montana State University, 1991-1994.  Traveled extensively in wilderness in and around Yellowstone , designed study, supervised 4 volunteers, sampled vegetation, analyzed rumen samples, observed mountain goats and bighorn sheep, analyzed data for publication.

 Forest Carnivore Research Team, field biologist for the University of California-Santa Cruz and U. S. Forest Service, in the Targhee National Forest, Idaho, 1995.  Tracked carnivores such as marten and wolverine, used snowmobiles, maintained DNA hair snares, and used GPS equipment for data collection.

  Guanaco Research Team, volunteer field biologist for Iowa State University . Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile 1993.  Included observations, ground radio telemetry and field necropsy, capture and handling, and coping with foreign language, bureaucracy and culture.

 Teaching Assistant, Department of Biology, Montana State University, 1991-1994, 2 semesters of Zoology and Botany, 1 semester of Anatomy/Physiology.

 Wildland Fire Suppression Team, firefighter in Yellowstone the summers of 1987, 1988, 1994, and 1996, and in California in 1987.  Operated chainsaws, pumps, hose lines, hand tools, drip-torches, and fusees; also helicopter transport, radio-dispatch and communications, fire mapping, and fuels monitoring.

 Coyote Research Team, volunteer field biologist for the Wildlife Research Institute, Yellowstone , 1990.  Included radio telemetry from the ground and from a fixed position using the null-peak method, tracking, observations, and field and lab necropsies.

 Resource Management Ranger, NPS seasonal employee, Bear and Backcountry Management, Yellowstone , 1987-1990.   Corresponded with staff and visitors on bear awareness and human safety issues, mapped sighting reports, and participated in bear trapping, handling, and release operations, 1987, 1988, and 1990.  Traveled by horseback, boat and backpacking to inventory campsites throughout the park, 1989.



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A female river otter pauses on a log along the shore of one of Yellowstone's many lakes.  Nathan's survey of river otters was published in the periodical Yellowstone Science.


Nathan's writing on the web:

Yellowstone Wildlife Tracker

The Pelican Valley Expedition

The Tale of Delphineous and Jezebel

Memories of an Invisible Coyote

Wolfspotter's Valley

Wish List

Stomping Grounds


In the early 1990's, Nathan undertook a cathartic exploration of Montana's spectacular Absaroka Range to document the ecology of mountain goats inhabiting these remote, rugged mountains.  The Crow Mountain massif crowns the north-central portion of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

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Nathan's Links:

Yellowstone Association Institute  If I didn't have to work, I'd just take YAI courses

Greater Yellowstone Coalition  Trying to keep this wilderness stitched together

Hornocker Wildlife Institute   Leading the way with wild cat research around the world, taking an integrated scientific and conservation-minded approach

The Wolf Society of Great Britain   Helping wolves in Europe through progressive means to build economies based on sustaining natural resources

World Foundation for Environment and Development  These guys are right on track for biodiversity development in the new millennium.

Wildlife Veterinary Resources  My friend Mark Johnson is the best wildlife vet I have worked with, take his handling course

J Henry Fair  A great photographer willing to lend a hand in conservation issues

Chico Hot Springs  A favorite get-away of mine

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormans  Sounds of my generation by a (somewhat) local artist

Yellowstone Ecosystem Research Center Pioneering public involvement in Yellowstone research, treating me well along the way

Marci Johnson A friend who has put together a great resource in her links collection

Phish  I'm a die-hard touring band fan, maybe I followed these guys the longest, but I listen to all jam bands, my favorite genre.




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For questions or to make arrangements, email or phone/text:  406~223~6634.

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