Episode 51: Roger Smith talks about bears, raptors, and life as a field biologist

// Nov 21, 2017

Today’s episode features field biologist Roger Smith, the founder and chair of the Teton Raptor Center, a rehabilitation facility in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that annually cares for more than 130 injured birds.

Roger and his wife, Margaret Creel, who also is a field biologist, established the Teton Raptor Center in 1997 as a facility committed to rehabilitating birds of prey.

Both Ken and Dawn have visited the center, which has an education outreach program that reached nearly 37,000 people in 2016. “For our listeners who have never been to the Teton Raptor Center, I can honestly say that a visit to the center and the Grand Teton National Park would be well worth your time,” says Ken at the end of episode 51.

Roger has spent his entire professional career in the natural sciences and environmental education. After high school, he headed off to the University of Montana and started his life as a field biologist researching grizzly bears in northwestern Montana in 1977.

He continued to study grizzly and black bears in Alaska, Maine and Colorado before completing his secondary science degree in 1984. After teaching high school science in Montana, he moved to Jackson Hole in 1985 and joined the resident faculty at the Teton Science School. At the school, he designed and implemented a field-oriented natural science curriculum for adults and children. In 1987, he joined the field staff at the National Outdoor Leadership School and led courses in Wyoming, Texas, Mexico and Kenya. In 1994, Roger completed his Master’s degree in Wildlife Biology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming.

Roger’s research has focused on raptors and ravens of the Grand Teton National Park. His research and papers have been published in a number of peer-reviewed professional journals.

In 1994, he helped initiate and manage the professional residency in environmental education program at the Teton Science School, and was on the faculty there until 1999. He managed all aspects of independent research, including grant and proposal writing.

Roger founded the Teton Raptor Center in 1996 and became the Resident Naturalist at 3Creek Ranch in 2002.


Teton Raptor Center:

Raptor Center video:

Roger’s IHMC Ocala lecture:

Show Notes:

4:26: Ken and Dawn welcome Roger to the show.

4:40: Dawn asks Roger where he grew up and what kind of childhood he had.

6:56: Dawn discusses how Roger went to the University of Montana to study wildlife biology and as a freshman volunteered for a grizzly bear project, where he spent time in the wild analyzing grizzly bear scat.

8:54: Ken recalls a story Roger told him about him working on a black-bear project in 1979, which involved trapping and tagging bears in northern Maine. Ken comments on how this was an interesting time to be in the Maine woods as a young person. Ken then asks Roger if there are any adventures he would like to share from his time in northern Maine.

12:46: Ken comments on how bears are also found in the Tetons and throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem. He discusses how we often see warning signs posted to alert hikers and campers in areas where bears have been active. Ken then asks Roger if we have seen changes in activity in recent times, and if so, what drives those changes.

15:15: Ken discusses how he read a story about a grizzly bear breaking into someone’s garage to eat an elk carcass.

16:22: Dawn says that the grizzly bear is a reclusive animal and asks Roger what we know about its lifecycle.

18:07: Dawn comments that bears are opportunistic omnivores, eating a lot of berries and plants. She then asks Roger to discuss a grizzly’s diet.

20:18: Ken asks Roger to discuss bear hibernation and how it is different than other hibernators.

24:43: Ken discusses his amazement with the management of waste and kidney function, with respect to hibernation.

25:56: Ken discusses how both he and Dawn were at a meeting looking at hibernators, with respect to clues and ideas that may facilitate long duration human spaceflight.

27:31: Dawn comments on how she read that grizzlies can deposit as much as three and a half pounds of fat per day while preparing for hibernation. She then asks Roger what we know about hibernation preparation and physical adaptation in bears.

30:08: Ken asks if the bears came out this past winter when it was particularly cold.

30:34: Dawn asks what changes help bears transition back into normal activity after hibernation.

32:15: Dawn discusses how grizzlies are considered to be keystone predators and asks Roger to explain what this means and what their impact is on the surrounding ecology.

35:22: Ken comments that grizzly bears have recently become more common on the arctic islands and that we have seen grizzly bear-polar bear hybrids. He then asks Roger if we are seeing a breakdown of the species barrier here.

36:58: Dawn asks Roger to talk about how he became an avid bird watcher while he was capturing bears.

39:03: Dawn asks Roger what skills he finds necessary to be a successful field scientist.

42:07: Ken asks Roger if it seems like we have a good supply of future field scientists in the pipeline.

43:38: Ken comments that when the potential scientists find out they cannot charge their smart phones in the wild, it may cause some atrophy in the population.


45:12: Dawn asks Roger why someone decides to become a wildlife scientist.

47:46: Dawn mentions that after Roger took a few years off from school, he went back to the University of Montana to get a secondary science teaching degree. She then asks Roger what motivated him to become a teacher.

49:46: Dawn asks Roger to discuss his experience in 1985 at the Teton Science School in Teton National Park.

52:01: Ken talks about Roger’s time working with the National Outdoor Leadership School. He asks Roger what NOLS like then and what it’s like now.

53:45: Dawn asks what it was like for Roger to spend a year in Kenya teaching outdoor skills, and why Kenya.

58:10: Dawn says that when Roger came back to the States, he began working at Grand Teton National Park studying falcons. She then asks if this is how the next phase of his career started.

1:00:48: Ken mentions that Roger’s experience studying falcons led him to the graduate program at the University of Wyoming and its school of zoology and physiology. Ken asks Roger what then happened at school to lead him to focus on raptors.

1:03:44: Dawn asks Roger what a raptor exactly is.

1:07:34: Ken asks Roger what the role of raptors is generally in the greater ecosystem.

1:09:19: Dawn asks Roger what the typical lifestyle of a bird of prey is.

1:11:10: Dawn asks Roger what we know about their evolutionary history.

1:13:50: Ken says that birds are remarkably smart, even though their brains are incredibly small. He then asks Roger if he has spent any time observing ravens.

1:15:52: Dawn asks Roger to discuss raptors’ keen eyesight and other adaptations that they show.

1:17:38: Ken comments that raptors can live for a while without eating and asks Roger if we know how they do this.

1:20:06: Ken says it’s interesting how animals have evolved clever mechanisms to deal without food.

1:20:25: Dawn asks what we are seeing in respect to bioaccumulation in these species and if there are specific chemicals or contaminants that are a specific concern.

1:23:02: Dawn asks Roger to discuss an injured owl his colleague found in the woods, which ended up giving Roger the idea of spending more time  rehabilitating injured birds.

1:23:42: Dawn discusses how Roger finished his thesis in 1994 and went back to the Teton Science School to help run the graduate program. At this time Roger began bringing injured birds home to live in his house.

1:24:21: Ken asks Roger if it is true that after about ten years of birds in the house, his wife said enough, and this was the start of the Teton Raptor Center.

1:25:51: Ken asks Roger to discuss his role in Three Creek.

1:27:24: Dawn says that Roger is heavily involved with raptor rehabilitation at the Teton Raptor Center. She then asks Roger how often he is treating animals and what kind of injuries he sees.

1:28:21: Dawn asks Roger to walk through what it takes to rehabilitate an animal prior to their return to the wild.

1:29:40: Dawn asks Roger what kind of raptor research studies he is involved in.

1:32:06: Ken asks Roger where new technology and engineering has influenced raptor research.

1:32:38: Ken asks Roger where the future of raptor research may be headed.

1:33:16: Ken asks Roger to talk about what comprises the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

1:34:45: Dawn asks Roger what he likes to do in his free time.

1:35:40: Dawn and Ken thank Roger for appearing on STEM-Talk.