On a cool spring day in 2009, I strolled into a coffee shop in Bozeman, Montana, notebook in hand, to interview David Gaillard, the Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife. Dave seemed, from the vantage point of someone fairly new to the Yellowstone conservation scene, single-handedly responsible for the organization’s interest in wolverines. He was also a fellow graduate of my master’s program, although he’d attended long before I did. At the time he agreed to meet, I was just planning to start this blog, and had grand ambitions to feature interviews and profiles of everyone involved in wolverine conservation in the GYE. Then, as now, I was interested in what motivated people who work to research and protect wolverines, and Dave patiently bore with my numerous (and probably erratic) questions. The notes from that meeting are currently several hundred miles away, but I remember his answer to my question about why he pursued wolverine conservation with such dedication. “I have a daughter,” he said, “And I want her to have the opportunity to see all of the wildlife that we do.” The answer was so human, so concrete, and so indisputably legitimate, that I was disarmed of a considerable portion of my usual cynicism. It seemed like a really good thing that wolverines had someone like Dave in their camp.
Over the next few years, Dave convened citizen science workshops to teach skiers how to ID wolverine tracks, testified at hearings with wildlife managers to reduce the trapping quota for wolverines, organized the Wolverine Network, and hosted showings of the PBS wolverine documentary to raise awareness about the species. He was also quietly but consistently supportive of my work; he was the first person to subscribe to this blog, and sent occasional emails about different posts, sometimes containing thoughts or additional information, but always complimentary. Most recently, he sent an email thanking me for raising awareness about wolverines. The sense of someone sincerely interested not only in wildlife but in the well-being of humans (both specific individuals and in a more general sense) never wavered.
On Saturday, Dave and his wife were skiing near Cooke City, Montana, when an avalanche slid from the slope above. He was buried. The Yellowstone conservation world lost a vital member of the community, and wolverines lost a great friend and advocate. I didn’t know David outside the world of wolverine work, but I do know that within the wolverine world, his kindness, his calm in the face of potential stress, and his commitment to collaboration will be missed. My condolences go out to his family and to his friends.