University of Vermont

Alum Dave Hallac Heads Yellowstone National Park’s Scientific Division

Dave Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, photo courtesy of National Park Service
Dave Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

With degrees in biological and wildlife and fisheries sciences, David Hallac (UVM ’95; MS-WFB ’99) was well-equipped when he headed to coastal and South Florida to start his career. There, he continued to build experience in wildlife and fisheries management, endangered species conservation, invasive species management, and wetlands restoration—experience that led to his most recent position as chief of Yellowstone National Park’s scientific division.

As a master’s student, Dave worked with Professor Ellen Marsden on impacts of invasive zebra mussels on rare and endangered native mussels in Lake Champlain.  “Working with Ellen was awesome.  It was the best professional experience of my life and prepared me well for my career,” admits Dave.  “I worked with federal and state agencies to study potential and real impacts of zebra mussels and used field measurements and experimental mesocosm results to develop conservation strategies to promote sustainable management of native mussels.”

Along the “Space Coast” below Cape Canaveral, Dave taught briefly at Brevard Community College and worked at the Smithsonian Marine Station and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. He then joined the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Vero Beach, where he spent five years as a biologist and then ecologist working on endangered species conservation, fisheries management and Everglades restoration. This last experience brought him to the Everglades National Park to supervise a team planning and implementing an Everglades restoration project which reached beyond the Park, watershed-wide throughout much of South Florida.

After a year, Dave advanced to chief biologist at the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.  For over six years, he supervised his former position and all biology programs in the two parks that involved seagrass and fisheries management, invasive species management, wildlife inventory and monitoring, water quality monitoring, and wetlands restoration. He was instrumental in helping the Everglades minimize impacts associated with recreational watercraft use and led the region’s challenging management of several exotic species including the Burmese python.  He was the recipient of the 2010 Department of Interior’s Partner in Conservation award for his work with exotic species.

At Dry Tortugas, a remote island park off Florida’s western coast, Dave supervised the monitoring of coral reefs, marine fisheries, seabirds, and coastal vegetation. He was responsible for developing and implementing a five-year science plan to protect the Park’s natural resources on a 46-square-mile marine reserve that encompasses more than half the park.

Currently, at the Yellowstone Center for Resources in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, Dave leads a team of 40 full-time scientists who carry out applied research to inform sound natural and cultural resource management in Yellowstone National Park. During the summer, staff numbers jump closer to 150 with seasonal employees.  The Center was created in 1993 to help mitigate environmental and cultural impacts of park management proposals and work to preserve and curate rare, sensitive, and valuable resources.

Dave administers programs involving wildlife and aquatic resources such as fish, bison, bear, wolf, and bird species; vegetation and resource operations such as forestry, rare plants, and invasive plants; climate change, physical sciences, and spatial analysis; environmental compliance, impact assessment, and permitting; and cultural resources including Native American relations and tribal heritage, historical preservation, archaeology, a library, and an archive.

“My goal is to continue to implement novel and collaborative scientific efforts to help make better and more sustainable management decisions for the Park,” states Dave.  “With the Park’s rich Native American history, we have many opportunities to integrate cultural and natural resource management.”

Dave uses management of Yellowstone’s bison herd as an example. A serious disease affecting bison can be transferred to cattle, so park managers harvest diseased bison which are then fully and safely used for traditional Native American cultural and nutritional purposes. In addition, some healthy bison are translocated to tribal lands, where Native Americans manage the herds.

Dave’s team oversees a program to restore native cutthroat trout to Yellowstone Lake.  Cutthroat is a “keystone” species in the Yellowstone area because it spawns in the tributaries that feed the Lake and is a key food source for many wildlife species including grizzly bears and bald eagles. Unfortunately, non-native lake trout have become established and are out-competing cutthroat. Scientists on Dave’s staff monitor a management program to overharvest lake trout to help increase cutthroat populations.

An avid fly fisherman, Dave is in his glory in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  He lives in the Park in Mammoth Hot Springs with his wife, Robin Watts Hallac (UVM ’95), and their four young children. The family enjoys hiking, river rafting, and skiing in the Yellowstone region.