More about Grizzly Bears! Grizzlies, the PCA, and the Wind River White Bark Pines

What is the PCA?  If you care about grizzlies, then this knowledge is important.

The PCA stands for Primary Conservation Area and is a designated area within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with special rules to protect and insure that the grizzly bear population will thrive into the future.  This area has special rules regarding activities that would disturb bears, such as excessive roads, ATV’s, numbers of elk hunters, etc.  The aim is to ensure genetic diversity and keep a minimum of 500 bears.  This area was first outlined during the bear’s period of recovery.  The PCA rules will still apply even after grizzly bears are delisted, which will probably come in 2015.

Primary Conservation Area in Blue. Suitable habitat for bears in Red.

 

Now look at the above image.  The actual designated PCA is in blue.  The suitable habitat is in red.  Notice there is an ‘Italy-shaped’ leg in the lower right that is not in the PCA but is suitable habitat.  The majority of this is the Wind River range.  See there is a main highway between Riverton and Jackson that cuts right through a small section of the PCA.  In order for bears to inhabit the Winds, they have to cross this highway, and the main corridor into the Wind River range from the north side (Gros Ventre/Upper Hoback area) of the highway to the south is through the Upper Green River Valley.  Per Wyoming Game & Fish own conservation guidelines:

Based on current road densities, presence of domestic sheep and current levels of conflict with livestock, the upper Green River area on Forest could also be considered unsuitable for grizzly bear occupancy. However, important biological issues make the Upper Green River area very important in ensuring CS (Conservation Strategies) population and distribution objectives will be met long-term.The Upper Green River area is presently occupied by grizzly bears and is important contiguous habitat that links the bear population between the Gros Ventre/Upper Hoback area, Upper Wind River Range, and core bear habitat north of this area.

So why am I talking about this?  Because it is rare, and I mean rare, for a bear to get through the Green River corridor without getting into trouble with livestock.  That valley is saturated with sheep and cattle allotments (these are on public forest service lands with some 7500 sheep and 22,500 cattle in a 323 square mile area).  Bears are moved, or removed lethally.  Recently the ‘take’ quota for grizzly bears was just raised in that area and even more important, the limit for female grizzlies kills was eliminated there.  Therefore, it is difficult for a bear to get pass through this bottleneck corridor into the Wind River habitat. Yet the Winds provide excellent, essentially uninhabited habitat.

Another red flag for the Winds and bears is that the southern portion of the range is excluded from conservation strategies because of several factors.  First because there are still very active sheep allotments there (these are sheep allotments on Wilderness).  Also because of heavy backpacker summer use. But I am here to tell you that the best and healthiest white bark pines are in the southern portion of the Wind Rivers.

I’ve been backpacking the Winds every year for over 15 years.  I’ve seen many of the northern and central Wind River White Bark Pines face a heavy toll from the beetles.  Not as heavy as the rest of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where White Bark Pines could be considered to be functionally dead.  Reading my previous post, you’ll note that even the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team admits their own transects are 75% dead.  But it appears that even in the worst portions of the Winds, its more like 40-50%; while my recent trip to the Shadow Lake area of the Southern Winds, I’d estimate the mortality at around 20-30%.

Notice the tops of the tree.  Cones are produced on the new growth.

Notice the tops of the tree. Cones are produced on the new growth.  Tree is full of cones!  See how healthy these pines look.  This is the pass near Washakie creek.  Notice the dead trees in the background.  This is a good visual estimate for your reference of dead vs. live percentage.

And while the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team noted that this years cone production was ‘good’ at 20 cones per tree, my estimate in the Washakie Creek environs was more like 70-100+ cones per tree!  Yet, not one grizzly bear will be able to reach this area!

Another pine full of cones

Another pine full of cones

Although the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team completed their legally required study on the grizzly bear diet last year, they  stated that while white bark pines will not last in the Greater Yellowstone, bears will find other foods.  I feel this statement makes assumptions that cannot be known.  Rocky Mountain grizzlies are not like Alaskan bears that eat salmon with high protein and fat. Our bears depend on limited sources of fall fattening foods–essentially moths and pine nuts.  If we want to ensure the bear’s survival, we should be opening up all the ‘suitable habitat’ in the GYE.

Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone.  Dead whitebark pines

Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone. Dead white bark pines make up this dead forest

Corridors like the Upper Green, full of livestock on public lands, need tighter livestock rules, not dead bears. These are not private land ranchers, but ranchers using public lands at very low rates.   Rules like running cowboys with cattle, removing sheep or at least penning them at night with guard dogs, need to be set down by the Forest Service.  And public lands ranch-at-your-own-risk should be another.   And even cattlemen do this in other circumstances.  Cattle are run over on highways regularly.  Cattlemen who run herds on open range factor these losses into their bottom line.  They just figure they’ll lose a certain amount to cars every year and so don’t bother moving their herds.  In my area, they don’t even turn on the electric fences that the forest service provides them.  So why don’t they factor in predation by bears on these same lands?

One other thing that irked me in their conservation strategies comments was that because of high use of summer backpackers in the southern Winds, the area is unsuitable for bears.  Just like the rest of the PCA, backpackers and hikers need to learn to hike and live with bears.  The southern winds are particularly heavy use because of the Cirque of the Towers, an awesome array of granite peaks that attracts climbers from all over the world.  People have to adapt and begin to carry bear spray and learn to share the area.  Bears are quite good at avoiding people, using corridors at night, bedding in hidden places during the day.  Grizzlies in the winds will heighten hikers awareness–a good thing.

Yellowstone grizzly

Yellowstone grizzly

Hiking in this fabulous bear country, seeing all those wonderful nuts, yet observing no bear sign, contained a certain sadness for me.  In my own area next to Yellowstone Park, 90% of the white bark pines are dead and bears are roaming around looking for food. Here I was surrounded by their prime fall food going to waste due to inept human management.

I like to remember what Native Americans called Grizzlies–‘humans without fire‘.  Let’s treat them with that kind of respect.

 

 

The Wild Excellence: Notes From Untamed America

My new book is finally available from Amazon.  The Wild Excellence:  Notes from Untamed America takes its title from a Pablo Neruda poem.

Without doubt, I praise the wild excellence

The Wild Excellence

Over 60 years ago, Aldo Leopold proposed a new way of looking at land. He called it ‘The Land Ethic’. This view is the model all conservation groups use today. In my book, The Wild Excellence, I propose to broaden that template to include another element: our ancient relationship to Land as source of vision, spiritual awareness and awakening–The Sacred Land Ethic.  This idea of mine did not come out of a vacuum, but naturally evolved from living in this wild ecosystem of the Greater Yellowstone.

In my book I tell the story of how I was transformed through direct connection with wildlands and wildlife:  I work on a wolf project; my valley is the center of an elk study that reveals very interesting data; I track bears, find coyote dens and search for evidence of first peoples–all in this unique ecosystem, living just a few short miles from Yellowstone National Park’s eastern border.

Observing wildlife and wild nature changes my views on the Land and how we must treat it.   From the Epilogue:

I walk out into the night air and the brilliance of the evening sky intrudes upon my feelings.  The celestial dome above me is packed with star light.  The local wolf pack is howling.  They’ve made a kill nearby and with their bellies full, they announce their pleasure into the blackness.  A rustling of hooves beats back and forth in the large meadow in front of the house.  I go in and grab a high beam flashlight.  As I shine it towards the pasture, a thousand eyes stare back at me. The elk herd has come.  Disturbed by my dog and the nearby wolves, they move restlessly as my beam tracks only their eyes, focused on me with curiosity and fear.  Something familiar rustles through my bones.  My flashlight becomes a torch, my house the village, and I sit with friends around a fire, ten thousand years ago, with this same sea of eyes staring from the darkness.  There is an eeriness to it, and a vulnerability.  And a rightness.  I feel my humanness and my place in the Universe.  I am grateful, once again, to be living here, in one of the last places on earth where all things are intact.  It is my home and without any doubt, I praise the wild excellence.

Some praise for The Wild Excellence:

Narrating from the borderlands of Yellowstone National Park, Leslie Patten brings us vivid accounts of wolves, grizzlies, the seasonality of ecosystems and tales of prehistoric Indians–all written with a naturalist’s eye and woven in a personal network of modern day homesteading, dogs and community. There are times when the best reporting on national parks comes from voices just beyond the legal boundary, close enough fora passionate attachment to the beauty of the land but sufficiently distant for critical appraisal of governmental management. Leslie Patten is one of those voices.

— Doug Peacock, Author of Grizzly Years, In the Shadow of the Sabertooth

 “The Wild Excellence” belongs in every library and personal book shelf. Leslie lets us enter her world of wilderness and all its beauty and wonder. Then encourages us to preserve all that is wild for future generations. Her words, “The grizzly bear’s gift to man is the Power of the PresentMoment” sums up the essence of this book.

— Dan and Cindy Hartman, Photographers Yellowstone Ecosystem Wildlife Along The Rockies

 

I hope you will buy my book, enjoy it, and be moved to love our remaining wildlands and wildlife.  If you do, please leave your comments on the Amazon page.  That will help more people find the book and read it.  My sincere hope is that all the million plus people who visit this Ecosystem every year will come to support this unique area with their voices and their vote to protect it for future generations.

Grizzly front foot

More about Bears, Pine Nuts and Delisting

The Clark’s Nutcrackers are starting to hang around, making a ruckus with their characteristic nasal loud call.  They’re waiting for the Limber Pine cones to ripen.  The cones are still green; maybe a few more weeks.  But they’re anxious to begin their ancient fall ritual of collecting and storing seeds–tens of thousands each year–and incredibly they remember these locations.  The seeds that aren’t retrieved might just grow into young pines.

A Forest Service botanist gave me two hints when planting Limber Pine seedlings:

1.  Put two or three seedlings in one hole to imitate how a Nutcracker might have stored those seeds and

2.  Collect some soil from around a mature Limber Pine and place it in the planting hole.  That soil has the correct mycorrhiza (fungi) that is symbiotic with the pines.

I’ve been inspecting the cone production this year and although it seemed better than last year’s very low production, it appears not to be a boon year.  Many trees have no cones.  Others just a few.  I’d judge that around my home the production is going to be medium-low.

I was curious what the Whitebark production is this year.  Sometimes the Limber mirrors the Whitebark, other times it’s a good substitute.  In a hike up Windy Mountain yesterday, our last remaining live stands of Whitebark are up there.  There are lots of dead trees and a few young trees, but there are still some standing mature live trees.Grizzly cub

Whitebarks and Limber Pines cone at the top growth only.  Trees that are in the open will produce more cones.  Windy mountain has a fairly tight forest with upright trees.  Looking at the potential 2014 cone production, I estimated about the same amount as my Limbers. That got me wondering what the official report for 2014 of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team is from the transects they use.

The IGBST is reporting a medium high cone production for 2014.  They define a ‘good’ production of average of 20 cones per tree, vs. 5 cones per tree last year. But here is the catch.  Total mortality on their transects (read ‘dead trees’ from beetles specifically) since 2002 is 75%.    So there are 3/4 less trees from which to obtain food, even if there is good production on those remaining trees.

At least 75% of this Whitebark forest is dead; in other places on Windy it is more like 90%

At least 75% of this Whitebark forest is dead; in other places on Windy it is more like 90%

The IGBST did the Whitebark Pine study required by a judge before delisting.  They concluded that the bears will find other foods in the ecosystem and so can be delisted.  The states are pushing for that delisting status in order to begin a hunt, for which they can charge high dollars for a grizzly bear tag.

Recently I was at a landowners’ meeting where a county commissioner gave a short talk. He mentioned he was on the grizzly bear committee, representing Park County.  This man is no scientist.  He is a politician first and foremost; and he said to this group of landowners that the study ‘proved’ the bear is doing fine without Whitebark pine nuts.  Don’t believe it.  He was simply chanting the line that politicians and state managers have been saying for years in order to delist.griz

I firmly disagree with delisting the Grizzly.  The bear has been dependent on these nuts for making ‘brown fat’ for hibernation.  Without this nut you can be sure to see the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly wandering into the bottomlands where more people live, eating foods like Russian Olive nuts that grow in the drainages, or even livestock.

There are several reasons why I am NOT for delisting the Grizzly:

1.  Grizzly bears are highly intelligent animals, at least as smart as the Great Apes, which puts them on par with humans.

2.  Bears primary food sources–pine nuts and cutthroat trout–are compromised

3.  Climate Change is a big unknown for food for these large carnivores.  Moths that the bears rely on are also a fragile food given pesticides loads in the prairie states.

and one of the most important reasons:

4.  Bears confined to the GYE do not, at this point, have adequate corridors for genetic diversity and may over time die out.   The IGBST delisting plan calls for flying in bears to the ecosystem if and when genetic diversity is compromised.  I’ll say that again  “FLYING IN BEARS”!

To compensate for reduced primary foods, as well as provide a buffer for climate change and provide genetic diversity, bears need to be able to move in and out of the GYE. Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) targets this need.  Presently there are large bear unoccupied areas of this natural corridor; swaths of public and private lands that were formerly bear territory (Central Idaho Complex is an unoccupied example).

It took over 30 years to bring the GYE grizzly numbers up to about 650 bears, from less than 200.  If delisting, and hunting, returns, it won’t be long before those numbers begin to decline again.

Grizzly bears are not just critical to the ecosystem.  They provide something critical to man–the power of the Present moment.  There is nothing more wonderful than that ‘alive’ feeling of walking through woods where grizzly bears at present.  The grizzly bears gift to man is the Power of the Present.  Let us honor that.

This tree has a blaze and to the left a bear left its own blaze

This tree has a blaze and to the left a bear left its own blaze

The Power of the Bear

There are lots of ‘Trail Creeks’ around Park County.  One of them travels through private lands from Cody to Pat O’Hara and into Dead Indian.  There are dozens of Tipi rings along the now faint trail through the valley.  This was the major route tribes used to StinkingWater river (now the Shoshone River) and its hot springs.

But in my valley there is a Trail Creek as well, also a major travel route from the north ends of the Park, through Sunlight Basin and down either towards Cody or the Clark’s Fork.  The Nez Perce came this way while fleeing the calvary.  An ancient route used for thousands of years, it’s quick access over the mountains north or south.

I love this area.  Most of it was devastated by the ’88 Yellowstone fires, but for some reason the south side of the pass adverted most of the flames and a small perennial creek (Trail Creek) feeds the narrow valley.

Near Trail Creek.  '88 Fire burn

Near Trail Creek. ’88 Fire burn

The route isn’t just favored by humans.  Nowadays wolves, bears, elk and deer use the access more than horses or people on foot.  In fact, if you take the trail, make sure to have bear spray handy.

I did a short run up the south side of the trail today (on the north side the trail name changes and is called ‘Lodgepole’.  Lodgepole creek trail was completely burned during the fires.  The trail is hot with standing dead trees…not so pleasant).  The access road has been closed most of the season due to flooding but is open now.  Go to the end of the dirt road, park, and then you have to pick your way through downed burnt trees to find the trail which turns sharply up a narrow access valley.

Looking west on Trail Creek

Looking west on Trail Creek

As you near the route to the pass, the trail leaves the forest, and enters open areas that have burnt and downed trees.  It was there I saw the young black bear.  He crossed from our side of the creek to the other, and fed continuously, oblivious to our presence.  Although it was true the wind was in my face, once he saw us, he could care less and just kept feeding.  It was then I realized that his hyperphagia (excessive eating to ready for hibernation) had begun.  I watched him for quite a while, trying to decipher what he was eating.  Bears love old burned areas.  For one, they can tear up decaying logs.  For another there are lots of fresh new plants and foliage to eat. And watching a bear move over those logs is a sight, as it is nothing for them.  At one point, my bear had all four paws sideways on the log, like you might see bears on a circus stump.

My photo below isn’t very good, because it wasn’t till he was farther away that I realized I’d brought my iPhone.  I’d seen a partial track down the trail in hard mud, but being incomplete I wasn’t sure if he was a two year old grizzly or a black bear. (3″x3.5″)

Sorry he looks so far away.  iPhone photo, but he is just across the creek looking back at me and Koda

Sorry he looks so far away. iPhone photo, but he is just across the creek looking back at me and Koda

Black bear track 3"x3.5"

His track

After about 1/2 hour and a snack on the trail, I left the bear to his eating.  He never was bothered by Koda and I watching him.  But I decided to revisit his track and spend time looking for bear rubs on the way back.

Fall is definitely in the air.  The berries are beginning and by mid-September a great crop of rose hips will ripen.  It’s been a quick summer because we had a long winter and compressed late spring.  The bears are definitely feeling it as evidenced by this little bear.

Thimbleberry not quite ripe.  Yummy

Thimbleberry not quite ripe. Yummy

Buffalo Berries

I love these, but you have to develop a taste for them. After a little frost time, they are at first sweet, then a really tart after taste.

These are not edible.  They are in the honeysuckle family.

These are not edible. They are in the honeysuckle family.  Notice they are in ‘twins’

You recognize this garden delectible

You recognize this garden delectable.  Strawberry.  The raspberries were ripe as well.

On the way down, I found three distinct bear rub trees–all of them had hair and none of them had my bear’s hair.  All of them had blond grizzly hair.  Grizzly bears are called Silver-tipped because the ends of their hair follicles are silver.  If you hold a hair to the light and you see it fade to ‘white’, then you have a grizzly hair.

bear rub tree

bear rub tree

Grizzly bear rub tree

Grizzly bear rub tree

All those rubs within a mile and a half indicated to me this is a prime bear travel corridor, and that grizzly had been leaving his scent along the trail on the trees.  In the winter, the area is closed to people for habitat protection and that’s a good thing.  Wolves as well as large ungulates use this trail for easy travel into and out of the back country.

It was a great pleasure to watch that bear undisturbed for a while.  Seeing bears on the side of the road in Yellowstone is common, but watching one alone in the backcountry contains an intimacy and magic that is indescribable.

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone.  My bear was bigger than this little guy.

Bighorn Sheep–the poster child for extreme management

In a quick trip to Dubois area to see friends visiting from California, I took one friend to the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center.  Dubois is the nearby town next to the Whiskey Mountain Sheep Preserve.  Whiskey Mountain holds the most Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in North America, over 1000.  The Preserve is a seed population for sheep transplants all over the Rockies.

My friend is an outdoors person, avid hiker, and has been to the Rockies to backpack many times.  And although she has seen bighorn sheep, like most people she knew little of their plight.  The Center tells the story well, in pictures, of the dire situation bighorn sheep are in.  As I’ve talked about before, bighorn sheep are susceptible to domestic sheep diseases when they co-mingle.  Although it’s been over 150 years since domestic sheep grazing on the West, our native sheep just don’t have the immune systems to fight off these disease.

Consider this quote from Journal of a Trapper by Osborne Russell in 1835. Russell was in the Dunoir area, northwest of Dubois, in the Absarokas.

We left the stream and crossed the valley in a NE direction ascended a high point of mountain thickly covered with pines then descended over cliffs and crags crossing deep gulches among the dark forests of pines and logs until about noon…On the North and West were towering rocks several thousand feet high which seem to overhang this little vale–Thousands of mountain Sheep were scattered up and down feeding on the short grass which grew among the cliffs and crevices: some so high that it required a telescope to see them.

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

I saw no sheep in the Dunoir when I was there dayhiking.

After my friend left the Center, she had a poignant remark that got me thinking.

“It’s take so much effort and money just to maintain the wildlife we have today.”

Take the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep for example.  A wonderful documentary that won awards, available on the link here, is Counting Sheep: Restoring the Sierra Nevada Bighorn.  The doc chronicles over twelve years the immense efforts to restore this tiny population (less than 300 at the time) of iconic bighorns.  Successive transplants and removal of grazing domestic sheep worked for a while, but then cougars, who have always preyed on bighorns, moved in and the population began to dwindle.  So the researchers approached the Cougar Network to enlist their help and support, as cougars are not allowed to be legally hunted in California.  At first they resisted any cougar kills, but then they saw the situation and SURGICAL cougar kills, killing of cougars that were VERIFIED had killed sheep, was supported.  Slowly the population is growing again.Cougar

This extreme disruption was initially caused by human predation and domestic sheep diseases–not by cougars kills.  But now a lot of attention and management is needed just to begin to restore what once was.  When I was in southern CA in the desert a few years ago, the bighorn sheep habitat was extremely endangered, not due to cougars, but to new housing developments.Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

“It’s take so much effort and money just to maintain the wildlife we have today.”

My friend’s statement applies to all of our wildlife today–predators especially, but in many areas, elk and deer as well.

When multiple use increases, so does conflict and disruption to wildlife.  I wanted to visit the Dunoir because although it is considered a Special Management Area, snowmobiling and mountain biking still continue.  This year the Shoshone National Forest will break out it’s 20 year plan.  No new wilderness is being proposed.  If the Dunoir were proposed for Wilderness (even though Congress still has to pass a new Wilderness Area), stricter rules would apply.  This is prime grizzly bear habitat and elk calving grounds.  Bears are highly disturbed by motorized and unmotorized use i.e. bicycles.

And my friend is correct; unfortunately it takes a lot of effort to just maintain what we have.  Let’s put in that effort.

Brooks Lake Western Dunoir area

Brooks Lake
Western Dunoir area

One last note:  You may have noticed my new book cover in the upper section of the blog pages.  The book The Wild Excellence:  Notes from Untamed America (Wordsworth Publishing) will be out this month in August and available directly from Amazon.  It chronicles my move and wildlife adventures in this wild area, one of the last intact ecosystems in the temperate world.  I’ll have more on this in later blog posts.

Hawk and Eagle day

My neighbor called the other night.  They own a horse camp for teenagers.  The kids were doing volunteer work, stacking timber in piles that the forest service had recently cut down for a fire break alongside their property when they found a young red-tailed hawk on the ground.  The hawk was large yet too young to have yet fledged and was starving.  Probably the FS had inadvertently cut down the nesting tree.

My neighbor called me because I volunteer at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West in the Draper Lab and know the person who runs a bird rescue program called Ironside Bird Rescue.  The young red-tailed was in bad shape, holding its head under its wing.  But my neighbor was able to feed it some elk meat and brought the bird over to my house that evening in a large box.  Since I was going to work in the morning, I brought the bird to Ironside.  Susan Ahalt of Ironside took the bird inside–weighed it, handed the Red-Tailed to me so she could find some food.  The bird was so weak it didn’t even struggle.  But Susan found it three mice which she cut up and the Red-tailed gulped them down.

At the Rescue center

At the Rescue center

Susan said that if the bird survives, then she will first test whether it can feed itself on it’s own.  If it can, then she will release it back in Sunlight area where it was found.

The young Red-tailed

The young Red-tailed

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Red Tail baby in its cage.

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

Cutting up mice for the young Red-tailed

I had to rush off because today was a great field trip with the Draper lab folks.  Chuck Preston, museum curator, has been conducting a five year Golden Eagle study, locating nest sites and documenting how many chicks are produced and what food they are eating.  Today we were off to band a young fledgling.

The museum purchased a drone and we were going to try it out.  The drone sounds like a hive of bees. Unlike a regular model airplane, the drone has a GPS, can hover, has a camera that sends back real-time film to a laptop, and essentially looks and acts like something from ‘Back to the Future’ movie. We were going to use the drone to try and scare the young bird off the nest and onto the ground where it could be banded.

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

Drone over nest with Heart Mountain in background

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out.

The drone and the laptap where the live feed comes out. You can see the camera eye down below

Since there were several of us there, we all got into positions on the cliff near the nest in order to track where the bird might fly.  The young fledgling can’t fly far, and will invariably fly downward, but it could go up to a mile or two off before landing.

I hiked up to the cliff edges and could see the drone hovering above the nest.  Apparently, it didn’t bother the bird in the least.  Meanwhile, mom was flying around high overhead wondering what all these people were doing near her baby.  In good years the parents will have two young.  In lean years only one chick or they won’t nest at all.

Finally, our intern Nat hiked to the nest and the bird flew down about a quarter of a mile downwind.  This was a feisty male and certainly didn’t like being handled, a good sign he was in excellent condition.  But Chuck is an expert handler and brought the bird into the shade.  He measured and weighed the chick, then banded it’s leg.

Weighing the bird

Weighing the bird

Measuring

Measuring

Banding the bird

Banding the bird

He released it as close to the nest as he could, knowing it would climb it’s way back in, but in a few days would be off on its own.

What a great day for raptors!

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

Chuck Preston with chick after banding

Speak for Wolves

I just returned from 2 nights and 2 days of a Speak for Wolves event in Gardiner, MT, the first one of its kind.  The event was a great success, with some very prominent speakers and filmmakers in the field of conservation.

The event at Arch Park.  YNP historic arch in background

The event at Arch Park. YNP historic arch in background

Friday night I saw Bob Landis’ new film ‘She-Wolf’ which is now on sale in the Park.  She-Wolf is the interesting and unique story of wolf 832f , better known as the Lamar Valley’s famous ’06 who was shot and killed in the very first Wyoming wolf hunt.  Bob answered questions at the end of the film.

This story is extremely personal to me as not only had I watched ’06 many times up close and personal in the Lamar Valley, but after her death in late December 2012, the entire Lamar pack (minus the remaining alpha male) spent the winter in my valley.  During that winter of 2013 I had the opportunity to watch the pack behind my house many times as well as track them.  With the death of their alpha female, they seemed at a loss of how to kill elk, even though there were thousands all around them, and they mainly killed deer.  In the spring they all dispersed–which is a typical disruption when pack members are killed.

'06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

’06 swims the Lamar river, emerges onto the road right in front of tourists.

On Saturday there were speakers such as Nathan Varley who runs a wolf watching business in Gardiner with his wife.  He spoke of how these last several years of wolf hunting around the Park boundaries has made his business even harder.  His yearly gross revenue of over 1/2 million dollars brings a lot of business to the Park and surrounding communities. People come from all over the world to see wolves as the best place for viewing them in the wild is Yellowstone.  But some of the viewable packs are gone.  Lamar Valley used to be the premier place for wolf watching, but now has only two wolves that are rare to see.

Louisa Wilcox of Center for Biological Diversity spoke of some of the knotty politics.  Appropriately enough, thunder and lightning cut her talk short.  Public lands ranching and trapping demonstrations–one of the main ways wolves are killed in Montana and Idaho–completed the day’s activities.

Coyote pups

Coyote pups

Saturday night was film night.  Two short films on Wildlife Services (Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife) and how they indiscriminately are killing wildlife were shown.  Then Camilla Fox, Director of Project Coyote, presented a film on how Marin County (my old alma mater) ranchers have done away with Wildlife Services and implemented a program of natural protections.  These include guard dogs, better fencing and llamas.  The county has saved over $60 million dollars plus most ranchers have seen either no predation or very little predation by coyotes.  All this and the biggest plus is they are no longer poisoning wildlife.  Instead, the coyotes are doing their job of controlling the rodents around the ranches.

Dr. Robert Crabtree, who has done all the major research in the Park on coyotes, was present for the panel discussion afterwards, as well as George Wuerthner, Western Watersheds Project Oregon Director and author.

Sunday’s event included a wonderful talk and ceremony by Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Tribe.  Here’s a short clip of Jimmy giving a prayer in Blackfeet.

Doug Peacock gave a great talk about the plight of the grizzly bear, who the USF&W and the states are just itching to delist in 2015, and how that might impact the numbers of the Great Bear.

All in all it was a great event with talks from dedicated individuals who are working hard to make a difference in our treatment and perception of wildlife and wildlands.

Since I traveled through the Park to and from Gardiner, here are a few of the wildlife shots I took on my journey.

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Moose on highway 212 outside the Park

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Little Black bear in Yellowstone

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Elk lounge on the high school field in Gardiner

Muskrat photo finally!

Muskrat photo finally!

Great Horned baby with mouse

Great Horned baby with mouse

Bison and baby

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