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Grizzlies and other wild news

The second edition of The Wild Excellence is out.  With ten new photos and updated information on grizzly bears, I’ve included below a piece from the new preface. Order direct from Amazon and tell your local bookstore to please order from their distributor for in-stock local availability.

In October 2018, my new book on mountain lions, Ghostwalker, will be available.  Ghostwalker: Tracking a mountain lion’s soul through science and story is an account of my personal journey to understand as much as possible about this elusive, secretive animal. To that end, I conducted dozens of interviews–with cougar researchers, conservation organizations, wildlife managers, houndsmen and trackers. You’ll find the latest, cutting-edge research explored in the book. More info to come later.

GhLrg2lines

Below is an excerpt from the new preface of The Wild Excellence.

“His cowboy boots are probably still sitting there.”

 

Jim was relating the story of J. K. Rollinson, the first Forest Service Ranger in the valley where I live. Rollison helped build a government cabin in the Beartooth Mountains in 1908. My new friend Jim, a slight man in his mid-80s yet still in excellent shape, had guided me the week before to another historic Beartooth site—a crumbling stockade from the 1860s hidden within a copse of spruce. Jim grew up in the Big Horn basin where he worked in an array of outdoor jobs throughout his life, including with the Forest Service. The cabin, he said, if it’s still there, was at Sparhawk Lake.

 

I knew the Beartooth Range pretty well, but hadn’t heard of Sparhawk. Jim said the lake was named after Ranger Frank Sparhawk. Sparhawk, along with Rollinson, used the cabin as a summer refuge while overseeing livestock operations in this high alpine environment. The small cabin saved the rangers a ten-mile rugged horseback trip from the Crandall Ranger Station. I was curious if any remnants were left. Pouring over a map, I found the tarn not far from Sawtooth Lake, a large body of water wrapped at the base of a mountain bearing the same name. A rough dirt road off the main highway leads to Sawtooth’s lakefront. The road is in good shape for the first mile and a half, then turns into a rocky, rutted mess. I pulled off where the road loses its shape and walked the final two and a half miles to the lake.

 

Spruce and whitebark pine forest, interspersed with verdant meadows of high alpine wildflowers, make this scenic dirt access road a popular weekend ride for off-road vehicles. The course is along a ridgeline overlooking a U-shaped wetland of marsh and lakes. The adjacent eastern ridgeline, visible at times from the Sawtooth road, is also a popular route. Called the Morrison Jeep Road, it’s an historic trail used as a connector route from the 10,000 foot Beartooth Plateau down to the desert mouth of the Clark’s Fork Canyon. The local ATV club was anxious for a loop trail joining Sawtooth Lake with the jeep trail. To accomplish that, the Forest Service would have to build a new road into and through the marsh up to the opposite ridgeline. That was another reason I wanted to walk this road. I had to see what kind of habitat damage that would create.

 

A few hundred yards before the final approach to Sawtooth Lake, I encountered a parked Toyota 4-Runner with Montana plates. That last stretch is too rough and eroded for even the toughest vehicle. I also heard gunshots. It was early September, not yet hunting season, but these fellows were using trees for target practice on the far side of the lake. I couldn’t see them, but sure could hear their antics. No one else was around, and thankfully the route to Sparhawk was in the opposite direction.

 

A small jewel hidden within dense tree cover, I found the remains of Sparhawk’s cabin by the side of the lake, along with a Forest Service plaque commemorating his service. Only the log outline of a tiny cabin, but no cowboy boots, remained. I ate lunch, then returned the route I came.  Walking the road back up the steep hill, I found the 4-Runner still parked on the small knoll. From this point, the road opens into a meadow edged with dense tree cover on its far side. Breaking the forest’s silence, a deep sonorous barking suddenly roared through the trees. I stopped and listened. The mysterious low-pitched “honk” came again, then again. I looked across the meadow just in time to see a large grizzly bear running through the woods, followed by a tiny cub. The barking continued and another cub ran to catch up with her bear mother. These little cubs, born last winter, referred to as cubs of the year or COY for short, were incredibly cute. All this raucous was far enough away, with me downwind, that I wasn’t afraid. Mom was headed for the lake at a quick clip. The barking continued, like an old man with a wheezy cough and a megaphone, and after a few minutes a third cub appeared.

 

Mesmerized by this scene, I momentarily forgot about the men still down by the lake who were probably fishing by now. Instead I reflected on the increasing use by grizzlies of this alpine area. The Beartooths are good habitat with intact whitebark pines—now a rarity in the rest of the ecosystem due to widespread beetle kill. Females who eat whitebark pine nuts are known to have larger litters. Here was a successful grizzly mother utilizing these resources.

 

When the bears were out of sight, I remembered the men. No chance for me to let them know those bears were on their way towards them. The quartet of bears would be at lakeside before I could even turn around. Hopefully the men would not run into them, or at the very least keep their cool….

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Grizzly Bears Facing an Uncertain Future with Delisting Around the Corner

I’d like to provide several links for people to educate themselves more on the topic of Grizzly Bears and delisting. Dr. David Mattson is considered one of the leading authorities on Grizzly bear foods, studying bears for over 35 years, over fifteen of which were Yellowstone bears. A recent talk given in Jackson, WY outlines Mattson’s reasons why we are having more conflicts with bears in recent years.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Team, in their annual report outline states that bear populations have stayed flat since around 2002, yet because they are using new methods of calculating population size, the number they are reporting for GYE bears has risen.  In other words, saying there are 750 (or even 1000) bears in the ecosystem in 2015 doesn’t mean we have increasing amounts of bears, but we are using different methods to figure out that population, which has remained flat since 2002. The Team’s reasoning for this is that the ecosystem is full. Mattson on the other hand shows in this presentation with a few interesting charts that the White Bark Pine losses to beetle kill (over 90% dead in the ecosystem) coincides with a rise in livestock conflicts hence grizzlies bears turning to meat for foods in fall. Notice that the loss of Whitebark coincides with that time period of 2002.

white bark pine bear conflicts chart

Mattson has a similar chart that shows a marked increase in hunter bear conflicts overlapping with diminished food sources, particularly white bark pine. Of course it is known that a good white bark pine season keeps bears up high, and pine cones fluctuate from year to year. But the marked increase coincides with loss of trees in the ecosystem.

Moreover, females who are the progenitor of the species, tend to avoid meat sources because of conflict with boar bears who might kill their cubs. The science indicates that sows with cubs who ate more white bark pine nuts tended to have 3 cubs while meat eating bears tended to have 2 and lose one or even one and lose that cub.

Put it all together, and Mattson’s argument is that first, our bears have flat-lined in population size since 2002, which the Agency Team agrees with. But his reason for the flat-lining isn’t that the ecosystem is full, but the bears are losing their primary food sources and extending out to the fringes of the ecosystem, looking for food sources that get them into human conflicts. 

Mattson’s conclusion is the only way to insure the survival of the Yellowstone grizzly bear is by connecting habitat to bears northward. This would allow for genetic diversity and greater food sources, as well as account for climate change that will certainly change bear food sources further.

He also argues that it takes years to see changes in the population so why not wait 10 more years to consider the delisting argument? After 40 years of protections necessary to increase the population of grizzlies from 125 bears to 700 bears, why rush to delist now? Bears are facing an uncertain future.  This year alone 43 bears were killed in conflicts, most of which were food related deaths. This number will increase for 2015 as hunters begin to go out into the field this fall.

To get a full understanding of what Grizzly bears in our ecosystem are facing, I highly recommend watching this talk.

More information on why it is premature to delist grizzlies can be obtained at this website here.

The Wild Excellence. A Review

Here is the review of The Wild Excellence:  Notes from Untamed America, in this month’s latest issue of High Country News. There is also a link to the review online on the top sidebar of this blog.  The print version has a nice photo.

August 31, 2015 issue of High Country News Magazine

August 31, 2015 issue of High Country News Magazine

The Wild Excellence. What it means and why I wrote it

I thought now was a good time to do a post on my new book The Wild Excellence: Notes from Untamed America. The book has just been released in stores and online.  Kindle version is now available on AmazonThe Wild Excellence front cover lrg

The Wild Excellence title comes from a line in a Pablo Neruda poem, one of the last he wrote as an old man.

Without doubt I praise the wild excellence

That line, in a nutshell, describes my relationship to the fullness of the natural world.

When I moved from the Bay Area to the Absaroka mountains east of Yellowstone National Park, I found myself in the wildest country in the lower 48 and one of the last, whole intact ecosystems in the entire temperate world.

Doug Smith, Wolf Biologist for Yellowstone National Park says “country without wolves isn’t really good country. It’s incomplete. It doesn’t have its full spirit.” Over time that wild spirit of lands with grizzlies, wolf packs, large elk herds, wolverines, and cougars instilled in me a new perspective of our natural world and my place in it.

Grizzly mom with two cubs of the year near my house

Grizzly mom with two cubs of the year near my house

I’ve always been interested in Land so I began hiking to ancient Shoshone Sheep Eater sites, settler remains, learning fencing work and water development, but foremost learning how to be in tune with the wildlife here. Because of my proximity to the Park, wolf and elk studies were being conducted in the valley where I live and I had the opportunity to assist as a citizen scientist. ‘Bad’ grizzlies were dropped off at the end of my dirt road with the hopes they’d go into the Park.  Sometimes they ‘homed’ back to where they came from, yet other times they came to the nearby woods to dig for grubs or eat chokecherries.

Two adult cougars travel together

Two adult cougars travel together

With time, I became aware that a parallel internal process was taking place.  This wild landscape, with its full suite of wildlife, was having a healing effect on me.  And that healing seemed dependent on its expansive, untouched space and the play of predators and prey so abundant here.  That healing illuminated for me the sacredness of wildlands and their necessity for the human spirit.

Middle Fork Lake...the Divide

Middle Fork Lake…the Divide

My book, The Wild Excellence, is a description of many journeys–the science and the sacred, and what moves the Heart to want to protect all that is fragile and wonderful.  It is my sincere hope that this communication will inspire others to experience the mystery and wonder of wild places, and work with their vote and their voice to protect them. They are the last and fragile remnants of what Lewis and Clark saw over 200 years ago.
For updated information on The Wild Excellence  visit my facebook page

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 for a 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 and other books.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Chapter 1 A Dog and a Lesson 

Chapter 2 First Days 

Chapter 3 The Peoples Before 

Chapter 4 Close Encounters of the Wolf Kind 

Chapter 5 A Most Magnificent Animal 

Chapter 6 Woods, Water, and Wildlife 

Chapter 7 Bear Dreamer 

Chapter 8 Sagebrush Stories 

Chapter 9 Medicine Dog 

Chapter 10 Sacred Land Ethic 

Epilogue 

wolf

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

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

What the Lamar Valley has to offer in May

A cloudy, snowy, cold Mother’s Day.  I like to head into the park on Mother’s Day and try to see babies.  I’m so close to the Lamar Valley, just one hour to the Buffalo Ranch, that I usually don’t get much further, and don’t need too.  All photos below are from today.

A few Mother’s Days ago there was so much activity in the valley–wolves on wolves competing with bears, coyotes and bison babies, you-name-it.  Today was a different Mother’s Day.  The Lamar activity has calmed down in general.  With few wolves, there is just less activity.  But spring is always an excellent time to see bears and today was no exception.

I saw a total of 5 grizzlies in the Lamar–a mom with 2 yearlings, and two boars. Grizzly The boars had a brief face off for a few tense moments, but the bigger one just went his way.  Bighorn sheep rams stood by the roadside; a coyote was on a bison calf carcass, and the bison babies and moms were all along the road.  I watched a wonderful scene of a young frisky bison calf jump around, then come back and nuzzle his mom.  The mom and him butted and rubbed their heads, then he was off romping again.Bison and nursing calf

What strikes a person traveling through the Park is how many people LOVE to visit this area, and some many times a year.  I spoke with a fellow who travels here at least 4 times a year from Rhode Island.  He comes in winter to Jackson to photograph elk on the refuge.  Then he returns for the antler auction, trying to match up his photos with a matched set of antlers (75% goes to the Refuge, 25% to the local boy scout troop who do the collecting of the antlers).  He comes other times just for wildlife watching.  Many of the people I spoke with come out every May, staying outside the Park at the gateway communities.  Some people come from as far away as England.  Some have even bought second homes here.  And what are people looking for when they come–they all want to watch predators!  “I want to see a bear” one person told me.  They’d like to see wolves, bears, foxes.  It’s easy to see elk, bison, and antelope.  But predators are exciting for people to watch.Bison babies

And the predator that is now obviously ‘missing’ in the Lamar viewing experience is the wolf.  Although there is a pair there who have pups, two grown wolves are hard to spot, as compared to over a dozen in the pack just a few years ago.

From where I sit in my valley, the wolf hunt has hit the Lamar hard as these wolves travel back and forth in the winter time following the migratory Lamar elk herd outside the Park.  The Wyoming Game and Fish has proposed an increase in the 2014 wolf hunt numbers.  Most areas would have an increased quota–my area 2 would be increased from 4 last year to 5 this fall.  In 2013 5 wolves were killed, one above the quota.  There is a confirmed pack of 6 wolves here.  Why is the quota most of the adult pack?

Please take a look at this sane proposal below from Brushback Guide Services.  They propose Tourist and Science zones next to the Park with either 1. no harvests, depredation only or 2. extremely low quotas with a buffer of 10-15 miles around the Park, thereby tightening the areas or 3. very limited shortened seasons in these special zones.

This proposal would protect the tourist economy as well as balance with those who want to hunt wolves.  A continued increase in the wolf hunt will only have continuous impacts on the Park and the wolf population and pack structures in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Wolves, and all predators, should be appreciated for their necessary impacts on ecosystems.  They are needed in the ‘web’.  They manage the meso-predators, they foster healthy landscapes, they provide food for other large predators such as bears, and for thousands of years ungulates have been evolutionarily healthier because of their presence.  Ram

Yet the reality today is economics and dollars drive the argument and the management policies.  So here is what Brushback Guide Services proposes that I think works.  Proposal #1 is what I prefer:

Proposal 1- Science & Tourism Units

Units that are important to wildlife viewing would be considered “Science & Tourism Units” to allow scientists a chance to keep ongoing wolf studies without having so many wolves taken mid-life before their full potential data is reached. The other purpose for these units is tourism. Tour companies can show people wolves in areas where they are not hunted better than areas where they are hunted. These units have good road systems for tourism and border national parks for ongoing studies. Scientifically, these units allow us to know how to manage wolves in areas where they do get hunted because we know how it should be when they are not hunted or very limited hunting is allowed.

Proposal: Science & Tourism Units- Unit 2, 6, 8, & 9
Depredation only OR extremely low quotas of 1 or 2 wolves
Depredation only is preferred in “Science & Tourism Units”.

Proposal 2- Cut Units In Half Along Park Borders

Give units bordering the national parks an approximate 15-20 mile “wolf hunt free zone”. Delegate these by nearest large landmark such as creeks. For example: Creek No Name is 15 miles from east side of Grand Teton National Park border, hunters can hunt the east side, but not the west side of No Name Creek. Another option would be to START the hunt unit 15-20 miles away from the park designated by large, easy to use and not mistake landmarks/roads.

Proposal: Start wolf hunt units 15-20 miles from park border
Keep original quotas as Game & Fish has designated
Park wolves will be less affected helping science and tourism.
Depredation still in place.

Proposal 3- Keep The Current Plan/Units, Lower Quotas & Shorter Season

I’m going to focus again on national park border units. This approach gives “Science & Tourism” people a chance to have a better experience by showing and recording wolves. This will also allow hunters a chance to hunt units away from the national park keeping hunters happy. Quotas that would have less impact to us would look like this:

Unit 1- 3 Wolves October 1- December 31st

Unit 2- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 3- 7 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 4- 4 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 5- 6 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 6- 2 Wolves November 1st – November 30th (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 7- 1 Wolf October 1st- December 31st

Unit 8- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 9- Depredation Only (Science & Tourism Unit)

Unit 10- 3 wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 11- 2 Wolves October 1st- December 31st

Unit 12- 1 Wolf October 15th- December 31st

 

Please get your comments into Wyoming Game and Fish regarding the proposed hunt by May 30th.