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Techno danger for Yellowstone Wildlife

I’ve become aware of a new concern for Yellowstone Ecosystem wildlife.  A few weeks ago a friend visited and told me this story.  He’s been coming to YNP for over 40 years and is a responsible person who knows how to handle himself properly around wildlife in the park.

In January we were driving through Lamar Valley when we encountered some bison crossing the road.  We stopped the car and turned off the engine to let them pass.  I usually never film with my phone, but for some reason I began filming these bison.  Suddenly one large male turned on us and attacked the car, causing $2000 worth of damage.  All recorded on my phone.  I sent the movie to some friends, then posted it on Youtube.  Overnight it went viral. A few months later I received a call from a company in England that wanted to buy the video and pay me royalties. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this would happen.  Apparently these companies purchase videos and sell them as ‘stock’ clips.

My friend wasn’t looking for fame or money, and his behavior around these bison was completely appropriate.  Yet his story clued me into why we might be seeing so many crazy, careless, and inappropriate behavior around YNP wildlife.

Bison close to car

Take this video of a young grizzly bear ‘attacking’ a car on the Beartooth highway.


It just so happens that I saw this same bear a few weeks ago and wrote about it here.


Young bear

Young bear

This same bear was frequenting the Beartooth Butte campground.  He and his young sister were captured and moved.  The WG&F Bear biologist told me that he’d never seen bear behavior like this before and that obviously these bears had been fed.  Just this week I noticed a note from a Forest Service ranger left on a parked truck at Beartooth Butte trailhead. It said they’d had to confiscate food left in the bed of the truck which might attract bears.

But my point is not that people are feeding bears.  When I saw this video I asked myself  “Why didn’t these people honk their horn, or just drive away?”

My answer came yesterday when I saw a piece of the same video again, but this time on ABC news online.  So did these people keep filming that bear, instead of doing the intelligent thing of honking their horn and scaring it off, just to have a ‘viral‘ video, and maybe make some money selling it?

This year there have been 5 bison attacks on people who came too close.  One women was taking a selfie of herself and her daughter with a bison in the background.  She was mauled by the bison, yet lucky for her not injured badly. Of course, this was simply a stupid act, but several days later I saw her interviewed on ABC.  Did she receive money for this?  From the attached link, you can see her selfie is owned by ABC.  Even if she didn’t receive money and just had her moment of TV fame, doesn’t this media attention only encourage more stupid acts that harm wildlife?

Here’s a story of a man attempting to touch a bison’s nose in Yellowstone Park last week.  

He had someone photograph him doing it.  Will he now sell his photo?

Whether these acts are for money, or just to say “we did it”, they are endangering wildlife.  Feeding bears or encouraging them to keep looking for food inside a car is a death sentence for that bear.  Those people should have used bear spray on that young bear. Then they would have taught that bear a lesson he’ll never forget.

Taking selfies with bison or other stupid acts with bison compromises years of hard work on a new Park bison plan which would allow these animals to migrate outside the Park boundary in winter months.

Our techno media-centric society needs to be educated in how these acts are a great disservice not to the public, but to our wildlife.

Keep our wilderness wild!

Keep our wilderness wild!



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.  

Shed hunting

It’s that time of the year again–‘horn hunting’ season.  People do it for fun and for profit.  These ‘hunters’ are seeking deer, elk, and even moose sheds, which are not really ‘horns’ at all.  Horns are found in the bovine family, are a two-part structure, and are worn for the life of the animal.  The exception being the Pronghorn, which does shed them every year.  Horns are a two-part structure, with an interior of bone and a sheath of a type of hair follicle material, akin to your fingernails. So animals like sheep, bison, or cattle have horns for life.

Bison have horns

Bison have horns

Antlers, on the other hand, are also true bone but are shed each year and then regrown.  As the male adult animal ages, the antler gets bigger and wider.

Deer with emerging antlers--in velvet

Deer with emerging antlers–in velvet

When I first arrived in Wyoming, I knew the difference between antlers and horns and couldn’t figure out why everyone called this amusement ‘horn hunting’.  It was just wrong.  People who know the difference, like scientists, will usually refer to it as ‘shed hunting’.  But I’ve come to accept it and I suppose the h-h sound was adopted because it just slides off your tongue better.

Antlers are becoming big business and that’s why people go after them.  I personally saw a small 6 point elk antler in a California window with a $250 price tag.  Antlers are cut up and sold for dog chews, buttons, door handles,key chains, made into furniture, used as table centerpieces, or whatever art pieces you can think of.  But what’s really driving the market is the Asian desire for aphrodisiacs.  Although I think Viagra is cheaper and actually effective, the myth in the Far East is that antlers, ground up into a powder, will make a man virile.  I suppose people will believe anything as well as pay for it.



This deer has a dropped tine, probably a genetic anomaly


Last year I took all the old, broken, antlers that had been lying around my property when I purchased it.  I’d thrown them into a pile in the yard.  They were white and almost powdery from age, but a small loaded pick-up truck fetched over $250! New, browner, bigger antlers can get up to $10 pound.

So far this season, I’ve found about 10 deer antlers.  I don’t ‘hunt’ them.  I prefer to be gifted–‘shed gifting’.  I’m hiking around and there is a ‘present ‘ on the ground of a nice antler.  It’s a nice surprise.  And sometimes I leave them.  I enjoy making things out of antlers, but most of the people I’ve talked to say they just throw them in their garage, and now have a garage full of them.

Antlers provide calcium for small critters like mice, porcupines, and even coyotes will chew on them.  People ‘hunting’ them in early spring can ‘push’ the elk and deer at a critical time when they are still stressed from the winter and don’t yet have the benefits of a full green-up.  Sometimes I wonder if all this antler collecting isn’t robbing some of the smaller animals of valuable nutrients, as well as what shed antlers put back into the soil.

Just a last note.  If you are out shed hunting, carry your bear spray as grizzlies are out now.  Here is a great article touting the efficacy of bear spray vs. guns.   Bear spray had a 92% efficacy with the other 7% being minor, non-hospitalized injuries and all bears lived.  Guns on the other hand had only a 67% efficacy with a 100% fatality for the bear.

And one last note:  it is highly illegal to pick up and take home sheds from Yellowstone National Park.  You will be fined and probably barred for life from the Park if you attempt to take antlers home.

Ancient Buffalos in Sunlight

I’ve walked this drainage at least fifty times.  Its right next to my property, filled with old dying and dead aspens and young conifers. The forest service plans to cut, clear, and burn here within the next few years to encourage new aspen growth.  Its a narrow cut of a ravine, right next to the main dirt road, but hidden by shrubs and trees.  The moose hide there and deer rest inside its cover.  Basically, with all the dead fall, its a mess to walk through and few people do.

Since its low and north facing, its been full of snow all winter.  I decided to see if I could walk it, just for fun.  I enjoy its secretive quality, just like the animals do.  I needed to stay on the high south facing side to avoid the snow.  Maybe because there has been so much moisture and the slow spring melt heaves the ground, or maybe because a newly fallen tree revealed secrets underneath, I came upon an incredible find.  There, in full view, all above ground, was an ancient bison skull.  You could see it had been mostly buried by the discoloration, but it was laying as if waiting for me now.

I hauled it home, not more than 1/4 mile, but it was certainly heavy, even though it wasn’t complete.  I showed it to my old neighbor, who grew up here.  “That’s an old one.  I’ve found a few, but none with as much horn as that one.”  I told him how I’d walked there many times and seen nothing.  As if in agreement, he said “One time I was working around Spring Creek.  I’d been in this area hundreds’ of times.  But this time there was a horn sticking up from the creek bed.  I pulled it up and there was the buffalo skull.”

These finds are gifts from beyond.  I never go hunting for finds like this.  If you do, you never encounter them. They are given to you, for whatever reason.  Maybe for you to remember, to dream, to respect, and to encourage you to do the work and the magic to protect our inheritance.  I still dream of the day when bison will roam again in Sunlight Basin, even if only on the nearby ranch, replacing those funny looking bovines that reside there now, which the wolf packs in the valley can so easily pick off in the summers.  And I long to get a glimpse in my lifetime of tremendous herds once again on prairie lands.  I believe we all, together, can dream it back into existence.

Back of ancient Bison skull

Ancient bison skull. This is the front all eaten and eroded away

Map of Ancient buffalo drive area on the nearby 2 dot ranch

Our keystone species: Bison and their restoration

I’m reading a book that, for the first time for me, pops to life what it meant that there were 60 million Bison here before the white man arrived.

Bison bison, the survivor amongst many large mammals that became extinct in North America, were tough and well suited for this continent.  Surviving -50 degree winters, summer droughts and waterless days where he could drink prickly pear juice if needed.  They lived long and remained fertile into old age, were sure-footed and could swim if needed.  They lived at sea level, on the high plains, and in the high mountains.   A keystone species, their roaming and fertilizing of the soil conditioned it for native grasses as well as provided food for the bears and wolves that freely lived amongst them.

When the Spanish arrived, they found Buffalo north of the Rio Grande and inward into Florida.  Bison covered the continent from Canada to Mexico north.  Bison were in Georgia, along the Mississippi, in Pennsylvania and along the Niagara.

When spring ice floes began, Bison that had fallen through the cracks while crossing the river drowned and were carried downstream.  Thousands of carcasses floated down western rivers.  One trapper counted over 730 until he got tired and stopped counting. Rivers were a continuous brown flow and these carcasses formed complete dams.  Bodies of Bison flowed day and night in the spring.  Grizzlies waited for these spring ‘run-offs’.

Calf loss of Bison was set around 50%.  With 15 million new calves born each year, that meant 7 1/2 million calf carcasses strewn across the country.  Audubon’s party camped on a low island on the Missouri covered with dead Bison calves.

The Bison were so thick that people didn’t count them by individuals.  Instead they counted them by how many days it took to pass one point.  One trapper counted 5 days before the herd passed a point completely.  One man wrote that while traveling up the Arkansas 15 miles a day and able to see for 15 miles on each side of the trail, in 3 days he’d seen about 1350 square miles of land entirely covered with Buffalo.  The herds were “in such immense numbers as to defy computation.”

"Thick as gnats" was one expression used. Native Americans called the country "one robe".

When the buffalo were reduced to only bones covering the plains, people were making money collecting and selling them for fertilizer or glue or for sugar factories.  Railroad cars filled to the brim operated day and night hauling bones.

A few Bison escaped the slaughter by holing up in Yellowstone National Park.  In the early days of the Park, even these few animals were being poached.  By 1902, only 25 or 30 Bison remained in the herd.  An intensive protective breeding program brought these last genetically wild Bison back from the brink.

Controversy remains today.  Bison leaving the Park are subject to slaughter over brucellosis.  Only 3000  of the once 60 million of the wild herd remains, confined within Park boundaries.  If this isn’t a definition of an American tragedy…

Bison footprint

Memory is short.  I suppose it could be touted as a conservation success story, saving the Bison from extinction, running them through a very narrow genetic bottleneck to pop out with 3000 in the Park in 2010.  But what of the other many millions?

An apology from the government is long overdue to the Bison.  A presidential pardon.   And then a place, a very large place in the mid-west they can call their home, should be granted to them, to let them live again and build their numbers as they please.  This idea isn’t new.  Its’ been floating around since the late 1980’s when Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper proposed The Buffalo Common, an area set aside where dying farming communities are.  The Poppers were given a lot of grief over their ideas, but it seems that, with the shrinking of family farms and many towns in the Mid-West folding up, this idea is now being considered as not only realistic, but money making (the key to everything capitalistic!).

There is not one national park in the mid-west.  Imagine herds of thousands of Bison roaming their old habitat.  The short and tall grass prairies would be restored, the soil would sing again, and tourists would come from all over the world to see these magnificent animals, found no where else on earth,  just as they now come to Yellowstone.