GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

All posts in Flora and Fauna

Posts about Yellowstone animals, insects, and wildflowers and other plants.

Finally in June this year Janet and I got the chance to travel to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons together. Janet was there on a longer road trip, but we spent several days together at Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basins, as well as at Colter Bay and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park, and then some time in Gardiner and Bozeman, Montana, too. No doubt we will gradually share some of our adventures over the coming months. One day I drove back to Mammoth Hot Springs on my own.

The story I am ready to tell is the hike I got to take from the Mammoth main terrace to Narrow Gauge Terrace. Enjoy!
—Beth, editor and publisher

https://www.slideshare.net/BethChapple/beyond-mammoth-hot-springs

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Man outsmarts fish—at last: The current ways to battle lake trout

Categories: Flora and Fauna, News
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Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have caused a near-disaster in Yellowstone Lake, starting more than two decades ago.

The new edition of Yellowstone Treasures says: “Although some larger lakes of southern Yellowstone were intentionally stocked with lake trout long ago, these large predator trout, illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake in 1994, have caused a drastic reduction in the lake’s cutthroat trout that may never be reversed. However, the combined NPS/Yellowstone Park Foundation aggressive efforts—gillnetting and electrofishing—had begun to pay off by 2012, and lake trout numbers are now declining each year, while cutthroat trout numbers are increasing. Researchers now know where the lake trout spawn, and some eggs can be killed. Meanwhile, anglers must kill all lake trout and either eat them or puncture the air bladder and dispose of the carcass in deep water.”

Ted Koel and his team are now using “Judas fish” to lead them to schools of lake trout, and they employ aircraft to locate the tagged lake trout. As this year’s fishing season opens in Yellowstone, you can read all about it in this recent Powell Tribune article by Mark Davis.

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Announcing our photo contest

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Geysers, News
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We are pleased to announce our 2016 Yellowstone National Park photo contest! Our Giant Geyser frontispiece since the third edition was obtained in a similar contest. For the fifth edition of the Yellowstone Treasures guidebook, to be published in 2017, we are looking for a new front cover photo and will consider additional photos for the back cover and the interior. Here are our ideas, but your photo may be considered if it is of a similar or nearby subject.

Possibilities for the cover, possibly with a rainbow

Beehive Geyser
Giant Geyser
Grand Geyser
Riverside Geyser
Unique shot of Old Faithful Geyser

Interior photos we would like

Geological

basalt lava flow near Calcite Springs
Canyon from Grand View
Clepsydra Geyser
Electric Peak
Emigrant Peak
Mount Moran (Grand Teton N. P.)
Norris Geyser Basin geyser or hot spring
Porcelain Basin overview
Rock Creek Valley or other Beartooth Range view
Twin Lakes

Living things

Harlequin Lake
Penstemon wildflower
Rosecrown or bitterroot flower

The deadline is coming very soon, August 19, 2016, so gather your recent, high-quality, high-resolution photos of Yellowstone (please, no more than five per entrant). Please read the further guidelines and rules here:
Yellowstone National Park Photo Contest. You are welcome to write to editor Beth Chapple at webmaster [at] yellowstonetreasures.com or author Janet Chapple at janet [at] yellowstonetreasures.com with questions about how to locate the pictures on our picture wish list.

We’re very much looking forward to seeing your photographs!

Here is a form you can use for entering. Put “Photo Contest Entry” in the subject line.
Photographer’s Name:
Residence:
E-mail address:
Twitter and/or Instagram handle:
Date of photo:
Photo subject:
Description:

—Editor Beth

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Success reported in saving Yellowstone’s cutthroat trout

Categories: Flora and Fauna, On the Web, Wildlife
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An excellent article quoted from the Cody Enterprise on YellowstoneInsider.com tells about the remarkable turnaround in the fishing scene in our oldest national park. Since the mid 1990s, when large lake trout were introduced into Yellowstone Lake from an unknown source, the carnivorous fish have been devouring native cutthroats, a so-called keystone species. Combating them has been a struggle, since lake trout swim and spawn in the deepest water, while cutthroat trout swim near the surface and spawn in inlet streams.

lake trout cutthroat trout

Trout comparison (NPS Photo)

The National Park Service and the Yellowstone Park Foundation have cooperated in fighting lake trout since soon after they were discovered, but at first with limited success. In the last six years, however, things have been turning around. Gillnetting and electrofishing removed about 300,000 lake trout last year. And the latest technique is particularly effective. Quoting the Yellowstone Insider article: “over the past few years, crews have started catching and attaching telemetry gadgets to the fish; telemetry allows crews to trace lake trout to their spawning beds and remove both fish and fry from them.”

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Where Can I See Animals in Yellowstone Park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Many visitors to Yellowstone go with the primary goal of seeing wild animals. And some go only to view the wolves of Lamar Valley with spotting scopes and binoculars.

Back before the first edition of Yellowstone Treasures was published, and thinking it might be helpful to such visitors using my guidebook, I worked with my mapmaker, Linton Brown, to place animal and bird icons in likely places on our fourteen maps that show the park’s roads. The idea for this came from my model, the Haynes Guides, which my family used when I was a child. Here’s a sample of the maps in Yellowstone Treasures.

Screen Shot Map 21sm

A critical but helpful Amazon.com reviewer, Benjamin Day, wrote in 2015: “ . . . your dinner hour is the dinner hour of the animals, and low light is the best time to see the extraordinary animals that live here.” He also suggested the guidebook could include “a driving tour along the Madison, or the Lamar Valley, or Hayden Valley, near sunset, when we experienced the most amazing Elk, Bison and Grizzly shows.”

The trouble is that Yellowstone is not a zoo and the charismatic megafauna (as some tongue-in-cheek naturalists have dubbed the big animals) may roam anywhere they choose. The vast majority of park territory is not near the roads, but I had seen animals without going into the backcountry during my many visits to the park. I asked Linton to put icons in those locations. Much later, I was amused when another reviewer commented how he had enjoyed using the guidebook, and said, “she even shows where the animals are”!

No guarantees, but using our maps may give you a better than average chance of fulfilling your dream of seeing bison and elk. With luck, you may even see bears, bighorn sheep—and my favorite, the beautiful pronghorn antelope.

Screen Shot_Pronghorn

In our fifth edition we cannot add driving tours for animal “shows,” as Mr. Day suggested. That would take pages and pages, and it’s already a big book. But we can direct you to use and enjoy our maps.

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Yellowstone Bison Get Room to Roam at Last

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Bison herd in winter
Bison herd in winter

The Livingston Enterprise recently reported a rare coming-together of often contentious parties. Federal, state, and tribal agencies that manage Yellowstone Park bison have agreed to let bison stay in parts of Montana year-round. The members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan have verbally agreed to Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s decision to allow the big animals to roam outside the park in search of food on an estimated 400 square miles north and west of the park.

Searching through my past blog posts for what I’ve written before about bison, I can only find rare mentions of the biggest and perhaps most charismatic of Yellowstone’s “charismatic megafauna.” And even in the thirty-five or more “Nuggets” of park information I’ve supplied, somehow I’ve managed to skip writing about bison. These days, when you go to the park, you may not see bears or wolves, and even elk are not so common as they were when I started writing about the park. But bison?—oh, yes, you’ll see herds of them!

Wild animals are not even mentioned in the 1872 act of Congress that set aside “a certain Tract of Land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River” in “the Territories of Montana and Wyoming.” Regulations were to be set up for the preservation of “timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders,” and “wanton destruction of the fish and game” was frowned upon. That animals were not mentioned in the Organic Act does not surprise me, since in the 1870s there were still millions of bison in the U.S. West, and other wild animals were everywhere, too. What need was there to preserve them?

The fate of the bison illustrates probably the most grievous case of man’s wanton destruction of a natural resource in America’s history. Not only did hunters nearly eradicate the bison during the last decades of the 19th century, but the slaughter was actually encouraged by the government to suppress the Native American Indians who depended upon them.

During the 20th century, different efforts to bring bison back to Yellowstone met with varying success, but now there are close to 5,000 of them in and near the park. This is really too many to be manageable in the parts of the park where they prefer to graze. In recent decades the question of whether they can transmit brucellosis to domestic cattle has greatly complicated the scene and caused major strife between the National Park Service and other interested agencies. Brucellosis is a disease that can cause a pregnant cow to abort her calf, understandably a concern for Montana ranchers. But no cases of the disease being transmitted from bison to cattle have ever been documented, and besides, elk can also carry brucellosis.

Since 2000, wandering bison have sometimes been hazed back into the park in wintertime. Some have been quarantined and others relocated to Indian reservations. With this spring’s new regulation, the iconic animal that appeared on the “buffalo nickel” for decades has a better chance to survive severe winters.

I must issue a word of warning, though: more people are injured in Yellowstone by bison than by any other animal. Lately visitors are being injured and even killed while taking so-called selfies. Bison look placid but are NOT tame and can run very fast. Stay at least 25 yards away—unless, while driving, you are caught in a “bison jam.” This happens especially in Hayden Valley, where the animals frequently cross the highway. In that case, stay in your car and wait patiently!

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What is meant by “Greater Yellowstone”?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Park environs, Wildlife
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Back in 1872, when Congress was wise enough to set aside a large area of “useless” land and name it the Yellowstone National Park, the main purpose was to reserve the remarkable geothermal features and their surroundings “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This phrase was later inscribed on the park’s North Entrance Arch. Park boundaries were set to correspond to obvious natural features and partially along lines of longitude and latitude.

Protecting wild animals was not a big concern in 1872, since there seemed to be a great many of them. But it soon became apparent that they needed protection from overzealous hunters. Concern for the buffalo (now usually called bison) was great. They were rapidly being wiped out, largely because of government policy that rewarded buffalo hunters richly. Native American Plains Indians depended upon the buffalo for their very livelihood, but U.S. officials wanted the tribes to settle on reservations and make life safer for Eastern homesteaders.

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 343

Bison herd in winter, by Bruno Giletti, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 343

Even before bison were nearly driven to extinction, people who cared about preserving wildlife and the western lands from rampant development moved to set aside more land for special protection. In 1891 the Department of the Interior created the Yellowstone Park Forest Reservation (now part of Shoshone National Forest), paving the way for today’s 155 national forests.

Now we skip ahead one century plus a year after Yellowstone Park was designated. In 1973 concerned thinkers and planners convinced Congress to pass the Endangered Species Act. By then, bison were thriving but the grizzly bears were not;

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, "Yellowstone Treasures," page 344

Grizzly bear, Courtesy of NPS, “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 344

local agencies also found by the 1970s that cutthroat trout, pronghorn (also called antelope), whitebark pine, and quaking aspen trees were of special concern. An area of about four million acres with Yellowstone at its center was christened the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 1986 the federal government recognized Greater Yellowstone, when a joint congressional committee report outlined shortcomings in interagency coordination and concluded that the area’s essential values were at risk.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they  keep changing over the years.

Exact boundaries of the GYE are hard to define, and they keep changing over the years. Map from Greater Yellowstone Coalition website.


The National Park System now describes the GYE thus:
• 12–22 million acres; 18,750–34,375 square miles (Sizes, boundaries, and descriptions of any ecosystem can vary.)
• States: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
• Encompasses state lands, two national parks, portions of five national forests, three national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private and tribal lands
• Managed by state governments, federal government, tribal governments, and private individuals.

In addition to government agencies like the Interior Department’s National Park Service and the Forest Service (part of the Department of Agriculture), a number of nonprofit agencies work to help preserve Greater Yellowstone; National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition are three of them. Two prime concerns of all these entities are climate change and providing corridors for wildlife migrations.

Another spectacular mountain area farther north is the Crown of the Continent, an initiative spearheaded by University of Montana geography professor Rick Graetz with the assistance of his wife Susie Graetz and others. Covering the area centered upon Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, it extends some 250 miles from Alberta, Canada south along the Continental Divide into central Wyoming.

A stated goal of this coalition is to maintain “wildlife corridors [that] may mean the difference between a robust grizzly population and one needing continued human protections, particularly in an age when movement will be essential for both grizzlies and other species that might need to head north to weather the impending climate storm.”

Educators and governmental agencies in this entire area are stressing the interconnectedness of the ecology of this beautiful mountainous area all the way from Alberta, Canada to west-central Wyoming. I was interested to find that western North America is not the only part of the world pondering this question. An Australian website states: “Wildlife corridors can range in size – from small corridors created by local communities to large corridors that stretch across many different landscapes.

“For example, a small corridor might be an area along a creek that has been revegetated by a local community group to link two patches of forest. Native animals could then move more freely between these forests to find food, shelter and opportunities to breed.

“Large-scale corridors might span tens or hundreds of kilometres across multiple landscape types and jurisdictions. Typically a large-scale corridor would require collaboration between a wide range of groups working in partnership to manage them.”

A puzzle I have not been able to solve in my research into the two U.S. entities is whether they would wish to connect the Crown of the Continent with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, since there’s a large part of Montana between them where many people live. Grizzlies and wolves are not compatible with what we consider civilization. Perhaps just making more people aware of the beauties of the two areas, the threats to the species we share them with, and how we can help preserve them is enough for now.

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Observing the American dipper

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(Part II of Billy Hofer’s article, continued from yesterday)

[The American dipper’s] plumage is dense and compact, and is moreover well protected by a coat of oil, which he often renews from the large oil sack with which he is provided. So the dipper never gets wet, and we may conclude never takes cold, although he passes the winter about the open places of mountain torrents as far north as Alaska. His food, which he secures from the bottom of the stream, consists mainly of aquatic insects, and although his first cousin who inhabits Northern Europe has been accused of feeding on the spawn of trout and salmon, there is not a particle of evidence to sustain the grave charge.

The dipper dives into the water and gets to the bottom as soon as possible, and by means of rapid wing beats and holding on to the stones and gravel with his feet resists the constant tendency to shoot up through the water to the air above. He vigorously turns over the stones and sticks, and secures the water insects and aquatic larvae which are found in such situations, and then when he requires breath comes to the surface again. He presents a queer appearance when at the bottom, where he seems to be tumbling about in the most curious and erratic way, now for a moment stationary, and again being swept away by the force of the stream. No doubt he makes a good living, for he always seems busy, contented and cheerful.

The dipper seems to be satisfied with his own company for the greater part of the year, but during the breeding season he perforce seeks a mate, and these two build their nest close to the water’s edge, under a bank or the roots of a tree, and often amid the spray of some brawling cascade. The structure is as curious in its way as its architects. It is lined with twigs or fine, dry grass, and completely covered on the outside by an arched roof of fine green moss, which is kept fresh and living by the moisture of its surroundings, or sometimes perhaps by the birds themselves, who, it is said, after emerging from the water, fly to the roof of the nest and, alighting there, vigorously shake the drops from their feathers over the mossy covering.

– – – – –
I am quoting this from Hofer’s “Through Two-Ocean Pass,” Part XII, April 9, pages 202–3, Forest and Stream magazine, in fifteen parts, January 29 through April 30, 1885.

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A delightful bird found in Yellowstone, the American dipper

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Through Early Yellowstone, Wildlife
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(Part I)
There’s a rather small and plain bird that I’ve loved to watch whenever I’m lucky enough to be in the Western mountains. Formerly called the water ouzel, the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) shows up on pages 337–38 of Yellowstone Treasures in a quote from Owen Wister. But there’s a longer story I came across in an old Forest and Stream magazine.
320px-American_DipperPhoto from Wikipedia Commons

The winter adventurer, Billy Hofer—whose story of an incredible 1887 ski trip through Yellowstone will appear in my forthcoming anthology, Through Early Yellowstone—must have done some research on dippers, although he does not tell us that. His delightful story about them, written two years before his winter trip, is one that all bird watchers can appreciate. Here’s what he wrote 130 years ago.

[American dippers are] curious little drab-colored birds, progressing with an odd bobbing motion along the water’s edge, or taking short flights from one almost submerged rock to the next.

[The bird ranges from] Alaska to Mexico, and it only insists on clear streams among the mountains. On such brooks and rivers as fulfill these conditions the dipper is found in abundance—though it is not a particularly sociable bird, and seems rather to prefer to be alone—and its cheerful song and remarkable habits render it a pleasing feature alike of the dark cañons and of the open sunlit glens.

One feels a ludicrous sensation of astonishment when first observing this species. It is not very surprising to see a bird sitting upon the water or flying above it, dive beneath its surface, but it is really startling to see one calmly walk down a shelving rock or a smooth beach into the water, and keep on without any apparent attempt at swimming or diving, until it has disappeared. It wholly upsets one’s ideas of specific gravity, for we are accustomed to think that birds and mammals will naturally float, and that to dive or disappear beneath the water requires some apparent effort. It is not so with the dipper, however. He marches deliberately into the turbulent water, which engulfs him and usually sweeps him several feet down the stream before he bobs up serenely to the surface, and either takes wing or sculls himself ashore. It must not be supposed that he always enters the water in this way. Quite as often he dives from the wing or from the surface of the stream, but perhaps the method which he likes best is to plunge from the top of a high rock or a log a foot or two above the current, and then, after his battle with the torrent, return to the same perch, from which at intervals he trills his simple though very sweet song.

His method of progression under water is like that of most, if not all, diving birds, by means of the wings. His feet are not better adapted fro swimming than those of a robin, and although he gets along capitally when sculling about the edges of the mountain holes, they would be of little service to him under water except sometimes as anchors. He flies under the water therefore with nearly open wings, and gets about very actively.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

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What are the different species of mammals in Yellowstone Park?

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On the website Quora.com, someone recently asked about the mammals one sees in Yellowstone Park, so I tried my hand at an answer. I’m not a real animal person, being more enamored with things that stay in one place like geysers, hot springs, flowers, lakes, waterfalls, and mountains, yet I have personally seen all but the rarer animals in my many visits to Yellowstone.

The big mammals—sometimes called “charismatic megafauna” with tongue in cheek—are the bison (around 4000 currently), the elk (8,000 to 10,000), the moose (very scarce, and more often seen in neighboring Grand Teton National Park), and both grizzly and black bear (several hundred of each).

The gray wolf population is hovering around 100. Mule deer are much more common than white-tailed deer. Then there’s the pronghorn (commonly but incorrectly called antelope)—my favorite animal for being so beautiful, graceful, and fast. Their population fluctuates around a couple of hundred seen in northern Yellowstone, as are bighorn sheep.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Coyotes are very common, less so the red foxes and mountain goats (the latter considered to be migrants to the park). Mountain lions, bobcats, and especially lynx are there but almost never seen.

Small carnivores you might see include badgers, river otters, and raccoons. Then there are the most common rodents: yellow-bellied marmots, Uinta ground squirrels, muskrats, red squirrels, and the tiny pikas or coneys. Beaver have become more numerous in recent years.

Pika

Pika

And this is just a sampling. There are many smaller mammals like voles, mice, bats, and shrews.

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