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Recent wolf numbers

Categories: Park environs, Wildlife
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I learned today from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition newsletter that 75 to 80 wolves now live in Yellowstone Park. This is less than half the number of wolves that lived in the park at the peak a few years ago. The current lower number explains why wolf sightings are down, especially in the Lamar Valley, which used to be the place to see wolves. However, fans of Yellowstone’s wolves are hoping to learn that a good number of pups were born this April. It’s still too early to know that for sure.

The GYC reports: “Wyoming’s season closed Dec. 31, 2012, with 73 wolves taken. Montana’s season ended in late February and Idaho’s in late March, except in two areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that were closed early. As of Feb. 4, 203 wolves had been killed by hunters/trappers in Idaho and 179 in Montana.”

The full article is at:http://www.greateryellowstone.org/issues/wildlife/Feature.php?id=38.

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High pass road to Yellowstone much improved

Categories: News, Park environs
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I’ve only been over the Togwotee Pass between Dubois, Wyoming and Moran Junction a couple of times on my way to Yellowstone, but I know it’s a beautiful way to approach either Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. Now they’ve just [in 2012] opened a completely reconstructed stretch of U.S. Highway 26/287, and I’m eager to see it again. Construction work involved 38 miles of the road for seven years, but of course winters are long near a 9,544-foot pass, so they could not work all year.

Dubois is a western town, less than a thousand souls but an inexpensive place to stay, and they used to have a superb restaurant called The Yellowstone Garage (named for its predecessor in that piece of real estate).

The road over the pass, first built in 1921, helped open up the southern entrance to Yellowstone to visitors from Wyoming. Now there are several guest ranches nearby and places to camp and picnic. Road improvements have added wildlife and snowmobile underpasses and scenic overlooks with interpretive signs.
Besides mountains on both sides—the towering Absarokas on your north and Gros Ventres to the south—I point out in Yellowstone Treasures: “Spectacular striped hills, composed of alternating red clay stone and white tephra layers [rock erupted from volcanoes], line the road west of town.” Maybe I’ll get to go back there next summer.

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Just a couple more days

Categories: Bio, Park environs
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[2012] I’m about to take off for my favorite part of the world. But I want to tell you about another delightful place I’ll go and an experience I’ll have while traveling this month. The place is called East Rosebud Lake, where private cabins are clustered around a beautiful Montana mountain lake and a trail begins, taking you over the Beartooth Mountains to Cooke City on the edge of Yellowstone.

I have hiked only a part of the trail, but my grandfather Fred Inabnit hiked many times in those mountains even before there were real trails. He and hardy groups of hiker/climbers that he organized and led from southern Montana went as far as they could with horse-drawn wagons and later cars in the early 1900s. Then they backpacked, with what we’d now consider crude equipment, into the mountains for many days at a time. They must have subsisted mainly on the fish they caught, because they couldn’t buy freeze-dried meals in 1910!

One of Fred’s goals was to find a way to the top of Montana’s highest mountain, Granite Peak. He never made it himself, but some of his colleagues found a route that took them up there. However, when he died, a group of his friends successfully petitioned the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to name a mountain for him. So this brings me to what I’ll be doing on August 26th.

Two years ago I helped to rededicate and unveil the plaque that had been placed at the foot of Fred Inabnit’s mountain. The plaque was brought down and is now attached to a large boulder in the meadow near the East Rosebud Trailhead. This year the Forest Service has completed an interpretive sign to place next to the plaque, so of course, we need a little ceremony to unveil it! That’s what I’ll help to do next week. A wonderful excuse to stay a couple of days at the place my grandfather loved and called “a little bit of Switzerland” after his native country.

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Who Are Yellowstone Country Guardians?

Categories: News, Park environs
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At a beautifully illustrated lecture about grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park, I was recently [April, 2012] introduced to a remarkable young organization, one whose main mission is to inspire the youth on the fringes of the Yellowstone Ecosystem to become aware of the wonders so near them and of what they can do to help preserve them—to become guardians of the Yellowstone country.

As future guardians, high school students from Bozeman, Emigrant, Gardiner, and Livingston, Montana, take the Yellowstone Leadership Challenge. They climb a mountain, watch Lamar Valley wildlife on an early morning, participate in a service project in the park, and learn about conservation issues.

Formed in 2009 and led by the enthusiastic and dedicated former ranger, Michael Leach, this group hopes to bridge a perceived gap between many of the hitherto unconcerned citizens living in and near Yellowstone gateway communities and the park’s delights and needs.

So far, the Guardians’ program has created a fly fishing school and a bear education program for high school students. It has begun to interview and film Yellowstone Country residents telling their stories about living in this unique environment. Its Regional Road Tour aims to foster greater understanding of the area’s wildlands and encourage community participation in their stewardship.

I wish them well. For more information or to learn how you can help the organization, see: www.yellowstonecountryguardians.org.

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Spring comes to Greater Yellowstone

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Park environs, Wildlife
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I recently found something that’s fun to watch, if you enjoy observing the unusual spring rituals of birds and animals. I’ve never seen this in person and probably never will, since it occurs in April, which is too early in the spring for most roads and facilities in the Greater Yellowstone area to be open. But still . . . Watch—and listen to—the greater sage grouse’s mating ritual at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/04/grand-teton-rangers-lead-morning-tours-watch-sage-grouse-strut.

The Yellowstone Gate website is a good place to learn about current events in and around Yellowstone and the Tetons. I was reminded that later this month is National Park Week (April 21-29, 2012), when park entrance fees are waived. However, only people who live close by can really benefit from this, since no hotels are open until early May, and the only campground open all year is at Mammoth.

2012

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Absaroka-Beartooth Front

Absaroka-Beartooth Front. Photo ©2011 Dave Showalter/ iLCP.

When my husband Bruno and I accepted an invitation to a downtown San Francisco reception given by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, we thought it would be fun to meet some people involved with this organization and learn more about what they do. Walking into The Matrix one evening last week—the only rainy week we’ve had this winter in the Bay Area—we were greeted by friendly people, not just by barkeeps but by GYC board member Charlotte Vaughan Winton and very tall, bearded Executive Director Mike Clark.

The Matrix is a Marina District jazz club owned by Judge William Newsom, father of the former mayor of San Francisco and present Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom. We were in good hands, and Judge Newsom was most generous with free drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

The serious part of this gathering was to explain to us what and where the Absaroka-Beartooth Front is and why it needs protection. The slide show given by Northwest Wyoming Director Barbara Cozzens did not provide a map but did include interesting pictures of the rare high-elevation meadows, mountain views, bighorn sheep, and unspoiled terrain. The area is roughly defined as the area of public lands just east of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, a good deal of which is on the Shoshone National Forest.

Shoshone National Forest is in the process of updating its management plan this year. They need to find a balance between the pressures of interests advocating industrial and motorized use of the area and people and organizations who believe in trying to manage the land and wildlife with the long view toward conservation for future generations.

Threatened by rural land development and oil and gas drilling projects, the Shoshone and nearby lands are “one of the wildest places remaining in the lower 48 states,” according to the GYC website,

The Front hosts the full complement of native Yellowstone wildlife, including large herds of all of North America’s big-game species—pronghorn, elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat—as well some of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears and wolves outside of a national park. Genetically pure populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout inhabit the region’s pristine, free-flowing rivers and streams.
This area also supports a number of significant big game migration routes, including one of the longest-known elk migration routes in North America, with animals migrating over 60 miles from the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park to the region’s public and private lands.

A map and much more information is at: http://greateryellowstone.org/issues/lands/Feature.php?id=300.

2012

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Late Winter State of the Wolves, 2012

Categories: News, Park environs, Wildlife
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This is the time when wolves are awaiting the birth of pups, which occurs in Yellowstone during April. Right now the park seems to be catching up on a low total snowfall so far this winter, which may make for a late (and very short) spring.

The one hundred or so wolves now living in the park are, of course, still protected, as is all national park wildlife, but since last April wolves in the neighboring states of Idaho and Montana have been delisted from Endangered Species Act protections, while Wyoming management plans proposed so far have not been accepted, and the wolf population there is still under federal control. The Wyoming state senate has recently approved a wolf management plan that would allow wolves to be shot on sight across a majority of the state,
Idaho rivals Alaska for the most aggressive policies for hunting wolves. It allows trapping and aerial gunning, and its ten-month wolf season runs until June, claiming 353 wolves so far.

Montana hunters have killed 166 this season, with an overall quota set at 220. However, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission decided not to extend the 2011-2012 wolf hunt in one Montana area, the Bitterroot Valley.

Radio station KSRO of Sonoma County, California, reported today:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that want to block wolf hunts that have killed more than 500 of the predators across the Northern Rockies in recent months.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves last spring.

As stated by Local News 8 in Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is praising Idaho and Montana for successful management of gray wolves. In its 2011 Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Population, the Service now estimates the region’s wolf population at 1774 animals and 109 breeding pairs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Steve Guertin said, ‘these population estimates indicate the credible and professional job Montana and Idaho have done in the first year after they have assumed full management responsibilities.’ He said the states’ management plans will maintain a healthy wolf population at or above the agency’s recovery goals.

Researching online further today, I came across a long but thoroughly researched article on the present state of wolf protection and wolf removal, with much information to offer. The American Prospect magazine is new to me. I learned today that it is a liberal publication founded in 1990 by three men, including Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at U. C. Berkeley. From http://prospect.org/article/wolves-slaughter (article by Christopher Ketcham, April 2012 print edition), I read that “elk numbers in some areas have declined, due in part to wolf predation. Yet in other areas where wolves and elk interact, elk numbers are stable or increasing. According to the Endangered Species Coalition, total elk population in the Northern Rockies has in fact risen since wolves were restored—from 312,000 to 371,000, a 19 percent increase since 1994.”

It is certainly not news to me that the great decline in elk numbers in Yellowstone in the twenty-first century is at least partly due to the reintroduction of wolves, but the next sentence was very interesting to me, proving that there must be other factors contributing to the decline in Yellowstone’s elk population.

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Tips for a great Yellowstone vacation

Categories: Park environs, Trip planning
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It’s almost Valentine’s Day and high time to make those reservations, if you are planning a trip to Yellowstone Park next summer. Already some of the lodgings may be sold out on the dates you need, but you still should be able to find some places available at the six possible lodging areas in the park. The best way to make bookings is to call the park concessionaire, Xanterra, at 866-439-7375 or 307-344-7311. Also, it may help to know that motels and hotels in the gateway communities do not sell out as early as in-park lodgings do.

Some years ago I came up with some tips for enjoying your Yellowstone vacation. I’ll put up the first five of those right now and more in the next post.
1. DO plan to camp or reserve lodgings in more than one place. A few nights in each of two to four locales will maximize what you’ll see and minimize driving time.
–BUT–
2. DON’T expect to see everything in one trip or visit too many different places. Allow time for the unexpected bison jam or to catch a second eruption of a phenomenal geyser.
3. Be prepared to do some walking. Going a mile or two away from any road, where you can get away from crowds, can be very enjoyable.
4. Include at least one area just outside the park in your itinerary: the Grand Tetons, Cody, Red Lodge, West Yellowstone, and the Gallatin Canyon are all good choices.
5. Know the Yellowstone seasons. At 7,000 to 8,000-foot elevations, the short spring does not come until sometime in May, and even then some roads may be blocked by snow. Autumn begins early in September, and winter is long! Bring layers of clothing but plenty of sunscreen.

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