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All posts tagged bison

Wolves and bison, oh, my!

Categories: News, Science, Wildlife
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Just in time for National Park Week (April 16-24, 2011), when entry to Yellowstone and all other parks is free to all visitors, things have changed for the Northwest’s wolves and bison. First, the agreement between conservation groups and the U.S. Department of the Interior concerning the wolves (that I wrote about on April third) was rejected in the courts. Then this week, as broadcast in the national news, the budget agreement passed by Congress includes an unprecedented delisting of wolves from their endangered status—an act that has until now been the prerogative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency. Democratic senators Tester and Baucus from Montana signed on to the plan, stating that they had put aside their differences and worked on a responsible, common-sense plan.

Admittedly, the estimated 1700 wolves now living in the northwestern states exceeds by many times the goal stated when gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. They have restored ecological balance, and they appear to be resilient and adaptable, although in the interim their numbers have both grown and diminished, mostly from natural causes. Environmental organizations will now devote their energies to being sure that state management of wolves is “based on sound science and public involvement to ensure they continue to fill their ecological niche on the landscape,” to quote Mike Clark of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Meanwhile:
An agreement on April 14th now gives Yellowstone bison access to 75,000 acres of land north of the park, although much of that land is not suitable for grazing. Says the National Park Traveler’s Kurt Repanshek: “Under the agreement laid out Thursday, park bison will be allowed to roam roughly 13 miles north of the park to Yankee Jim Canyon, a natural pinch-point in the landscape. There a cattle guard has been installed across the highway to discourage bison from moving further north along the road, while fencing is to be erected on U.S. Forest Service land abutting the road to keep the bison from moving around the cattle guard.”

The most desirable land for grazing from a big ungulate’s point of view is north of Yankee Jim Canyon, where ranchers irrigate many delectable acres, but any bison that somehow wanders around the fencing will be shot, according to the new plan. Still, this should be an improvement over previous arrangements for those bison who migrate north of the park in bad winters.

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It’s been an unusual winter at Old Faithful Village

Categories: Winter
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[2011] Carolyn Loren, a Yellowstone Park interpretive ranger who keeps excellent tabs on the geysers and is spending this break at Old Faithful—when almost nobody is there and the roads have not yet been plowed—posted this today, answering questions others had asked her.

The benches at Grand, Riverside and other spots are completely covered as of now. It’s March 24, though, and it’s getting above freezing most days. I should also say that bison walking on snow then walked on two Riverside benches, crushing them. They’re the two directly opposite Riverside. They’re toast. As for carcasses, I don’t see how the Geyser Hill carcass can go anywhere; the ones near the outbound road should be mostly eaten by opening [day (April 15)], but there will be more between now and then. Law enforcement will probably open and close as they feel they need to. There should be plenty of grizzly food lots of places in the park, though.

For those readers who have not yet had a chance to visit Old Faithful’s Upper Geyser Basin and see the geysers erupt, I’ll explain her post a bit. Grand and Riverside Geysers are two of the wonderful predictable geysers in the area, where people often sit for an hour or more waiting for eruptions. I’ve personally waited for Grand for an hour and a half or more in sub-freezing temperatures or blistering sun, but it’s always worth the wait.

Carolyn had recently reported as many as nine carcasses of animals that died of starvation near Old Faithful this winter, up from seven, as I mentioned in my March 16th post. She is pointing out that the law enforcement rangers will keep people away from the relevant areas, if the carcasses are not consumed by scavengers before the park reopens.

It’s a wild place. Natural processes are allowed to run their course whenever possible here.

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Yellowstone roads close for early spring break

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Winter
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I find it ironic that on the very first day of road closure, the most snow I’ve seen on the Old Faithful Webcam all winter has piled up around the Old Faithful Geyser sign, and it’s still coming down in mid afternoon!

If you use a PC rather than a Mac, you should be able to see the Old Faithful Webcam yourself at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/yellowstonelive.htm. For the link I use on my Mac, write me at janet@yellowstonetreasures, and I’ll send it to you.

This has been a spectacular winter for snow cover in the park. I wonder what it will mean when it all melts—lots of flooding? many animal carcasses showing they didn’t make it through the winter? A ranger has reported that there are at least seven bison carcasses in the Old Faithful area right now. Time will tell what spring will be like.

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Snowpack and Bison

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Much has been written in the past few weeks [2011] about Yellowstone’s bison and their brucellosis problem. I will not go into details here, which are much too complicated to be dealt with effectively in a guidebook writer’s post, but I will send along the URL of the best summary of the situation I have come across lately. It’s in today’s East Oregonian and written by Samantha Tipler.

Much of this year’s bison dilemma stems from an excellent snowpack in the park, which is hard on all the animals while being great for human visitors’ enjoyment of this beautiful place. The February snowpack map of the Rocky Mountain states and Alaska shows western Yellowstone with 110% to 129% of “normal”—taken as the average snowpack from 1971 to 2000—and eastern Yellowstone (where most of the mountains are) as 90% to 109% of normal. You can look at a snowpack map from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

How I wish I could go back this winter! But it is not to be. I do have the delightful memories of three winter trips there: in 1988, before that summer’s devastating fires; in 1990, when I first got to see Lower Falls with its fabulous ice-cone; and most recently in 2006.

You have only a couple more weeks before the park closes for its annual early spring road plowing and readying the facilities for the summer season. All roads close to oversnow travel by March 15. Then the various roads and accommodations gradually reopen, beginning April 15. Details about the facilities are at the NPS Opening & Closing Dates for Facilities page. But beware, this year almost all accommodations are already booked through most of the summer.

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A few personal notes

Categories: Bio, Transportation, Trip planning, Wildlife
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12 Sept. 2010: Back from Yellowstone for a week now, I have lots of things to write about and will start with a few personal experiences and observations, some of which might be instructive to other visitors.

This year we opted to drive from our home in California rather than flying and renting a car. It’s always nice to have your own car in the park, but, besides not having to cope with the expense and hassle of flying, it’s pleasant to see how our 2004 Camry loves to go 75 and 80 miles per hour on those Nevada and Idaho highways—we got over 37 miles per gallon on one tank of gas!

For me, having spent my first eighteen years in Billings and environs, going back to that part of the country is a great opportunity to enjoy old friends as well as the places I love. I met two of them at Lake Hotel and participated in a joint birthday party for seven who graduated from Billings Senior High School in the Class of ’53, with a luncheon held at Red Lodge. At East Rosebud Lake in the Beartooth Mountains, I took part in a rededication ceremony, unveiling in its new location the 1929 plaque that named Mt. Inabnit for my maternal grandfather.

During my two weeks in the park, I saw no bears this year, but at Old Faithful Village I had a near-adventure with a herd of bison. In the late afternoon one day, eight or ten of them were browsing near the lower general store as I returned from walking in the Upper Geyser Basin. A rain-and-lightning storm was just starting, as a law-enforcement ranger was making an attempt to deflect the bison from the path. The ranger had driven his patrol car part way up the paved path toward Castle Geyser. He suggested that those of us walking back toward the Inn should make a big detour across the meadow and take the outer path toward the gas station. Fortunately, the bison did not come that way, so meeting them head-on was averted. Another routine day’s work for the ranger. . . not so routine for me.

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Road construction for 2010 summer travelers

Categories: Trip planning
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Knowing about the current construction projects might help in planning your Yellowstone visit. There are four of them currently listed for the park. Be aware that the first one I will name includes totally closing the road between 10 pm and 8 am, so you will have to find an alternate route—but night driving defeats most people’s purpose of seeing the sights, anyway.
1. Madison to Norris junctions: The new bridge is open to traffic as of July 12th, but there will still be construction and delays on the road along the Gibbon River.
2. The South Entrance to Lewis Falls is being resurfaced. This project will probably be completed by August.
3. Sylvan Pass has a one-mile stretch which will see construction work. No dates announced for this one.
4. The Canyon to Fishing Bridge junctions segment through Hayden Valley, where so many bison usually congregate in the summer, will have construction delays (in addition to the bison jams) starting on July 26th.

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Yellowstone news of early winter: report on skiing and wildlife

Categories: On the Web, Trip planning, Wildlife, Winter
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Things are off to a slow start this year [2009], with snow cover just sufficient to open the roads to over-snow vehicles on December 15. As of Dec. 27, Old Faithful and the West Entrance had 15 inches of snow on the ground, the East Entrance had 14, and Mammoth only 3. The new official (but temporary) plan allows 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches to enter Yellowstone per day.

Jim Holstein, a Yellowstone tour guide, reports that although skiing at Big Sky north of Yellowstone is great, he is anticipating a very slow January in the park itself. Even the wildlife are staying in the upper elevations, and it “has been the slowest start for wildlife that we have had in the Northern Range in the 19 years I have been guiding.”

Just outside the East Entrance, one of the oldest downhill ski centers in the U.S., dating from the 1930s, has re-opened after having been closed since 2004. There’s where you can catch the lift at the Sleeping Giant Ski Area, or you might go across the road to use the cross-country trails at Buffalo Bill’s summer home, Pahaska Tepee.

Inside the park, visitors can now cross Sylvan Pass. As of December 22, after rangers used howitzers to help prevent avalanches from blocking the 8500-foot (2600 m) pass, it was opened to over-snow vehicles and ambitious skiers. Winter use of this entrance has created controversy for years due to the high cost of keeping it open for relatively few visitors.

Here is good winter news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered bison: Horse Butte near Hebgen Lake just west of the park will be permanently closed to cattle grazing. In recent winters “bison have been needlessly hazed from Horse Butte back into the park with helicopters, horses, ATVs, and snowmobiles. A lot of time, resources and your taxpayer dollars are unnecessarily wasted along the way,” according to Matt Skoglund in his “Guest Opinion: Gallatin National Forest presents gift to Yellowstone bison.”

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News!

Categories: News, Wildlife
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First, the bad news.

After a summer of legal battles over the fate of wolves near Yellowstone, a federal judge has recently ruled that a large number of wolves in Idaho and Montana may be legally killed by hunters. The slaughter has already begun; four wolves have been shot in Idaho and one in Montana. However, Defenders of Wildlife is hopeful that their legal challenge to the Interior Department’s delisting of wolves in Idaho and Montana will ultimately prevail.

But long-time conservationist Mike Medberry has written a very thought-provoking op-ed piece for High Country News. He writes: “The groups’ lawsuit argues that the wolves have not recovered yet. That is simply disingenuous, as the goal has clearly been met. Conservationists need to be honest about their goals. If they insist on supporting shifting numbers, they may find that they represent shifting support. More to the point, however, is their refusal to accept that this victory for wolves endangers the Endangered Species Act, which protects all endangered species.”

Among the comments, one reminds us of an important part of the judge’s decision: “This column completely leaves out the element of recovery that the Fish & Wildlife Service set out for wolves in 1994 and a federal judge ruled it had not met in 2008: ‘genetic exchange between subpopulations.’” As has been clear since reintroduction of wolves was first proposed, this is a complex issue, and much more effort and time will be required before all its aspects are resolved.

Now, the good news.

Yesterday (9/21/09) a federal judge in Montana ruled that Endangered Species Act protections must be returned to Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. According to the Defenders of Wildlife Web site, the judge agreed that, in delisting the bears in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not “take into consideration the continued decline of the whitebark pine, a critical grizzly food source threatened by pine beetles, blister rust and climate change.”
2. Snowmobiles are to be limited to 318 per day for the next two winter seasons, more than the daily average entering the park in the past two winters, but cutting by more than half the 720 authorized to enter by the previous decision. Meanwhile, 78 snowcoaches holding 10 or 12 people will be allowed to enter.
3. This year, 3300 bison are living in Y.N.P., according to a recent count. This is a reasonable number to sustain the herd. Now, if only the agencies which have been hazing and killing the animals in the winter will develop and implement a more reasonable policy!
4. For the year, more than 2.6 million people have visited Yellowstone, making the first eight months of 2009 the busiest January through August in the park’s history (as reported in USA Today, 9/15/09).
5. Not news to anyone interested in Yellowstone but good news for all our national parks is the attention paid by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who have produced twelve hours of what promises to be fascinating public TV watching in their series on the parks—including some footage of all 58 of them—beginning on Wednesday, September 27, nationwide.

Janet

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