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Toward the end of a remarkable Montana Public Radio series we see and hear from high school students in Gardiner, Montana, who have learned how to get along with bison on their football field. Now I know how they get rid of the bison patties I’ve often seen there, especially in winter and early spring. Students with detention get to pick them up and put them in buckets.

Bison in north central Montana from MPR podcast, Episode 1

I first mentioned the seven-part podcast titled Threshold from MPR in my May 17th blog post. Since then, I’ve made it a point to listen to all the parts. It’s well worth the half hour each one takes. Amy Martin and her team are doing a superb job giving us a balanced and often moving report on what is being done to bring large numbers of bison back to northern Montana’s plains. Until the end of the nineteenth century, an estimated sixty million of them roamed the Great Plains and were essential to the natives’ way of life.

In the Yellowstone Treasures section on Living Things, I explain that the bison “symbolizes the wide open spaces of the West. Ironically, the bison is also 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 late 1800s, but the slaughter was actually encouraged by the government to suppress the Native American Indians who depended upon them.”

Listen to the MPR podcast to learn what Montana’s tribes and other interested people are doing to help restore bison to the plains.

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Montana Public Radio and the history of North American bison

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If you, like me, are enjoying the comforts of home on this long weekend instead of fighting the crowds on the roads or in the airports, I’d like to recommend a series of podcasts I learned about last month but have not had time to absorb before. Amy Martin and associates at Montana Public Radio have put together “Threshold,” a series of episodes that dramatizes the story and importance of bison to the Native American Indians. It is an amazingly well-researched and well-presented program and worth a listen to its seven half-hour-long episodes.

When I first tuned into this on my computer, I didn’t realize that you could click on the thumbnail slides and get your own slideshow related to the history being revealed by the dialog. Now I’m hooked and will somehow make time to listen to this entire series before I leave for Yellowstone on June 12th.

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Science Times tackles the complex Yellowstone wolf scene

Categories: On the Web, Science, Wildlife
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Brad Bulin wolf pelt 2006 In this Tuesday’s “Science Times” section of the New York Times, freelance science writer Jim Robbins explains the push-pull between the lives of Yellowstone’s wolf packs (and the scientists who study them) and the needs and requirements of hunters and ranchers in the three surrounding states.

Since 2011 Montana and Idaho have been conducting managed wolf hunts, but in Wyoming a U.S. Court of Appeals has only this March approved a wolf-hunting plan that is deemed not to endanger the survival of the species in that state.

All the controversy about wolves stems from the 1995 and ’96 introduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus irremotus) into the park (and also into Idaho) from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Their population soared within a few years to around 150 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and scientists like Dr. Douglas Smith found, as quoted by Robbins, that “Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves”—and to study them. This is especially true because the Yellowstone wolves do not fear the thousands of eager visitors who flock there—and incidentally add money to the regional economy. The wolves are thus quite readily visible.

In the years after the introduction of wolves, neighboring ranchers were understandably distressed. Some of their cattle, sheep, and even dogs were killed; before wolf hunting was authorized some ranchers were reimbursed by nonprofit organizations for their losses. It is hoped that protection within the park, combined with limited hunting outside its borders, will provide the needed balance and keep the population of Yellowstone’s wolves to approximately one hundred, as has happened in the last few years.

Robbins tells us much more about the results of research done by Smith and his colleagues. Longevity and social hierarchy within the packs are now better understood, and observation has revealed that wise older wolves serve an important role. Dr. Smith believes that packs are matrilineal. “Males come and go . . . but Gramma, Mom, and the daughter are the ones that stick around.” Here is a link to the whole article, “The New Threat to Wolves in and around Yellowstone.”

For some earlier blog posts about wolves here at YellowstoneTreasures.com, just enter “wolves” in the search bar.

Photo is of Yellowstone Forever Institute instructor Brad Bulin showing a wolf pelt, winter 2006. Photo by Janet Chapple.

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Looking back at 2016’s Find Your Park campaign

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Elk Grand Tetons

Elk in a Teton meadow

One of the best aspects of the #FindYourPark campaign promoted by the national parks for the National Park Service centennial last year was the chance it afforded for experts to reminisce and share their expertise on particular parks in the system. Janet did so for Yellowstone National Park last April, in a guest post for the University of Nebraska Press blog called “From the Desk of Janet Chapple.” Another fun one, this time from the other national park in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Grand Teton National Park, was submitted by Bruce Smith, a wildlife manager and scientist. You can read all about the 60-mile migrations of the Jackson elk herd and the tribulations of trumpeter swans here: “From the Desk of Bruce Smith.”

Which is your favorite national park and why? Leave us a comment.

Photo credit: NPS.

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Success reported in saving Yellowstone’s cutthroat trout

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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?

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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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Wolves and Grizzlies and Good Reading

Categories: History, News, Through Early Yellowstone, Wildlife
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wolf

Gray wolf, Yellowstone Treasures page 351, photo courtesy National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park

Wolves have been feared and hated by humans for centuries. “It’s like the abortion issue of wildlife,” according to a recent Oliver Milman article in The Guardian’s U.S. edition. In his thoughtful article, Milman traces gray wolves from their rebound in Great Lakes states in the 1960s and their reintroduction to Yellowstone in the mid 1990s. He quotes wolf restoration project leader Doug Smith: “Fifty years ago, everyone hated wolves. Now, half the population hates wolves. We are progressing . . .”

I confess to having missed Endangered Species Day, which was May 20th this year. But I see that the Endangered Species Coalition has an extensive reading list for young and adult readers, including wolf books for children. For adults, it includes a favorite of mine, The Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen, the renowned author who just wrote the text for National Geographic’s May issue on Yellowstone. Then there’s a book I would like to read, The Future of Life, by one of our wisest scientists, Edward O. Wilson.

* * * * *

grizzly bear and cub

Grizzly bear sow and yearling on boardwalk at Daisy Geyser, NPS Flickr photo

The fate of the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area is a serious matter on the verge of being decided by the courts. People who live, work, hunt, or frequently visit the area are closely following the controversy over listing / delisting the great bears.

An excellent article appears in the May 16th issue of the magazine High Country News. Carefully researched and written by environmental journalist Gloria Dickie, her article puts the whole problem of managing grizzlies in perspective. Grizzlies can live about twenty-five years in the wild. There are now 717 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by a recent estimate and 960 in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (in and around Glacier National Park).

Environmentalists would like to find a way to bridge these two populations for their genetic health. Meanwhile, others with strong opinions about whether or not the bears should be delisted include hunters, outfitters, photo safari guides, and Native American Indian tribal leaders.

Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife grizzly bear recovery coordinator, believes the recovery level of grizzly bears reached as of now more than fulfills the goals of the Endangered Species Act. The bears’ recovery is “the greatest success story of all,” he says.

The controversy continues, but for comic relief here is a bit of (definitely not politically correct) historic humor that appears in my new collection, Through Early Yellowstone. This took place in the first decade of the twentieth century.

How Buffalo Jones Disciplined a Bad Grizzly
by William T. Hornaday
in The Minds and Manners of Wild Animals, 1922

The most ridiculous and laughable performance ever put up with a wild grizzly bear as an actor was staged by Col. C. J. (“Buffalo”) Jones, when he was superintendent of the wild animals of the Yellowstone Park. He marked down for punishment a particularly troublesome grizzly that had often raided tourists’ camps at a certain spot, to steal food. Very skillfully he roped that grizzly around one of his hind legs, suspended him from the limb of a tree, and while the disgraced and outraged silver-tip swung to and fro, bawling, cursing, snapping, snorting, and wildly clawing at the air, Buffalo Jones whaled it with a beanpole until he was tired. With commendable forethought Mr. Jones had for that occasion provided a moving-picture camera, and this film always produces roars of laughter.

Now, here is where we guessed wrongly. We supposed that whenever and wherever a well-beaten grizzly was turned loose, the angry animal would attack the lynching party. But not so. When Mr. Jones’ chastened grizzly was turned loose, it thought not of reprisals. It wildly fled to the tall timber, plunged into it, and there turned over a new leaf.

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Priceless Yellowstone bear video shot by National Geographic team

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at this! It even has a surprise ending. . . .

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Plans for the Yellowstone grizzly

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Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone

Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone

Grizzly bears have been in the news in recent years. First, because human-bear conflicts have been more numerous, including a total of six deaths of people since 2010. Managing these conflicts and the bear predation on cattle means about twenty grizzlies are intentionally killed or removed to zoos per year (see this database if you are interested). In 2016 the news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to take them off the Endangered Species list by the end of the year. The National Park Service put together an informative page about the history of efforts to help the Yellowstone-area grizzly recover, including listing it and delisting it, plus explaining how to minimize encounters with bears and ensure your safety if you do accidentally come close to one. You can find the article here: “Grizzly Bears and the Endangered Species Act.” The most recent delisting was in 2007, but a court ruling overturned that and put them back on the threatened species list in 2009.

Here’s a quick list of safety points, courtesy of the NPS. When backcountry hiking, you can reduce the odds of being injured by a bear by following these five rules:

  1. Hike in groups of three or more people.
  2. Stay alert.
  3. Make noise in areas with poor visibility.
  4. Carry bear spray.
  5. Don’t run during encounters with bears.

The grizzly bear population has made a remarkable recovery, to about 700 individuals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. So why is delisting controversial? Some are worried about plans for hunting in the surrounding states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. For a March 20, 2016, article that quotes the state governors on the subject, see “US seeks end to Yellowstone grizzly protections” on the Explore Big Sky website.

Do you have an opinion on this subject? Isn’t this photo beautiful? Write your informed comment below.
—Editor Beth

Photo by Jim Peaco for the National Park Service, June 2005.

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What is meant by “Greater Yellowstone”?

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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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