GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts tagged grizzlies

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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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

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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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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For wolf devotees and other wildlife lovers

Categories: On the Web, Wildlife
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For a small investment, you can watch from afar the comings and goings of Yellowstone Park’s wildlife. This is a worthwhile website with reports by real naturalists and experienced wolf-watchers.

Besides the almost daily reports, you can also find pictures of the animals and birds the naturalists are seeing. Spring is a great season to be watching all this! And it’s a time when—for personal reasons—very few of us are likely to be there. In fact, these weeks are also not the best time to visit most of the park, because not all roads and facilities are open yet, and because the weather is usually quite iffy until mid June or so.

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The Yellowstone grizzly bear’s chances for survival

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The question of whether or not the grizzly bear should be removed from the Endangered Species List is still being studied. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team will present its report December 11 in Missoula, MT. Grizzlies may not really be at risk, their report says, since the bears do not depend greatly on the now-relatively-scarce whitebark pine nuts for late-season food preparing them for hibernation, as many knowledgeable people have asserted. Instead, they are turning more to meat and foraging at lower elevations than previously. “A 75 percent reduction in whitebark numbers since 2002 isn’t cause for worry,” states the study’s report.

But other bear experts disagree that the grizzly population is out of danger. A retired bear biologist stated that three of the bears’ four main sources of food have declined recently: “We’ve got catastrophic loss of whitebark pine, catastrophic loss of cutthroat trout, and major declines in numbers of elk. [Only] army cutworm moths are hanging in there,” he told the Jackson (WY) News and Guide.

For my money, it looks like this bear population of Greater Yellowstone, which is variously stated as between 600 and 700-plus individuals, is not out of danger yet. The entire article by Mike Koshmrl is called “Pine Decline OK for Grizzly.”

No posts from me next week, since I’ll be attending the American Geophysical Union annual meeting to learn more about new research pertaining to Yellowstone.

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Head count for lovers of Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna

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In case the expression “charismatic megafauna” is not in your everyday vocabulary—it refers to the big wild animals that attract many people to Yellowstone.

Late summer is a good time to take stock of what lives in the park, so I’ve dug around a bit and found some recent head counts for the biggest and most interesting wild animals.

Curiously, the bison—that iconic beast that was nearly wiped out by hide-hunters by the beginning of the 1900s and again slaughtered by the hundreds in recent years for different reasons—in late 2013 probably has more hooves-on-the-ground than the elk. This in spite of elk numbers being up around the high 30,000s when I began paying attention (in 1995). This year’s count of bison is around 4,600, while elk are estimated at about 4,000.

Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area are estimated at 718 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while in the same area wolves may number about 500, but with only about 80 in the park proper. A large factor in the present small number of wolves has been their delisting and subsequent hunting in 2012-13: 203 killed in Idaho, 179 in Montana, and 73 in Wyoming (which had a shorter hunting season).

You’ll find related posts about elk and wolves in my June 7 and June 13 posts this past summer.

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Decrease in elk numbers

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Heading to Yellowstone myself in a few days [June 2013], I was very interested to learn that blaming the wolves for the huge decrease in elk numbers in Yellowstone is a big over-simplification. The numbers are unquestionably way down since I began taking notice in the mid 1990s.

When I was researching for Yellowstone Treasures’ first edition (2002), I found that about 35,000 elk were summering in the park. The new fourth edition (August, 2013) will say that on the order of 4,000 elk can be found on the northern Yellowstone range, and there are a few more in the rest of the park. This is a reduction of more than 80 percent.

A majority of the park’s wolf packs since reintroduction in 1995 have primarily preyed on elk. Thus, it has been easy to assume that wolves are to blame for this huge reduction in numbers. But a recent article in the latest issue of the journal Ecology reveals that the situation is much more complicated.

Migratory elk are struggling, while their resident counterparts thrive in the foothills, recent studies have found. The 4,500-member Clarks Fork elk herd, which migrates between the Absaroka Mountains and the upper Lamar River area, finds less forage because of extended drought.

In contrast, another researcher found that those elk living northwest of Cody, WY who do not migrate produce more calves, and more of them survive. They stay in the area because they find irrigated croplands. In addition, in settled areas many preying wolves and bears are removed by hunters and ranchers.

Grizzly bears and poor summer forage conditions caused by several years of drought have a bigger effect on elk health than do wolves, the researchers concluded.

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Yellowstone grizzlies know it’s spring

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If you know and love the Yellowstone area and the wild mountain country around it, you may have your own bear stories. But you’ve survived to tell them, and two of last year’s hikers did not. Now it’s the season when bears emerge from their dens, and the memory of last summer’s two fatal attacks by grizzlies in central Yellowstone is still fresh.

This month the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and Yellowstone National Park have released their detailed reports, and the park is initiating major efforts to increase bear awareness and encourage the use of bear spray by backcountry hikers.

An excellent report on last summer’s grizzly-caused deaths and the recommendations of the study group appeared on March 20th [2012] in the High Country News Range Blog:
http://www.hcn.org/hcn/blogs/range/rethinking-recreation-in-grizzly-country. If you’re planning to take hikes away from the most popular sights and routes in or around Yellowstone, you need to prepare by reading such reports and follow the associated advice.

As for me—I admit that I stay within a few miles of the roads and always hike with small groups of friends or family. I’ve had a healthy fear of bears since early childhood. Of course, my bear stories are pretty tame as a result.

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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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