Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Y2Y Newsletter

As a one-time thing, I thought I'd pass on the news
from today's edition of the weekly newsletter from
the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
This is a handy compilation of eco/wildlife news of
the area; you can sign up at
if you'd like future editions.

January 26, 2011

Forest rejects oil, gas leases in Wyo. Range
Jackson Hole News and Guide - The Forest Service will not allow development on 44,720 acres of contested oil and gas leases in the Wyoming Range, officials announced Tuesday.


Tribes return to hunt Yellowstone Park bison
Billings Gazette - After more than 100 years, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation will return to their traditional hunting grounds near Yellowstone National Park to pursue bison this winter.

Grizzly bears moving out of core habitats, changing management message
Missoulian - If we care about keeping grizzly bears alive, perhaps we should worry less about how they die. The idea won a serious listen at last week's Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee work session in Missoula.

Number of brown trout in Bitterroot River on the rise
Missoulian - In places like the east and west forks of the Bitterroot River, brown trout populations have quadrupled over the last decade. They've also taken hold in some of the valley's major creeks where native trout species once thrived.

Farmers, land activists balk at proposed overhaul to Alberta well density rules
Calgary Herald - Alberta's energy regulator is proposing major changes to the rules governing oil and gas well density, a move that will cut red tape for the industry but is ringing alarm bells for environmentalists and rural Albertans.

Design picked for wildlife crossing
New York Times - At a picturesque spot in the mountains near the ski resorts of Vail and Breckenridge, Colo., two streams of traffic converge: people driving east and west on Interstate 70, and animals - black bears, cougars, bobcats, elk and deer - headed north and south to feed and mate.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

68 Mammals

The NPS lists 67 species of mammals living in Yellowstone National Park but they don’t include humans. On the other hand, they also include a few who apparently might not be there. The charismatic megafauna get park population estimates but the rest just get an adjective or two and I’m not sure exactly what the relationship is between rare, uncommon, and occasional which are three of the population estimates. Most of these are from January 2010 but I’ve updated a couple for which I’ve heard more recent estimates. If a range was given, I picked a number in the middle.

Cougar 20 The population center for cougars in the park is on the northern range, especially the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River. That’s just a few miles northeast of Mammoth, but I haven’t hiked there or seen a cougar yet.

Grey Wolf 100 This is an updated current number, about 15% lower than the previous year’s estimate. The wolf population has declined due to outbreaks of distemper and mange, declining elk population, and wolf-caused fatalities. I recently learned that in 2009 a pack had a den less than mile from Mammoth and they were regularly chasing elk in the developed area until they were harassed into moving. I hope to find the den site when I return. Lamar Valley is the famous spot for wolf-watching but they live throughout the park.

Grizzly Bear 150 Their population has increased over the past 25 years but there could be trouble on the horizon for the grizzly population and more grizzly-human interactions as some of the bears’ important foods are threatened: cutthroat trout by nonnative lake trout and whirling disease; whitebark pine nuts by beetles, blister rust, and climate change; and army cutworm moths by pesticides. Grizzlies do now frequently get free meals by taking over carcasses after wolves have done all the work. On my first day in the park, I saw a sow with four cubs a few miles south of Mammoth. Grizzlies live throughout the park but at various times specific areas are closed to humans because of bear activity.

Moose Less than 200. Moose population dropped in the aftermath of the 1988 fires and because of habitat destruction and hunting outside the park. I haven’t seen one yet.

Mountain Goat 200 A nonnative species which has moved into northern areas of the park. I've seen a few near Tower.

Pronghorn 200 Similar to the more well-known bison history, an estimated 35 million of these critters were once running around the countryside. And like most other large species in the park, they were once killed by park management because they were considered too numerous. Now they are designated as a species of special concern because of declining population. Something about their appearance makes them look to me like they belong on a different continent.

Bighorn Sheep 260 Another species which lives in the northern part of the park and close to Mammoth. I’ve had a close encounter with females and lambs near Tower but not with the bighorns with big horns. Population is slowly increasing after disease greatly reduced their numbers thirty years ago.

Beaver 750 Can be found throughout the park, but I haven’t seen one yet.

Mule Deer 2400 in the summer, most migrate out of the park in the winter.

Bison 3900 This is the estimate from the 2010 summer. Bison population varies widely because of frequent policy changes and mass killings by various state and federal agencies and individuals when they leave the park in the winter. The book I recently quoted provides an excellent look at bison-related issues such as brucellosis, ranchers, hunters, Indians, politics, snowmobiles, groomed winter roads, cattle, tourists, elk, wolves, and grizzlies, but five more years of changes have happened since publication and are ongoing.

Elk 15000 summer, much lower in winter. Another long-time controversial species among people who like to manage wildlife. Too many, too few. A few days ago, a new low count of the northern herd was released causing a new round of wolf hatred although wolves are considered to be just one of the factors in the decline. Elk have been far more likely to infect cattle with brucellosis than bison, but no one calls for killing or quarantining all the elk in the park because lots of people like to kill them outside of the park.

The rest of the critters are just listed in categories.


Badger Habitat is listed as sagebrush so they must be in the Mammoth area but I haven’t seen one. Have seen large trailside burrows which I assumed were from coyotes, but I might have been wrong about that. Something else to ask about when I get back.

Big Brown Bat

Black Bear Primarily in northern parts of the park, often seen in the Mammoth area.

Bushy-tailed Woodrat

Coyote Population declined after wolves were reintroduced in 1995 which is believed to have increased rodent numbers which then provided more meals to raptors, foxes, etcetera, but coyotes have since adjusted to the presence of wolves. A coyote and I stood about four feet apart staring at each other behind the Mammoth hotel and I’ve listened to their group songs while in my dorm room.

Deer Mouse

Desert Cottontail

Dusky Shrew

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Human My own category rating on this one. Like elk, far more numerous in the summer.

Least Chipmunk

Little Brown Bat

Long-legged Bat

Long-tailed Vole

Long-tailed Weasel


Masked Shrew

Meadow Vole

Montane Vole Considered the most important prey species in the park, but I think it depends on who’s doing the eating.

Mountain Cottontail


Northern Pocket Gopher

Pika Likely headed for trouble due to rising temperatures which they can’t tolerate.


Red Fox

Red Squirrel

Red-backed Vole

River Otter Haven’t seen one in the park yet, but recently saw some photos of one facing off with a coyote.

Short-tailed Weasel

Silver-haired Bat

Snowshoe Hare

Uinta Chipmunk

Uinta Ground Squirrel My companions around the dorm. Between avoiding heat and cold, they’re underground most of the year, but I’ve read that, for unknown reasons, they’re sometimes active in winter at Mammoth.

Water Shrew

White-tailed Jackrabbit

Yellow Pine Chipmunk

Yellow-bellied Marmot




Fringe-tailed Bat

Hoary Bat

Long-eared Bat

Townsend's Big-eared Bat


Heather Vole


Northern Flying Squirrel

Water Vole

Western Jumping Mouse

White-tailed Deer




Dwarf Shrew


Striped Skunk

Wolverine A few of these reclusive animals have been spotted in eastern parts of the park over the years. Climate change resulting in diminishing snow pack is enough of a threat that the government says they should be on the endangered list but there isn't enough money to list them.



Preble's Shrew

Western Small-footed Bat

Yuma Bat

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Zoo Stories

Recently, I read Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French. This book about events at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo begins with the dilemma of too many elephants in a sanctuary in Africa destroying it by eating it. What to do when no other sanctuary can be found to take them? The at first reluctant decision is to sell them to two American zoos which involves flying them around the world to live their lives in captivity. Is a captive elephant better than a dead elephant? Is a captive elephant even an elephant at all? This particular issue perfectly illustrates the troubling broader problem of zoos.

That problem is nicely summed up by this quote from the book:

"Zoos argue that they are fighting for the conservation of the Earth, that they educate the public and provide refuge and support for vanishing species. And they are right. Animal-rights groups argue that zoos traffic in living creatures, exploiting them for financial gain and amusement. And they are right."

From this very promising beginning material, the book moves on to explore what happens to other animals at the zoo where four of the elephants were delivered. A couple of the zoo's most well known animals, a chimpanzee and a tiger, meet unfortunate deaths, one killed by cagemates and one shot after escaping through a door left open by a new zookeeper after many staff had quit because of deteriorating working conditions and morale at the zoo.

Unfortunately, the end of the book forgets about the larger issues and deteriorates into chronicling the downfall of the zoo's CEO. A paragraph recaps what humans are doing to the planet and other species, but for me it was too little too late to recapture the power of the opening pages of the book.

I took a walk around the zoo here yesterday, primarily because I wanted to see the wolves which were just put on exhibition. I discovered that foxes and a lynx had also been added since my last visit. Here's a look at some of the northern captives. I took a couple nice photos of a lion (not the mountain variety) also, but a lion in Duluth in January is too absurd to think about.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Today's Quote: A Closer Look

"Albright [Horace, early Yellowstone superintendent and later director of the National Park Service] regarded wildlife largely as a tourist attraction and never embraced the goal of protecting an untouched nature. Rather like the man who puts a woman on a pedestal so he can look up her skirt, Albright protected wildlife so that visitors could enjoy seeing it at close range, even if it meant sacrificing the animals' dignity and autonomy."

from To Save the Wild Bison: Life on the Edge in Yellowstone by Mary Ann Franke

Monday, January 3, 2011

Starting Over

Time for a new name. I like the symmetry—3 syllables, 11 letters, 2 colors. Chop wood, carry water. And then vote in the poll.

I’ve created more of a Yellowstone focus here because that’s where I’ll be living most of the year, but the blog’s not now exclusively about Yellowstone. For example, there will be a zoo post based on a book and a visit as soon as there’s a day of good weather when I feel like visiting. I am going to try to limit this blog to nature and animal related posts while posting other topics on Hard Wood to Whittle. There is a new post there about my health (physical and financial) and one coming in the next few days about the music of Van Morrison. I’m hoping to write there more frequently, casually, and on a wide variety of topics.

Living in a place physically unlike any place I’ve lived before was an awakening experience. That it happened to be the first national park made it a rare one as well. So as I began to get used to living there, I became interested in learning as much as I could about the place, and interest soon turned to fascination. Over time, I’m going to write a series of posts on Yellowstone topics such as ecology, geology, history, wildlife, fire, forests, and hiking. There’s no original research going on here of course, so you can find the information elsewhere yourself if you like, but I hope to add some onsite perspective in my own style while having some fun. If you have any topics, issues, or questions which you’re particularly interested in, please let me know.

Let’s run through the new Yellowstone links list.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition The park is still just a big island. These folks work on protecting the entire ecosystem.

Yellowstone Association Educating, bookselling, volunteering in the park.

Yellowstone Co-op Employee Recreation Program Wondering what folks in the park are doing for entertainment this week? You can find out here (when programming resumes in mid-May).

Yellowstone Discussion Forums I strongly disagree with some of the most prolific posters, but this is a good site for the latest info and photos from the park.

Yellowstone Field Sightings Reports from classes and tours offered by the Yellowstone Association. And check out the catalog of those classes and tours if you're looking for fun education.

Yellowstone in the News Links to Yellowstone issues in the news.

Yellowstone Map Before I bought the National Geographic Trails Illustrated set of maps for the park, this was the best map I found online for figuring out where places were and getting a rough overview of almost 3500 square miles.

Yellowstone News Releases From the National Park Service.

Yellowstone Park Foundation Official fundraising partner of the park.

Yellowstone River & Electric Peak Webcam A nice view from outside looking in.

Yellowstone Science Eighteen years of articles from this quarterly are available online.

Yellowstone to Yukon Another Big Picture group, with enewsletters.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Every 650,000 years or so, the place blows up. You can also check the latest earthquake info--about 2,000 every year occur in the park.

Yellowstone Webcams NPS views of the park include Mammoth Hot Springs (I can wave if you like), two views from atop 10,000+ foot Mt. Washburn, and geysers including the prediction for the time of the next Old Faithful eruption if you want to watch online.