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Oregon Congressman seeks wolf buffer around Yellowstone

WILDLIFE —  An Oregon congressman is asking the Interior Department to work with states to curb gray wolf hunting around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana.

Rep. Peter DeFazio is the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Hunters have legally killed Yellowstone wolves that have roamed out of the park after becoming familiar with wolf-watching tourists. Some of these wolves have been radio-collared by wildlife scientists. While killing them is legal under hunting regulations, the loss is significant to research on the species.

DeFazio said in a recent letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that hunters killing wolves just outside Yellowstone’s boundary could hurt the overall health of the park’s ecosystem.

DeFazio asked for a “wolf safety zone” or buffer around the park, which includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. He also asked Jewell to establish a task force to devise protections for wolves around other national parks.

State officials have resisted prior calls from wildlife advocates seeking an outright ban on wolf hunting around the park. However, quotas in some areas limit how many can be killed annually.

Seattle treasure hunters fouling Yellowstone Park

PUBLIC LANDS — For God's sake, get a clue.

Yellowstone Park rangers rescue, cite treasure hunters twice
On April 27 and again on May 9, rangers from Yellowstone National Park had to rescue treasure hunters from Washington state who were ill-equipped for their treks into the park's back country seeking the $1-million “Forrest Fenn Treasure,” which a poem in the Santa Fe, N.M. art dealer's 2010 memoir allegedly contains nine clues to the hidden treasure.
—Jackson Hole News & Guide

Yellowstone Park roads opening to vehicles

PARKS – Snowplows at Yellowstone National Park opened the main road into Old Faithful over the weekend, marking the beginning of the spring tourist season.

The East Entrance is scheduled to open May 2 and the South Entrance May 9. 

Paddling law would be bad news for national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — I've made a few classic canoe and kayak trips in Yellowstone National Park over the years, including the Lewis River to Shoshone Lake (see photo) and on Yellowstone Lake.

But even though I'm a long-time paddler and co-author of the guidebook, Paddling Washington, I can still clearly see a reason to restrict paddling in national parks, where the priority is on preserving natural ecosystems. 

It's shocking to see that a Wyoming Congreswoman has introduced a bill that would REQUIRE Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park officials to allow more paddling in the parks. 

Here's the scoop from High Country News and a person who knows and write's eloquently on the potential ramifications of the legislation.  Check it out.

Called the “River Paddling Protection Act,” the bill has already passed the House of Representatives. It gives the National Park Service three years to change its regulations barring non-motorized boating on rivers and streams. If the agency fails to act in that time, then boating in the two parks will be considered unregulated.

Yellowstone fighting online supervolcano rumors; bison not fleeing

WILDLIFE — Yellowstone National Park is fighting online rumors that running bison seen in a YouTube video (above) are fleeing a possible explosion of the park’s supervolcano.
 
The video was posted on March 20, 10 days before a magnitude-4.8 earthquake hit, the park’s strongest quake in 30 years.  
 
Yellowstone posted a video of its own this week, noting that it’s normal for wildlife to move around to find food at lower elevations that isn’t covered by snow at this time of year. Park spokesman Al Nash says there are no signs to suggest that the volcano is about to erupt.  
 
Although the YouTube video says the animals are leaving, park spokesman Dan Hottle said  they are actually running toward the park’s interior and the volcano. 
 
Sometimes animals just take off running. That's the way it is.

Cyclists rule, briefly, on 49 miles of Yellowstone roads

BICYCLING — This is a premier annual opportunity for cyclists to savor Yellowstone National Park before the RVs hit the road.

Yellowstone Park opens 49 miles of road to bicycles today
Bicyclists can enter Yellowstone National Park's West Entrance and ride 49 miles of highway to Mammoth Hot Springs as road crews continue clearing other park roads for the general opening in late April.

Cyclists can call (307) 344-2107 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays for updated road access information.

Weather info: (307) 344-2113.

Get more details on spring biking in the park here

NYT op-ed writer pleads for balance on assessing impact of wolves

WILDLIFE WATCHING — In the past week, readers have forwarded me several stories and videos, such as the one above, glamorizing the benefits gray wolves have provided in restoring the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park since the species was reintroduced in 1995.

The information has been well reported for years and the video is basically correct, according to scientists. And for the record, I am fascinated by wolves, too.

But when the glorification of the wolf is digested alone without the salad and the side dishes of other research and realities, it can lead to indigestion, regurgitation and a less than healthy oversimplification in the public arena.

So let's thank the New York Times for giving another scientist a chance this week to call time out and feed all of us who are interested in wolves from one angle or another some food for thought

Another sign of spring: Grizzlies emerging

WILDLIFE WATCHING — If you need more reassurance that spring has sprung, Yellowstone National Park officials have reported that grizzly bears are beginning to emerge from their dens.

First bears out of the hatch usually are males.  Females with cubs born in the den during winter usually are last out, giving the cubs more chance to develop.

Grizzly bears are emerging from hibernation in the Greater Yellowstone Area, so hikers, skiers and snowshoers are advised to stay in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

The first confirmed reports of grizzly bear activity in the Park were reported on March 4. Guides and visitors observed and photographed a grizzly bear along the road in the Hayden Valley area. The first black bear of the year was observed on February 11 near the south end of the park.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

Updated bear safety information is available on the Yellowstone bear safety Web page.

While firearms are allowed in the park, the discharge of a firearm is a violation of park regulations. The park’s law enforcement rangers who carry firearms on duty rely on bear spray, rather than their weapons, as the most effective means to deal with a bear encounter.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage, barbecue grills and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes. This helps keep bears from becoming conditioned to human foods, and helps keep park visitors and their property safe.

Yellowstone grizzlies recovered, panel says

THREATENED SPECIES — A panel of wildlife officials says it’s time to lift Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

An Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee spokesman says the panel’s members voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of ending the federal protections, the Associated Press reports.

The committee’s recommendation will be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency could propose a rule by mid-2014 to end protections.

Scientists say there are more than 700 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming following a decades-long recovery.

Revoking the animal’s threatened species status would open the door to limited hunting, but other conservation measures would stay in place.

Environmental groups worried about climate change say it’s too early to take the bears off the threatened list.

Bozeman-to-Yellowstone shuttle service planned

NATIONAL PARKS — Making a winter visit to Yellowstone National Park will be easier this season with a new shuttle service between Bozeman and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Yellowstone National Park Lodges, operated by Xanterra, says the shuttle will start on Dec. 18 with the winter season opening of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The opening of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is set for Dec. 20. The lodges provide the only wintertime accommodations within the park through March 2.

Except for the road from Gardiner, Mont. to Cooke City, Mont. via Mammoth Hot Springs, transportation within the park is limited to snowmobiles and enclosed heated snowcoaches during the winter. Snowcoach transportation is available daily to a variety of park locations. Xanterra also offers a wide range of half- and full-day snowcoach, ski and snowshoe tours and ski and snowshoe rentals as well as expert instruction and other services. 

The new shuttle will depart Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel daily at 9:15 a.m. and arrive at the airport at 11:15 a.m. For guests remaining in Bozeman, the shuttle will drop them off at a local hotel. Visitors who spent the previous night in Bozeman will board the shuttle at the Holiday Inn at 1 p.m. The shuttle will return to the airport to pick up arrivals for a 1:45 p.m. departure back to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone. 

Rates are $51.50, plus taxes and fees, each way for riders age three years and up.

Call toll-free: (866) 439-7375. 

Wolf nips grizzly cub in butt, outruns sow’s wrath

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's another take on that spectacular wildlife watching opportunity posed in mid-September by the death of a bison 400 yards from a road in Yellowstone Park.

  • Five grizzlies and five gray wolves challenged each other for three days as they jockeyed for a place at the dinner table.

In the YouTube video above, Deby Dixon — who took a videography course at Spokane Falls Community College from S-R photographer Colin Mulvany — captured an instructive wildlife moment as a wolf nips a yearling grizzly cub in the butt.

Wildlife biologists say this is not uncommon. An Alaska biologist described the same practice to me as he was explaining wolf behavior.

Wolves learn and survive by observing, testing the waters and pushing the limits. Even among grizzlies, wolves are quick enough to get away with murder.

Photos catch five wolves, five griz on one carcass

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A dead bison 400 yards from a main road in Yellowstone National Park in September provided the rare opportunity for visitors to see five grizzly bears — rare in itself — and five gray wolves vying for meals off the same carcass at the same time.

I was there, underarmed in dim light with a slow 300mm lens on my camera, but thoroughly enjoying the spectacle through spotting scopes with another 100 or so specators parked along the road between Gardiner and Cooke City.

Other photographers, including Pete Bengeyfield of Dillon, Mont., scored memorable shots, such as these two, using 600mm telephoto lenses and 1.4x extenders.

When I watched the proceedings, all of the grizzlies — the boar as well as the sow and her three yearling cubs — were on the carcass at the same time.  It appeared to me that the boar and sow had made rare peace because the five of them had a better chance of keeping the wolves at bay.

Read Bengeyfield's perspective and see more photos in this story from the Billings Gazette. 

Click continue reading (below) to see another photo here.

Idaho woman reports 3-year-old daughter shot self at Yellowstone campground

An Idaho woman camping in Yellowstone National Park reported that her 3-year-old daughter shot herself with a handgun; the child died after resuscitation efforts failed, the AP reports. It's the first shooting death in the park since 1978. The shooting occurred Saturday morning at Grant Village Campground; park officials are investigating. A federal law went into effect Feb. 22, 2010, allowing visitors to possess firearms in the park. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Photographer documents grizzly out of its den

WILDLIFE — It's time to start packing your bear spray again.

Grizzly bears are emerging from their winter dens pretty much right on schedule.

This photograph comes this week from Yellowstone Tour Guides, which has quite an assortment of photos showing the park's wildlife winning and losing the struggle to survive winter.

Yellowstone elk herd decline continues

WILDLIFE — A major elk herd that migrates between Yellowstone National Park and Montana is still in a decline that’s reduced the population by 80 percent in 20 years.

Scientists from the park and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks said the Northern Yellowstone elk herd is down 6 percent this winter, to 3,915 animals.

The herd peaked at about 20,000 animals in 1992. That was just a few years before gray wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone area from Canada after being absent from the region for decades.

Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators including mountain lions and bears, and harsh winters.

Video: How dumb can Yellowstone tourists be around bison?

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — Every year we read about a tourist in Yellowstone National Park being hurt or killed by a bison.

The park warns people to give bison plenty of distance; change course if necessary; leave them alone because while they're amazing creatures they're also unpredictable and dangerous.

The same goes with moose we see around the Inland Northwest, and even mountain goats (see previous post).

The incident in this video won't make headlines because nobody was hurt.  But if the child being chased had tripped, it would be a different story.  

This was really stupid, especially since adults are involved.

Warm water closes Yellowstone rivers to fishing

FISHING —  A week after an unrelenting heat wave forced Montana to put restrictions on three rivers, Yellowstone Park officials have announced they're closing fishing on portions of three rivers because of unusually warm water temperatures.

Starting Wednesday, park officials will prohibit fishing on the Gibbon River below Gibbon Falls, Firehole River below Keppler Cascades, and the Madison River.

Last week, Montana restricted fishing to early-day hours before 2 p.m. on the Smith, Dearborn and Sun Rivers.

The reason is water temperatures ranging into the high 70s — too warm for trout. Warm weather, hot water from thermal features and low stream flows all are causing the water to warm up.

Warm water can be stressful or even fatal for trout.

Yellowstone officials say the forecast calls for more warm weather and that could cause additional areas to be closed to fishing.

Cyclists rule in Yellowstone Park this week

BICYCLING —  Here’s another sign of springtime in Yellowstone National Park: Portions of the park have opened to bicycling.

The park has closed to snowmobiles for the winter but has yet to open to motorized vehicles for the summer.

In the meantime, bicyclists can travel between West Yellowstone, Madison, Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs, although not to Old Faithful or Canyon.

Park officials say bicyclists should be well prepared for weather that can quickly change to severe snow, ice and cold. Potentially dangerous animals including bison and grizzly bears are out and about and no services are available.

Yellowstone officials say anybody bicycling in Yellowstone this time of year should be ready to endure winter conditions for an extended period and be able to rescue themselves if necessary.

Yellowstone officials kill wolf seeking handouts

PREDATORS — It looks as though someone has killed another wolf with food.

A ranger at Yellowstone National Park has killed a gray wolf that repeatedly had come close to people in recent months.

The first case of this sort occurred in 2009, when park officials carried out their new management plan to eliminate any wolf that showed aggressive behavior or even too much friendliness toward people.

Park spokesman Dan Hottle says the 110-pound male wolf had come within a few feet of visitors and park staff on several occasions since this summer. Efforts to haze the wolf away from populated areas had proved unsuccessful.

Hottle says a ranger killed the wolf with a rifle on Saturday. The wolf was estimated to be between two and four years old and Hottle says park staff were concerned it might demonstrate more aggressive behavior.

Hottle says the park staff never saw anyone feed the wolf but believed it was conditioned to human food because it was following people. Feeding animals is a violation of park regulations.

Grizzly kills hiker in Yellowstone: first in 25 years

NATIONAL PARKS —  A grizzly bear killed a hiker today on a popular trail in the Yellowstone National Park backcountry. It's the first fatal bear mauling in the park since 1986, officials said.

Park spokesman Al Nash said it appears the man and his wife surprised a female grizzly and her cubs this morning, the Associated Press reports.

Nash said investigators have been interviewing the woman about the bear attack, which took place close to Canyon Village, near the middle of the park. He said authorities aren’t prepared to release the man’s name, age or hometown and likely won’t release more details until Thursday.

Nash said park officials haven’t taken any action against the bear, which he described as a sow with cubs.

Read on for details.

Cyclists rule on Yellowstone roads until April 15

BICYCLING — Bicycle riders have a few weeks to enjoy Yellowstone National Park before it opens to motorized, wheeled vehicles next month.

Crews at Yellowstone are clearing snow off the roads and the park is scheduled to open to motorists on April 15. Until then, bicyclists who are willing to brave the elements can tour the park under their own power.

The road between West Yellowstone, Madison, Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs will be open to bicycle travel for the next three weeks. Park officials say the northwest section of Yellowstone typically receives less snowfall than the rest of the park. There is no spring season bicycle-only access to Old Faithful or Canyon.

Riders must be prepared to encounter bears and other wildlife and should expect winter weather conditions.

INW: Judge OKs Bison Slaughter

A government horseback rider hazes bison to move them from one location to another earlier today, just inside Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Mont. U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell in Helena issued a ruling this morning in which he denied a request from wildlife advocates to stop the slaughter of potentially hundreds of wild bison from Yellowstone National Park that had attempted to migrate into Montana. Story below. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

2010 a lethal year for grizzlies

WILDLIFE — Grizzly bear deaths neared record levels for the region around Yellowstone National Park in 2010, but government biologists said the population remains robust enough to withstand the heavy losses.
 
The Associated Press reports that an estimated 75 of the protected animals were killed or removed from the wild, according to a government-sponsored grizzly study team. That equates to one grizzly gone for every eight counted this year in the sparsely populated Yellowstone region of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
 
The deaths were blamed primarily on grizzlies pushing into inhabited areas, where bears get into trouble as they search out food in farmyards and from the big game herds also stalked by hunters, AP reported.
 
Despite those conflicts, researchers recently reported the population topped 600 animals for the first time since grizzly recovery efforts began in the 1970s.

“The population will continue to grow with the mortalities we’re seeing now,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 
Read on for the rest of the AP story, which put's the 2010 grizzly year into perspective.

A Path of Desire

    I rested the side of my head on the cool glass of the small oval of the airplane window and gazed down at the ground below the wing. We were flying east, moving beyond the Cascades and toward the Rockies, covering hundreds of miles an hour.
    Patchwork squares of gold and brown and green were stitched together across the landscape, rising and falling, rippling from one edge of the horizon to the other. Roads and highways dissected the pattern, connecting farms and towns and cities.
It all reminded me of a model train display, roads at right angles and tiny trees planted along fence lines and around boxy white farmhouses with driveways and walkways leading from the house to a barn or garage.
    The plane followed a river, wide, winding and serpent-like, snaking between mountains and through canyons, twisting and turning, carving deeper into the landscape, bordered by a ribbon of green fed by the moisture.
    From 36,000 feet above, I could see the bends and turns the river made as it rushed headlong toward the sea. It was like a giant living thing crawling across the earth.
    But what interested me, was that from my view, I could see where the river had run before, before it had changed its course. Ghost canyons stretching across the grassland, no longer filled with water, often choked with homes and entire communities. There were faint scars on the crust of the earth, evidence that a river, like people, when left to its own, choses its own path. It wears away at the boundaries, carving, breaking and widening the road it wants to travel.
    Just like us.
    I thought of the river again later that week, as I rode up Montana’s Beartooth Highway, following switchback to switchback, circling up to the top. Looking back down at where we’d been, the ribbon of asphalt and concrete unfurled behind me. To my right, I could see the faint track etched into the steep hillside, made long ago, by pack animals threading their way up to the top.
    The mountains were there first. But, like the river, the earliest people chose a desire path, the term landscape designers use for the shortcuts people and animals make. They wanted to get over the mountains so they made their own way. Later, trappers and miners and explorers followed that early trail. Then came the tourists, making another kind of pilgrimage.
     In the summer of 1931, during the bleakest part of the depression, work on the ambitious project of building the Beartooth Highway began and in the span of four short years, primarily 1932 to 1936, it was done. A desire path that covers more than 60 miles and reaches a summit of more than 10,000 feet. Today, three quarters of a century later, the road still shines.
    Standing at the summit, I looked up at the tall Montana sky already heavy with snow even on a late summer day. And I gazed over the edge of the plateau to the valley below.  And, for a moment, I was filled with a fine sense of happiness.
    There are roads and rivers and even invisible navigational routes in the sky that carry us to where others have been before. But occasionally, often when we least expect it, we find the courage and the freedom to create our own path of desire.
    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com