Showing posts with label Wyoming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wyoming. Show all posts

December 11, 2010

Wyoming Papers Please Copy

From a listserv on literature and nature to which I subscribe comes this observation:

If such a thing [as "Footnote of the Year"] existed, it should surely go to this, from Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's introduction to Queer Ecologies: discussing Brokeback Mountain as gay pastoral, they comment: "Although there are clear differences between Wyoming and Arcadia, both physically and economically."

December 10, 2010

A Book for Pronghorn Antelope

I was driving to Pueblo yesterday and passed a small group of pronghorn antelope at the edge of the prairie.

Again I thought, antelope get no respect. There is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, and other groups that organize conservation efforts, help to fund scientific research, and sometimes buy vital land for habitat for other North American ungulates. For antelope there is, for instance, the Arizona Antelope Foundation, but no national groups that I am aware of.

They often seem to be expected to just make it on their own, like jackrabbits. Some Westerners refer to them half-pejoratively as "goats."

The catalog copy for Cat Urbigkit's new book, The Path of the Pronghorn, states,
They are the fastest land mammals in North America, clocked at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. Of all the world’s land animals, only cheetahs are faster.
A ghost hides in that paragraph. At one time cheetahs did live in North America, and pronghorn evolved to outrun them in a sustained chase, since cheetahs are mainly sprinters. Until humans built automobiles, there was nothing faster than the antelope for many centuries on the Western grasslands. 

(For more on this and other "ghosts of evolution," see Connie Barlow's book of the same name.)

Wyoming has more antelope than any other state. Urbigkit's text and Mark Gocke's photos  trace the migration of one herd in the Green River country, as they move from the sagebrush desert up into their high-country summer range and back down again in fall.

This particular herd, she writes, "participates in the longest land-mammal migration in the continental United States .... up to two hundred miles to spend the summer in Grand Teton National Park."

And it's not an easy trip.

Path of the Pronghorn speaks for antelope, then, and does it lucidly.

September 19, 2010

On the Road

US 85, going up the western edge of the Black Hills in eastern Wyoming.

August 15, 2010

The Hard Lives of Livestock-Protection Dogs

At Querencia, Cat Urbigkit, who with her husband has a sheep ranch in western Wyoming, describes the rescue of a lost livestock-protection dog, now named Evita, along with a juvenile osprey. (Their stories are updated here.)
This young dog had recently had pups, was battling a raging internal infection, and was very weak, her unkempt coat full of tags and discharge. I couldn’t get her image out of my mind as I drove home making calls trying to be sure none of my sheepmen friends were missing a dog. None were, and she had been picked up in a fairly remote mountainous region. It was obvious she hadn’t been cared for in a very long time.
It's wolf country, and livestock-protection dogs are one of her major concerns. Now the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board has agreed to fund her and her husband to travel through parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia—other areas that still have wolves and sheep—"to interview livestock producers who use livestock protection dogs in areas of dense wolf and bear populations to learn what they are doing there that might be of assistance to producers in similar situations here in Wyoming."

Lots of people considering the issue of wolves in the West have been happy to see big fluffy dogs on the job. Problem solved, right? And everyone loves doggies.

But as she candidly admits, "The livestock protection dogs (LPDs) we’ve been using have worked wonderfully against smaller and medium-sized predators, especially coyotes, but when it comes to larger carnivores, our dogs have been taking a beating – too many of our dogs have been killed while guarding their herds."

It happened again last week near Evanston, Wyoming: two Great Pyrenees livestock dogs took on a wolf, and the dogs lost.

I am not that connected to ranching—that is more in the Canadian side of my family. But I do like to wear wool and occasionally eat lamb. And I find this aspect of "dog culture" fascinating, perhaps because it speaks to why we live with them in the first place.

April 05, 2010

A Dog Memoir Worth Reading

Normally I do not read dog books—memoirs, that is. I do read dog-training books.

When I was a boy, I read one of Ernest Thompson Seton's  books of animal stories—I don't remember which—in which one or more dogs came to bad ends.

Talk about aversive conditioning! It was like setting the shock collar on "10." I was shy of dog stories ever after.

Forty-plus years later and  I still look at my collie-mix dog, Shelby, and think of the dog in the story (another collie?) sleeping sweetly on the hearth of home (if I remember right), while its owner, realizing from its bloody muzzle that it is the sheep-killer that has been plaguing the area, prepares to shoot it on the spot.

Then somewhere I learned a phrase that ran more or less like this: "All dog stories are sad because dogs do not live as long as we do."

I seem to recollect it being attributed to Judge John Voelker (a/k/a Robert Traver.)

Thus prepared, when M. brought home Ted Kerasote's 2007 dog memoir, Merle's Door, from the library, I decided to read it too.

It has provoked a lot of discussion across the dinner table. Merle's life was not unlike Shelby's when she was younger—she spent a lot of time out roaming on her own and socializing with other dogs as well.

Like Kerasote, we had to deal with a neighbor who wanted to overfeed her, and unlike him, we spent a lot of time looking for her. (It did not help that she was—I am sure—kidnapped for two months.)

Kerasote's laissez-faire attitude about letting his dog develop his native intelligence must be provoking comments elsewhere too, because he wades right into the nature-versus-nature debate as applied to dogs.

And dog-training, I have learned, is a minefield. For example:

  • Cesar Milan: genius or charlatan?
  • Clicker training: good idea or reliance on a stupid gadget?
  • Shock collars: Useful at times or vicious torture?

And so on. Come down on the "wrong" side of those debates, and there will be somebody flinging feces in your direction. (Speaking of which, now that the snow is melting, the dog run desperately needs the big shovel.)

Kerasote, meanwhile, always a hard-working nature/outdoor writer, has now smelled the kibble and morphed into a dog writer, with two new dog books forthcoming.

As for Merle's Door, it's a good read but you have to expect the inevitable ending.

October 10, 2009

A Plot for Black Hills Bears

I wonder how many people drive past the Bear Country USA private zoo on US 16 near Rapid City and find themselves modifying Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." (Video here.)

It would be something like, "Took all the bears, put 'em in a bear museum / And charged the people fifteen dollars just to see 'em."

(Doesn't scan as well as the original. Blame inflation.)

All through our recent trip, I would do something like leave the cooler outside our pop-up trailer, catch myself—"A bear might get into it!"—and then realize that there are virtually no bears in the Black Hills.


I read that the last Black Hills black bear was shot in 1968 near the hamlet of Rochford, which means there were a few around when I was a boy, but I do not recall anyone needing to be too "bear aware" with garbage cans, etc., back then. (Grizzly bears were extirpated earlier.)

If you see a black bear, you are supposed to inform South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, which categorizes them as "state threatened," and fill out a "Rare Species Report Card," available as a PDF download from the web site.

But if I had (a) lots of money and (b) some close-mouthed co-conspirators, I would acquire the following:
  • one or more large culvert-style bear traps
  • one or more small cargo trailers, modified with additional air vents
  • large pickup truck to pull the above
And we could do our own bear-reintroduction program. After all, there are plenty in Colorado, where they have been taking food out of the mouths of the poverty-stricken Aspenites.

From capture to release should not take more than ten hours, on average—not too long for the bear to be confined. It's feasible.

Really, I am surprised that more black bears have not wandered over from the Bighorn Range or elsewhere in Wyoming. Too much open country, coal mines, Interstate 90, etc. in the way?

June 20, 2009

That Wandering Wolverine

The Denver Post article about the wolverine that wandered in from Wyoming has made its web site's "most popular" list.

Bob Inman, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Yellowstone Wolverine Program, said the animal, tagged M56 and fitted with a radio collar in December, went on the move in April.

He traveled from Grand Teton National Park, crossing busy Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming, to reach timberline in the mountains of northern Colorado.

"It is great news that this animal has ventured into Colorado, where it hasn't been documented in 90 years, but it also underscores the need to manage this species at a multi-state scale," Inman said.

So how do you manage them, beyond teaching them to avoid Rock Springs on their trip south?

January 14, 2009

Park Service "Challenged" by Conceal-Carry Law

Yellowstone National Park officials are "challenged" by the new federal regs allowing concealed-carry permit holders to do so in national parks, subject to the surrounding state's law.

Sebastian helps with a definition of "federal facility," straight out of the U.S. Code.

Yes, Yellowstone National Park does include bits of Idaho and Montana, although by far most of it is in Wyoming.

Permit holders will "have to do a lot of research," warns a former NPS employee, with the obvious implication that they are incapable of doing so.

One Web site is all you need. There, wasn't that easy?

These Park Service types remind me of the Teen Talk Barbie of 1994 that squawked "Math is hard!" when you pushed a button.

October 21, 2008

Regeneration in Yellowstone's 'Green Desert'

Above: lodgepole pine forests filling in after the 1988 Yellowstone fires.

My recent trip to Yellowstone came at the 20th anniversary of the big forest fires of 1988, which burned about a third of the park. The last time I had been there, recovery was just beginning. Fishing on the Lamar River, I had stepped from one winter-kill elk skeleton to the next.

It's all different now. There are lots of elk -- and the lodgepole pine forests are all 8-20 feet high.

In the current issue of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's magazine, Bugle, writer Lee Lamb reviews the factors that produced this complex of huge fires (sorry, no link yet), their effects on wildlife, and what happened since.

Immediately after the fires, the nutritional value of annual plants exploded, but then influx of new nutrients slowed. The park's northern elk herd — really too many animals for the habitat — numbered at least 19,000 before the fire. At least half died in 1988-89. The population rebounded, although the introduction of wolves in the mid-1990s, plus hunting when the elk are outside the park, keep the northern herd's population to 8,000-10,000 animals now.

The lodgepole pine forests are coming back, of course. Lamb speaks of more aspen groves in the park—frankly, I did not see them. In fact, I was surprised at how little aspen there was. Unlike here in the southern Rockies, where aspen springs up after a fire, lodgepole is mostly replaced by more lodgepole.

Even-aged stands of lodgepole pine are sometimes called "the green desert," because they permit few other plants and shrubs to grow and provide little food for wildlife other than squirrels.

Right: a tiny aspen crowded out by lodgepole.

M. says she prefers the northern parts of the park--Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs--best, and I tend to agree. Lodgepole pine forests are fairly boring, unless they have geysers and mud pots bubbling up in them.

October 12, 2008

Blog Stew with Predators

Sign in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, posted May 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton

¶ I saw this sign in the Lamar Valley at Yellowstone. I know that when when wolves arrived, they killed coyotes. So what is happening now? I did see one set of what looked like coyote tracks along the Lamar River, but saw only one individual coyote elsewhere in the park.

¶ Now this is what I call optimistic: a large carnivore initiative for Europe. Check the link for various news items.

¶ A video on the wolf controversies in North America.

The Mammoth Hot Springs Elk & People Rodeo

Photo by Chas S. CliftonElk wandering on the lawn of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park. Note the bull on the left. Click to embiggen.

I don't know how long that semi-tame elk have hung out around the hotel and old Fort Yellowstone grounds. I'm sure that decades ago, it was the easiest way for visitors to see them. But encouraging bears with open garbage dumps made them easy to see too, yet the Park Service abolished that practice eventually.

When we visited on Oct. 3, the rut was in full swing, I could see at least five bulls from the steps of the visitor center (the old Army post's BOQ). Two had harems and were acting acutely aware of each other, with occasional bugling and aggressive body language--at a safe distance.

But the park rangers were in a bigger lather than the bulls.

At the visitor center we had Anna Pigeon with a bullhorn herding visitors around: "You're between two bulls!! Up on the porch!!!"

Someone in a patrol car dashed back and forth, light bar flashing, flicking his siren, and barking confusing orders at drivers over his PA system: "Stop! Go! Turn! Stop!"

Another ranger placed orange cones on sidewalks and driveways, constantly rearranging them as the elk moved around. It was almost an artistic performance.

M. made various dry comments about "testosterone poisoning," referring, I think, to the bull elk.

I thought of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia: Lots of activity, but no real effect on the conflict.

But then the Park Service is 20 percent about preservation and 80 percent about crowd control. (Or maybe that should be 10:90.)

M. and I waited until the rangers' attention was elsewhere, then strolled towards where the Jeep was parked. Someone shouted through a bullhorn--I gestured towards the parking lot and kept going. And we left.

I suppose that if they are going to have semi-tame elk, they could bring in some semi-tame wolves. Then no one would have to leave the hotel to see nature in the raw. Visitors could sit in the lovely Art Deco hotel dining room, listening to the big-band music on the sound system, and watch predation in the parking lot.

Or they could start discouraging elk from hanging around the hotel complex.

UPDATE: Yellowstone's web site has a page of videos of people getting too close to elk and buffalo. You can watch rutting elk attacking cars at Mammoth. But given the road layout, there is no other way for drivers to go, so why does the NPS allow the "tame" elk?

October 07, 2008

Built for Comfort, not for Speed

Buffalo in the road. Yellowstone Park. Oct. 2, 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
In his novel Ægypt, John Crowley's protagonist sees someone driving a "Bison" station wagon. Evidently it looked like this.

Raven Pillagers

Ravens pillaging a Jeep parked at Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.
Last Saturday, when M. and I parked at Norris Geyser Basin's lot, I saw a raven burying what looked like a piece of cracker under some gravel. Later we found the source: this pillaged Jeep Wrangler.

The owner and his pal came along while I was shooting pictures. They were astonished to discover that not only had the ravens ripped into some plastic bags, but they had also unzipped some luggage and gotten into it as well.

If ravens are smart enough to play dead, it is not surprising that they can open zippers.

October 05, 2008

Dining through Yellowstone (and Grand Teton)

View from Signal Mountain Lodge, Grand Teton National Park, 5 October 2008. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Let's face it, national-park food is sort of like Amtrak dining-car food, but with even better views. (I think they serve the exact same "garden burger.") The wine list in the parks is better too.

By the end of our Yellowstone visit, M. and I had developed a routine. First, a leisurely campground breakfast. Then some walks around geological areas -- Norris Geyser Basin, for instance. Then, around 2:30 p.m., a large late lunch at one of the grand old lodges, e.g., Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or the Old Faithful Inn.

Then fishing and buffalo-watching, or whatever. Back to the campground after dark for tea and whiskey.

Finally, if you are looking for a meal in the Grand Teton or Yellowstone areas, you should skip International Leisure Hosts, Ltd.'s Flagg Ranch lodge.

We tried to eat lunch there today, with emphasis on tried. On a slow day, with only about five tables filled, we ordered sandwiches, waited ... waited, only to be told that, surprise! some employees had eaten them! New sandwiches were promised, right away. (No offer to "comp" our meal though.) We waited ... waited -- and then we walked. You would think that by the end of the season they would have worked out their kitchen procedures.

So forget Flagg Ranch. Go a little farther south to Signal Mountain Lodge, which offers a much better menu, fast service, and the view in the photo above.

April 05, 2008

Stone Men

Archaeologist Anthony Swenson expounds reasonably on sheepherder's cairns. (Scroll to the bottom.) I had not heard the term Stone Johnnies before.

My father spent part of his Forest Service career riding the sheep range of the San Juan Mountains in SW Colorado, which is why if you asked him to say something in Spanish, he would reply,"¿Cuántas borregas tiene?"

He always offered the explanation, "They built them to have something to do."

The navigational-marker explanation makes sense in open country, but I have also seen the cairns in high mountain valleys where a person could not easily get lost without going over a ridge.

Of course, if you ask the modern-day shepherd why that cairn is there, he'll likely shrug and say 'don't know', but even if he doesn't know who built it or why, he still knows it's on the next ridge north of his camp. Thus, they continue to serve as landmarks, even if those who employ them as such have forgotten that they were built for that purpose. Which, when you think about it, is fairly delightful. How many man-made objects can you think of that continue to perform their intended function long after we've forgotten what that function was?

May 20, 2007

What the Yellowstone Grizzlies Eat

It's a little like CSI: Yellowstone.

Researchers are using DNA analysis, atomic absorption spectrometry, and other techniques to analyze not just what Yellowstone grizzlies eat, but what they used to eat, based on study of museum specimens.

Download the paper: "Grizzly Bear Nutrition and Ecology Studies in Yellowstone National Park" (376kb PDF file)

It all bears (pun) on such issues as the displacement of cutthroat trout by introduced lake trout in Yellowstone Lake and diseases and bugs affecting whitebark pine trees.

The oldest grizzly bear bones that we found came from a 1,000-year-old packrat midden excavated from the Lamar Cave. Due to the efforts of this hard-working pack-rat that had a fetish for bones, we know that meat (everything from ants to trout and elk) provided 32% of the nourishment for those grizzly bears and 68% came from plants (everything from roots and leaves to berries and nuts. That distribution of dietary meat to plants is identical to what we found for five grizzly bears killed from 1856 to 1888 in eastern Montana and Wyoming.

From 1914 to 1918 when many hotels were feeding kitchen scraps to attract grizzly bears for tourist entertainment and local towns had open-pit garbage dumps, the park’s grizzly bears switched to 85% meat, 15% plants. After all such feeding ended by the early 1970s and bears were forced to return to natural foods, the diets of young bears of both sexes and adult females returned to the levels observed 1,000 years ago (~40% meat, 60% plants). Adult males have continued a more carnivorous life (~80% meat, 20% plants). Large males can prey more efficiently on the park’s elk and bison or claim the carcasses of animals that died from other causes. Bears that have been killed for preying on livestock outside the park had diets that were 85% meat, 15% plants. These levels of meat consumption are in contrast to those of grizzly bears in Glacier National Park and Denali National Park, where plant matter provides 97% of their nourishment. Thus, for grizzly bears, the opportunity to consume meat differentiates the Yellowstone ecosystem from many other interior ecosystems where bears must feed primarily on plants. Cutthroat trout are one of those meat sources.

May 18, 2007

Wyoming Wolves

Swen, the "coyote at the dog show," (and I bet he says coyote with two syllables), summarizes current developments in the Wyoming wolf-management brouhaha. (Scroll down a little.)

He ends with this wry observation:

Meanwhile, the wolf population continues to grow, and managing those wolves continues to be the feds' problem. And an expensive problem it is. Funny that the grizzly reached its population target years ago and the feds are just now getting around to considering removing them from the endangered species list, yet wolves were just reintroduced a little over a decade ago and the USFWS can't wait to wash their hands of them. It couldn't be that the grizzly has caused few problems, while the wolves are becoming a major pain in the butt, could it?

At Querencia, Steve Bodio posts excerpts from a paper by noted mammalogist Val Geist including this:

"The politically correct view about wolves, currently vehemently and dogmatically defended, is that wolves are “harmless” and of no danger to humans. This view arose from the early research of eminent North American biologists who, confronted by historical material contradictory to their experiences, greatly mistrusted such. Due to language, political and cultural barriers they could access such at best in part, but they were nevertheless convinced that the old view of wolves, as enshrined in Grimm’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood was incorrect and based on ill founded myths, fears and superstitions. They were greatly aided in this by premature conclusions about free-living and captive wolves, as well as by a brilliant literary prank by a renowned Canadian author and humorist, which illustrated wolves as harmless mouse eaters.

If I ever see the whole thing online, I will link to it.

November 13, 2005

Fleeced - 2

(Note that this story, blogged earlier, happened in Wales.)

Here is another story out of Wales, about a teacher whose pupils knew more than she did. It's the one under the headline "Unknown Knowns."

It helps if you realize that Leeds is an northern English industrial city, whereas north Wales has been sheep country since there were sheep. All the jokes that Coloradans tell about Wyoming ("Wyoming: Where men are men, and sheep are nervous") were probably told about north Wales in 4th-century P-Celtic dialects.

July 26, 2005


Scene: A "moose jam"--parked cars and people with binoculars crossing the narrow, twisting Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park. A cow moose and her calf are resting in the shade under a boggy patch of willows nearby. Moose are sort of totemic hereabouts.

An SUV rolls by and the driver shouts, in perfect northern New Jersey intonation, "Th' fuck you lookin' at?"

I didn't know Tony Soprano ever made it out to Wyoming.