Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wolf Puppies

Wolf Puppies ... photo from Living with Wolves

From Living with Wolves:

With the arrival of spring, tiny pups are born to the alpha pair. They come into the world blind and helpless, barely able to crawl. Each member of the extended family devotes itself completely to the pups, protecting them, making sure they grow up to be strong and beneficial additions to the pack.

The pups in turn, idolize adult wolves in every way. They walk where the adults walk, sniff the flowers the adults sniff and chew  the bones the adults chew, mimicking their every move. In this way knowledge is passed down from the older wolves to the
younger ones.

This knowledge also includes where to dig a safe den, how to hunt and where to cross rivers. The pack's survival depends upon this knowledge. Learning from the adults is how pups develop bonds, learn to communicate and cooperate as a family.

This dedication to family, defines the wolf.

But widespread myth and misinformation, causes these families to be torn apart everyday. The hunting and trapping of wolves and their pups is happening at this very moment, without understanding, thought or compassion, destroying wolf families and undermining this magnificent species' fragile path to recovery.

Living with Wolves is a 501(c)3 non profit that brings education, sound science and understanding to the public so wolves can raise their pups safely today, and for generations to come.

Call to Action: Wyoming Range

Momma Grizzly and cubs in the Tetons
From Greater Yellowstone Coalition:

Just a few hours south of Yellowstone National Park is Wyoming’s namesake mountain range. The Wyoming Range’s towering peaks and lush forests are home to half of Wyoming’s moose, as well as trophy elk and deer. The mountains also provide critical habitat for rare wildlife like lynx and bears. Its crystal clear streams are one of the last places anglers can find native Colorado River cutthroat trout. Thousands of people from around Wyoming and the nation head here every year to camp, hunt, and fish.

Hunters, anglers, Democrats, Republicans, ranchers, outfitters, and conservationists have worked together to protect this range for years. We all agree: The Wyoming Range is too special to drill.

Please join us in speaking out to protect the last 40,000 acres of the Wyoming Range from oil and gas leasing. The Forest Service is trying to do the right thing by declaring “no leasing” in this special place. They need your support. Please comment today, and tell the Forest Service you favor no leasing in the Wyoming Range. 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Crackling Lake

Yesterday we explored the thermal world of Yellowstone which was the main reason for making almost 3,500 square miles of territory our first national park. (As an aside, the bill making it a park was passed in 1872 with the understanding that no one would ask for any money to manage it!)

Anyway, we didn't see all of the 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers, but we saw incredible colors and marveled at the amazing thermal energy that surrounded us.

One of my favorite places was Crackling Lake, which sounded like it's name. Here's a 30-second video to give you a tiny taste.

Here are just a few more images from the day ...

and a new friend ...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Space and Abundance

Yellowstone continues to delight ... the sense of space and abundance is everywhere. I have fallen in love with bison. They are so calm as they walk through cars on their way somewhere else or sun peacefully in the fields, yet so powerful. There are so many of them here and it makes me feel wildly free to see them ... some in herds, some in groups, some miles away from the others. What fun to catch several moms and calves feeding.

My early morning walk was shared with several elk. This one looked like he was surprised to find me in his neighborhood.

 This is my access to the Yellowstone River right in front of the cottage. It's a trip I have yet to make.

Big horn sheep were among the other animals spotted today.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Chase by C Thomas Hoff

The Chase by C Thomas Hoff
Today I found a remarkable photo and a fascinating synchronicity.  I fell in love with this photo almost the minute I walked into Chris Hoff's gallery in downtown Gardiner, Montana. I didn't know there would be more.

One of the spirits of the Yellowstone Howling story is a wolf, a wolf who became the most famous wolf in the world because of her beauty, courage and spirit. In 2012, she was legally shot by a hunter when she ventured outside the park. She plays a large part in this story and is described in the "In Memoriam" segment of this blog.

Here's Chris's story of how this photo came into being:

THE CHASE STORY - March 26th 2011 -- see more of the artist's remarkable photos here.

It was a tough winter in Yellowstone National Park. Winter came early and dropped a lot of snow. It would be another 6 to 8 weeks before the valley floors were free of snow. The Elk were hanging out on the wind blown ridge tops that were free from snow but had little vegetation. The Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack were sleeping on a south facing hill side at 7:30 am. The Elk were on a ridge to the left. A few of the young Wolves got up and started moving around at 11 am. They went up the hill to check out a big bull Bison that was bedded down. One Wolf tried to grab ahold of the Bison's tail, the Bison didn't even get up, these young Wolves were no threat. After they harassed a single cow Elk 30 yds from the bison they went back to the other sleeping Wolves and woke them up. I guess they were hungry. The adult Wolves knew just where to go. They started up the ridge to the left slowly climbing, pausing, looking ahead. When they neared the top of the ridge they stopped and looked ahead toward the Elk. After a few moments The Wolves gave Chase. It lasted 4 seconds. They disappeared behind another hill. I was able to make 5 photographs in 1.2 seconds. The Image is the second and third photograph merged together into this Once In A Lifetime Panorama.  A minute later the Elk ran back up the hill, 1 less. Lunch was served. The Wolves in this panoramic photograph from left to right are 06 alpha female, 755 black alpha male, middle gray pup, 754 black beta male. The two other pups where still coming up the ridge to the right.  There were 30 some elk in all running down the ridge. 755 has turned silver over the last few years. It's no wonder after everything he has been through.
C Thomas Hoff.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What a Beginning

Oh my ... what a day!

The Tetons
Cascade Caynon
Jenny Lake
Nice reflections
 3 wolves on our first day! I was so excited I only managed to get one in focus!
Out for a morning stroll
Antelope and a herd of elk were in the same neighborhood as the wolves but everyone was going their own way.

And bison ... lots of bison.
They know when they have the right of way!
Mostly they are just enjoying the sun.

Plus our cottage overlooks the Yellowstone River in the middle of Gardiner.

This is going to be a grand week.

Art and Antlers in Jackson

When we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, it was too chilly and snowy to walk around town so we drove around and found a treasure ... the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Modeled after a Scottish castle and set on a hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge, it is one of the most stunning museum settings I've seen.

I was expecting local art. However, the collection includes work by Rousseau, O'Keefe, Bierstadt and the largest public collection of Carl Rungius, considered the "Old Master" of North American wildlife art. I was particularly taken by Rungius's work since he started his adventures primarily as a hunter.

If you can't get to Jackson anytime soon, take this virtual tour. Here are just a few things I particularly liked. I am so glad it snowed.

Wapiti Trail by Bart Walter

Buffalo in the Snow

Tetons by Marvin Oliver
Museum Logo

Chief by Robert Bateman
Bison and the museum overlook
And, of course, what would a trip to Jackson be without a photo of one of the antler arches that grace the town square?

Spring Colors and Snow

It's easy to talk about fall colors but today we wound our way along the Snake River through spring colors ... thousands of shades of green in a kaleidoscope of sun and shadow as we traveled from a cool spring day to a snow storm (at 46 degrees!) Glorious.
Snake River
More spring


Saturday, May 7, 2016

It Is Going to Be Crowded

Will there be room for all of us?
On Monday, my RAV4 will be overflowing with personalities. In addition to me and my traveling companion, Ed, there will be three other passengers, the primary characters of Yellowstone Howling

Janey Devereaux - Janey is an average, middle-aged woman (58). Until two years ago, she lived an ordinary life as a wife and mom, working as a portrait photographer in the Roseburg, Oregon, J.C. Penney’s store. Then the Universe took away her husband and her job and sent her kids off to make their own lives. Depression, fear and anxiety have her in their grip and she doesn’t know what to make of what remains of her life. (NOTE for all you Roseburgians — there is no portrait studio in your J.C. Penney’s store.)

Stella Rainville - sometimes life gets pushed off the rails by circumstances, sometimes by our own mistakes and bad choices. Both forces conspired to create chaos in Stella’s life and at 54 and unemployed, she now considers herself a failure caught between two worlds. She knows she needs a change but has no idea what it should be.

Jesse Sanchez - until a few months ago, Jesse was an average, nerdy 14-year-old, more interested in Minecraft than the soccer his parents pushed him into. Then his sister, Amanda, died in a tragic mass shooting on the college campus where she had just begun her studies. Jesse feels guilty and thinks the only thing that will help is to see and take pictures of the places where Amanda spent her summer internship observing the reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone. 

With Amanda’s field note journals in hand, Jesse talked the now unemployed Janey and Stella into taking a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. (Hint: what they find there will not be what they expect to find.)

Although they don’t take up much space, there will also be some passengers who can’t be seen but who affect everything with their presence.

Amanda Sanchez - Amanda and her love for the wolves is the dynamic force that weaves through this story. Her tragic death pulls everyone into a mystery that changes everything.

Wayne Rainville - Stella’s uncle was a Vietnam vet who battled alcohol and PTSD until he found peace in the wilderness. While he lived, he gave Stella as much of himself as he could. When he died, he left her his cabin, which is where they will call home while Stella, Janey and Jesse are on their road trip of discovery.

Wolf - there are hundreds of wolves that have lived and died in Yellowstone in the twenty years since wolves were reintroduced into the park. One of them became a “rock star” to wolf-watchers around the world. Big, barrel-chested and courageous, she was the one everyone wanted to see, until she wandered outside the park and was shot by a hunter in legal hunting season.

How all of us will fare on this trip is yet to be seen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Grizzly Delisting and Climate Change

Photo from Wikipedia
Citing the successful restoration of the grizzly population in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho during the last three decades from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing grizzlies from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This action, called "delisting," opens up grizzlies to trophy hunters if they wander outside the protected area of Yellowstone National Park … and grizzlies do wander.

Comments from the public are being accepted until May 10, 2016. Naturalist author, Doug Peacock, and many world-renown scientists are objecting to the government’s assertion that the grizzlies will not be harmed by climate change. Grizzlies have three primary food sources: whitebark pine nuts (trees that are now being decimated throughout the west by the mountain pine beetle), cutthroat trout, in rapid decline due to drought and the onslaught of non-native lake trout, and miller moths. Grizzlies can eat up to 40,000 moths a day during the late summer season. The effect of climate change on these moths is uncertain. 
This letter to President Obama from Doug Peacock, challenges the idea that climate change will have no effect on grizzlies and other animals designated as endangered.

Open Letter to President Obama

April 29, 2016

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
We are writing to thank you for your leadership on climate change and to ask for your help: Yellowstone grizzly bears are in grave danger.
Your administration has regrettably taken steps to strip the bear’s federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening up a grizzly bear trophy hunt on the edges of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone’s bears are a remnant and isolated population. They must be allowed to wander safely outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Americans would never accept hunting of America’s bald eagle; hunting Yellowstone grizzly bears is equally unacceptable.

To make matters worse, America’s great bears face the same looming threats as many species across the country due to climate change. In the last decade, climate change has decimated the Yellowstone grizzly’s most important food, the white bark pine nut.

Unfortunately, the March 3, 2016, delisting announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) came paired with an astonishing declaration in the Federal Register: “Therefore, we conclude that the effects of climate change do not constitute a threat to the [Yellowstone grizzly bear population] now, nor are they anticipated to in the future.”
This statement is even more disturbing in light of your administration’s commitment to addressing climate change, because climate change predictions are dire for all our planet’s species. How can it be that the military considers climate change in all its decisions, while the agency responsible for our wildlife, the FWS, does not?

The same argument – the denial of climate change – was used by the FWS in 2014 to deny listing the wolverine in the lower 48 states. On April 4, 2016, that decision was reversed in federal court, and declared “arbitrary and capricious.” The FWS was ordered to reconsider its reasoning about climate change. It’s now time for this federal agency to play catch up and use “the best available science” to keep grizzly bears on the ESA list.

A critical question: Who benefits from delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears? The only certain outcome of delisting bears will be trophy hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

We ask you to instruct our federal wildlife managers to withdraw the March 3 rule and order the FWS to take another look at how climate change impacts grizzly bears. Any decision about the bear’s future should be put on hold until independent scientific review can explore potential impacts to bears from climate change. We strongly suspect that America’s great bears face a dire future, even with the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Respectfully yours,
Doug Peacock
Author, Guggenheim Fellow

Concerned scientists:
Professor Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology
George B. Schaller, Panthera Corporation and Wildlife Conservation Society
Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace
Michael Soule, Professor Emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz
Citizens of the Yellowstone ecosystem:
Jeff Bridges, Academy Award-winning actor
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, Inc.
Michael Finley, Former superintendent Yellowstone National Park
Carl Hiaasen, Journalist, author
Michael Keaton, Academy Award-winning actor
Tom McGuane, American Academy of Arts & Letters
N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize winner
Terry Tempest Williams, Author and Guggenheim Fellow
Ted Turner, Philanthropist and conservationist
Download the Letter (PDF)

Wolf Dens

This essay was provided by Jeremy Heft, Biologist and Sanctuary Manager, Wolf Education and Research Center.


As the snow melts in the spring, all gray wolf packs begin preparation for one the most exciting times of the year—the birth of puppies.  As discussed in previous lessons, breeding season for wolves begins in December and usually terminates in early March, with the actual mating occurring typically in late February. 

Wolves have a 63 day gestation, which means puppies are born in April or May.  This annual event is perfectly timed so puppies are not subjected to the extreme cold of winter immediately upon birth, plus most other Northern hemisphere mammals are birthing at the same time.  This is not a coincidence, but rather an evolved pattern so the pack has ample prey in the form of elk or deer fawns, which means more food to share with the new puppies. 

Another benefit of the spring season is the ground is quite soft due to being saturated from snow melt, thus is easy to dig into.  Packs create a den for the mother to birth her puppies in, and then the pups and the mother reside in this den for the first several weeks after birth.  The mother stays with the pups while the pack hunts, or a “pupsitter” is appointed by the pack to watch over the puppies when the mother must leave.  Either way, the puppies remain in or near the den for the first few months of their life. 

After the puppies are too large to inhabit the den, they are moved to a rendezvous site, where they stay while the pack is away hunting.  Now considered sub-adults, the wolves will never use a den again in their life, unless one of them later becomes a mother herself.  Dens are only used for birthing puppies, not as a sleeping area or to escape the weather as you may think.  In captivity, wolves will occasionally use dens to escape dominance from other members, but this is not a natural behavior, rather an ingenious way to use the available environment to cope with the negative aspects of captivity. 

In 2004, WERC supported an interesting Masters Thesis study by Jon Trapp of Prescott College.  Jon, a WERC supporter and personal friend, examined wolf den selection and characteristics in the Northern Rocky Mountains.  The study showed that nearly all dens existed within the core area of the pack’s territory, or the area used most frequently by the pack.  The most important factors in selection of a den site were determined to be adequate canopy (or large tree) cover, herbaceous vegetation nearby, small logs and rocks near the site, and the proximity to a water source (usually within 100 m). 

Jon found that many dens were visually obscured from a close range by vegetation, making the dens difficult to locate. This is probably important for protection of the puppies from predators and maybe even humans.  The study also found that human made structures such as roads were not a significant factor in choosing den sites, therefore providing more proof that wolves can probably coexist closely with human society.  Most dens were dug under a fallen tree root system or under a rock or similar large item, probably to help support the roof of the den. 

The soil type of the den site was deemed important, as most dens possessed a sandy-type soil that allowed easy drainage thus preventing the den from being flooded.  Jon’s findings were important to wolf protection, as managers now have better knowledge of potential den areas so protection from humans can be accomplished by closing certain high potential den areas to human activity during the birthing season.  This would allow packs to birth and care for their puppies undisturbed, leading to healthier wolf populations in the future. 

WERC is proud to have been a part of this important study. 

-J. Heft