Scientists discuss Yellowstone’s big three: climate change, invasives, land use

 

The hunting patterns of wolves may be impacted by climate change in Yellowstone Photo: Beth Pratt“If you want to get proud about a butterfly species in Yellowstone, this is the one,” said Diane Debinski, a Professor at Iowa State University. She was referring to the dainty Hayden’s Ringlet, a butterfly found almost exclusively in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).  Her research, however, did not bode well for the insect, as drier conditions in the region appear to be decreasing the butterfly’s habitat.

Debinski, along with hundreds of other scientists, researchers, and land managers, gathered inYellowstone National Park last week as part of the10th Biennial Scientific Conference. The goal of the conference, entitled “Questioning Yellowstone’s Future: Climate, Land Use, and Invasive Species,” was to foster synergies among current research and land management practices in order to find solutions for protecting the GYE against the three primary drivers of change.

And change is already rapidly occurring in the GYE, one of the largest intact temperate ecosystems on the planet. Peak runoff from snowmelt is happening 10-20 days earlier and the growing season in the GYE has increased by two weeks. Invasive species adds threats as well, such as the lake trout driving out Yellowstone’s native cutthroat trout or the Canada thistle marginalizing wetlands.  Additionally, human population in the GYE has grown by 61% from 1970 to 2000 and at the same time rural land under development has increased by 350%.

All of these changes have significant implications for the diverse flora and fauna of the region. Dr. Stephen Gray, Wyoming State Climatologist, warned: “What we think of as drought today could become the norm in the future.” Along with Hayden’s butterfly, a warmer and drier climate has consequences for a number of animal species in the GYE.  For example, Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Project Leader, presented his research on winter wolf predation rates in Yellowstone and found that “big climatic patterns associated with snowfall are impacting the wolf kill rate.” The wolves in recent years have been switching from elk calves to bulls as a result of the bulls being in poorer condition in early winter because of drought. 

Other climate related findings included a possible disruption of hibernation patterns for bears, and a shift in the GYE to warm water fisheries. “Bears don’t pee for five months,” observed Professor Hank Harlow of the University of Wyoming. His research showed that the bear’s physiological strategy to conserve protein in hibernation through recycling urea could be disrupted by the animal being aroused from its den in warmer winters. Scott Christensen, the Climate Change Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (and an avid angler), said native trout faces risks from decreased river flow and warmer water temperatures. “Climate change is already impacting native trout and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.”

Dr. Bob Gresswell, from the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, addressed the severe threat the invasive lake trout poses to Yellowstone’s native cutthroat, and recalled the days when hundreds of thousands of visitors would gather at Fishing Bridge every year to watch the Yellowstone cutthroat spawn. “If you’ve been to Fishing Bridge lately, you are lucky to see any trout,” he lamented. Dr. Andrew Hansen from Montana State Universityproposed the choice of either loving the GYE to death or loving it to health in his keynote address. His research has shown that land use development in ecologically significant areas is already impacting the GYE, and in response to a predicted doubling of the population by 2040, he posed the question, “What is the population here that would serve the common interest?”

Despite all these challenges, the group remained hopeful that science could provide solutions to assist with protection of the GYE. In his panel on the area’s science agenda, Tom Olliff, with the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, announced, “The good news is a lot of the work on these issues has been going on over the past year,” referring to two prior workshops held on the topic. Continuing this work—and finding viable solutions to the issues facing the GYE—is a vital next step.  Dr. Marcia McNutt, the Director of the USGS, provided attendees with the call to action: “Yellowstone like many of America’s great places is many things to many people but what it can never be is a failed scientific experiment.”

The 10th Biennial Scientific Conference, “Questioning Yellowstone’s Future: Climate Change, Land Use and Invasive Species,” was held in Yellowstone National Park on October 11-13, 2010.

Conference sponsors include the US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Discipline, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; US Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain Prairie-Region, Office of Landscape Conservation; Montana State University;Yellowstone Association; University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute; Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit; University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center;Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee(National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service); Canon U.S.A., Inc., the Yellowstone Park Foundation, and the Greater Yellowstone Science Learning Center.

Do bears grow on trees? Black bear napping in my yard in Yellowstone

I've already hit the snooze button a dozen times...Living in Yellowstone National Park, I always scan my surroundings and remain alert for wildlife encounters. I learned this strategy the hard way, such as the morning I emerged from my house a bit sleepy, forgot to look both ways before walking out the door, and found myself face-to-face with a rather large bison grazing on my lawn. The encounter proved more effective than a shot of espresso for curing my drowsiness, and also forced me to add a "look both ways when exiting the house" rule to my routine.

I will now have to add a "look up" rule as well. Last week a black bear decided to nap about 30 feet up the trunk of a tree in my yard. My neighbor walked her dog under the tree in the morning, unaware that right above her head was a sizable bear. The bear remained in the tree all day, occasionally awakening to shift position and yawn, looking like we all do in the morning when we resist getting up for work. People gathered in the driveway to view the slumbering ursine, and watched as the strong winds rocked the tree like a giant cradle as the bear slept peacefully.

Here are some more photos of the napping bear. 

 



Yellowstone ursine update: an interview with the park's bear biologist

Grizzly bear and cub near Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Beth Pratt

In Yellowstone this year, bears have received much attention, from the grizzly sow that gave birth to a rare four cubs, to the recent attacks outside the park. I spoke this week with Kerry Gunther, National Park Service Bear Management Biologist in Yellowstone, for an ursine update.

How are the bears overall in Yellowstone doing?
We had good cub production in the park this year and cub production significantly exceeded human-caused bear mortality, so bears in Yellowstone National Park have been doing fairly well so far this year.

One of the highlights this year for park visitors has been viewing the grizzly sow that gave birth to a rare four cubs. How are the bear and her four cubs doing? Are all the cubs still alive?
The female with the four cubs was observed earlier this week.  She and all four cubs are doing well so far.

What is the likelihood that all four bear cubs will survive?

The probability of a grizzly bear cub surviving its first year is about sixty-four percent. Very few bears die during hibernation, so if they make it to denning they have a high chance of surviving to their yearling year.  They have beaten the odds so far.

 

At least anecdotally, this appears to be a great year for bear sightings in the park. Statistically has there been an actual increase in activity? If so, any reason for the increased bear sightings?
So far, we have not really had significantly more bear sightings than last year.  Because whitebark pine trees did not produce many cones this year, we expect to have more late summer and fall sightings than last year because bears will likely be down at lower elevations eating roots and other foods.  Last year the whitebark pine seed production was very good and so bears were up high in the forest during late summer and fall and thus less visible.

There have been many reports on the relationship between grizzly bears and the whitebark pine decline, most citing that the demise of the tree will have pretty significant consequences for the bears. Do you agree?
Bears are very adaptable, omnivore generalists that are capable of diet switching.  They have adapted to the loss of whitebark pine in other ecosystems. In some years, the whitebark pine trees in the GYE don’t produce many cones, and bears have switched to other fall foods those years.  We don't know exactly how the complete loss of whitebark pine may affect bears.  Tree mortality appears to be lower this year.  So hopefully the worst of the mountain pine beetle mortality of whitebark pine is now behind us.

There have been two bear attacks in the Greater Yellowstone Area recently (although none in the park). Is this unusual? Do you think the bears are especially stressed this year?
Nutritional stress may have been a contributing factor in the bear attacks at the Soda Butte Campground outside of Cooke City.  The attack in the Kitty Creek drainage on the Shoshone National Forest was not likely related to food stress in any way.

Do you have any ideas what caused the recent attack at Soda Butte? Wildlife officials have said this isn't typical bear behavior.
We have no way of knowing for sure why the bear attacked the campers at the Soda Butte Campground.  Bears are predators and although it’s extremely rare, they do sometimes prey on people.

View a slide show of some of my bear sightings in the park this year below:

Grizzly bear with rare four cubs delights visitors in Yellowstone

Grizzly bear with four cubs in Yellowstone, June 5, 2010 (photo by Beth Pratt)

Grizzly bears often give birth to one or two cubs, and occasionally have three offspring. This year, visitors have flocked to an area just outside Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park to witness a rarity: four adorable bear cubs parading behind their mother.

Watch a video of this unusual bear family:

 

The bear family has been spotted almost daily in the area near Bunsen Peak and Swan Lake Flat, with the four cubs frolicking and playing in the vicinity of their mother. A grizzly sow gives birth to a litter of cubs during hibernation in January or February, and the cubs usually remain with her for two winters after birth.

Yesterday this remarkable bear family spent the morning wandering in the meadows of Swan Lake Flat and hundreds of visitors watched the playful antics of the cubs. Unfortunately, not all of the cubs are expected to survive, and one of the four appears much smaller than its siblings.

Yellowstone is home to over 150 grizzly bears who reside permanently in the park, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem houses over 600 of the animals. Black bears also live in Yellowstone National Park and are commonly sighted as well.

The Yellowstone grizzly bear was recently placed back on the endangered species in 2009 as climate change is having an impact on an important food source for the animal—the whitebark pine nut. Yellowstone’s grizzlies called attention to their plight in an amusing protest video directed at Stephen Colbert.

Yellowstone grizzly bears to remain on endangered list

Grizzly bears in Yellowstone are threatened by climate change (photo by Beth Pratt)Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain protected as the result of this week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. 

Two years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species listThe Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group, filed suit to block the removal. 

The non-profit won the case and Judge Molloy placed the grizzly bears back under federal protection in September, stating, "Without the protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Yellowstone grizzly bear distinct population segment will be placed in jeopardy." The government appealed the ruling and sent the case back for review, which was resolved with the announcement this week of the grizzly bear’s protection being upheld.

In Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area, a tiny beetle may decide the fate of the kingly grizzly bear. A beetle that destroys the whitebark pine tree has gained a considerable foothold in Yellowstone because of the effects of climate change. High in nutritional value, whitebark pine nuts provide a valuable food source for the bears. The relationship between the bear’s survival and the whitebark pine was an important part of Judge Molloy’s decision. 

In some parts of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, beetles have destroyed up to 70 percent of the trees in whitebark pine forests. Removing this important component of the grizzly bears’ diet puts considerable stress on the species that could ultimately lead to extinction. Louisa Wilcox, senior wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, has warned, “If these trees go, they could take Yellowstone’s grizzlies…with them. If we want to save not just the whitebark pine, but the animals and plants like the grizzly bear that depend on this tree for food, we need to move to protect and restore them now.”

Even the popular news host Stephen Colbert has raised attention about the plight of Yellowstone’s bears—albeit humorously—with a segment on his regular feature “Threatdown.” Yellowstone’s bears have also attacked Colbert for promoting anti-ursine propaganda and fear mongering.

 

Stephen Colbert attacks Yellowstone Grizzlies; bears fight back

On Wednesday night, Stephen Colbert launched yet another cowardly assault on grizzly bears, naming them the number one threat on his “Threatdown,” and encouraging viewers to shoot pine beetles in order to keep Yellowstone’s grizzly bears off the endangered species list.

 But this time the bears were prepared—and have launched an ongoing campaign against Colbert’s harassment. “He’s been persecuting us relentlessly for years,” said a bear spokesperson. “We taken our message to the people and feel confident they’ll see through his cowardice once they know the truth.”

 The bears recently staged a protest against Stephen Colbert and posted a video on YouTube that exposes his lies. “Thousands of visitors come to Yellowstone every day and for the most part coexist peacefully with the bears. Picnic baskets haven’t been stolen in decades.”

 The grizzly bears in Yellowstone face threats from climate change as warmer temperatures have allowed a beetle that destroys the whitebark pine tree to thrive. The whitebark pine provides a primary food source for grizzly bears because of its high nutritional value. NRDC senior wildlife advocate Louisa Wilcox states: “If these trees go, they could take Yellowstone’s grizzlies and a lot of America’s western forests with them.” 

The bears keep issuing a challenge to Colbert to visit Yellowstone and confront his unwarranted fears, but so far the news host has ignored their requests, which has made the bears critical of his alleged ‘manliness.’ “He claims to be a proud American, but we think he’s a coward and unpatriotic for not wanting to visit America’s first national park. President Obama was not afraid.”

Watch the bears' protest video below:

Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears and Other Wildlife at Risk from Climate Change

Imagine Yellowstone National Park without grizzly bears roaming through its forests. Or desert bighorn sheep missing from the landscape of Arches or Canyonlands.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) just released the report “Climate Change and National Park Wildlife: A Survival Guide for a Warming World.”The report features profiles of eleven wildlife species in parks and the serious threats they face from climate change. Mark Wenzler, director of clean air and climate programs at NPCA states: “The effects of climate change on wildlife are already visible in our national parks. If we don’t begin to act, many species may go extinct.”

In Yellowstone, a tiny beetle may decide the fate of the kingly grizzly bear. Whitebark pine nuts provide a valuable food source for the bears. A beetle that destroys the whitebark pine tree has gained a considerable foothold in Yellowstone because of the effects of climate change. In some parts of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, beetles have destroyed up to 90 percent of the trees in whitebark pine forests. Removing this important component of the grizzly bears’ diet puts considerable stress on the species that could ultimately lead to extinction.

Although the report raises the alarm about the perils grizzly bears and other wildlife face from climate change, it also promotes a call to action and proposes solutions. The introduction lists five steps needed to safeguard America’s wildlife from climate change, and each wildlife story outlines specific strategies to combat the problem. Mark Wenzler also views this crisis as an opportunity for positive change: “Decisive action now can help bring about a more hopeful future for wildlife and ourselves.”

You can view the full report on NPCA’s website.

Around the Park in Fourteen Days: A Photo Essay

The last couple of weeks I have been traveling in a mad rush around Yellowstone as part of my work, but I made time for capturing some springtime photographs.  

Yellowstone LakeCecropia Moth

Three Bighorn LambsBlack Bear near TowerWatching Old Faithful Erupt from the Crow's NestSnowshoe Hare in motionBison Grazing in Hayden ValleyGrizzly Near Washburn

Frogs 0, Grizzlies 5, Osprey 2, Bighorn 21, Bison & Elk >100

My quest in Yellowstone today--a search for the boreal chorus and columbia spotted frogs. I ventured out to Lamar Valley and wandered around dozens of wetlands and ponds. Those little guys remained elusive--at least by sight--as I listened to the distinctive call of the chorus frog at several ponds.

Despite the lack of frog sightings, my travels in the park were not in vain as my photo diary below demonstrates. I encountered five grizzly bears, observed bighorn and bison mingling, watched a red-winged blackbird bathing, and an osprey fly over the Lamar River. I also spent a delightful hour watching the most adorable bison calves play together--you can view the video below, but beware as you may overdose on cuteness!

Bison Fun

Video: Bison Friends Playing in Yellowstone

Spring in Lamar Valley

Grizzly Near Slough Creek

Bee on Wyoming Kitten-Tails

Bison Skull and Horn

Beartooth Range

American Coot

Osprey in Flight

Red-winged Blackbird Bathing

A Drive Through Yellowstone

Today I had to conduct several environmental trainings around the park, so I drove most of what's referred to as the Grand Loop (except for the Beartooth Pass which is still closed). I welcome long drives in Yellowstone as there is always something interesting to see. Baby bison greeted me in the morning, and a few minutes later I watched a grizzly bear--his paw hurt from an encounter with a porcupine--foraging in a meadow.

As I drove into the park's interior, I also moved into winter. A blanket of snow still covers Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake's smooth, frozen surface shows not even a hint of blue water. I also made sure to catch an eruption of Old Faithful--it never fails to elicit a child-like delight in me even though I've seen it erupt dozens of times. Visit the live streaming webcam of Old Faithful to watch it remotely. I waved hello and said happy Mother's Day to my mom in Massachusetts on the webcam today.

I've posted a selection of photographs and videos below from my Yellowstone field trip.

Old Faithful on Mother's Day

Old Faithful Video

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear With Hurt Paw From Porcupine Encounter

Grizzly Bear Video

Frozen Yellowstone Lake

Two Baby Bison Crossing Road

Hayden Valley

Chipmunk Watching Old Faithful

Of Bears and Bison

John Muir wrote, "A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling, 'Look up and down and round about you!'" Being lucky enough to live and work in the park, I experience these wonders on a daily basis. Today was no exception. On my drive to Old Faithful, I witnessed adorable baby bison nursing and a mighty grizzly scrounging for food. I took some photographs and video to share (please excuse my poor filming skills--it was freezing and very windy!).

Grizzly Bear at Swan Lake Flat

Bison Calf Nursing Near Midway Geyser Basin

An Ode to the Whitebark Pine

Krummholz Whitebark Pine on Mt. Washburn (NPS Library)The knarled and twisted trunk of the intrepid whitebark pine stands as a testament to the stubbornness of a tree and its will to survive in harsh conditions. Although found at a range of elevations above 7,000 feet, the whitebark gains character the higher it lives, as strong winds and freezing temperatures stunts its growth into a “krummholz” (German for crooked or bent) formation.

When I spend time in the subalpine zone, I gaze at the tops of the whitebark pine looking for my favorite bird, the boisterous Clark’s Nutcracker, who plays an important role in the dispersal of the tree’s cones and seeds, and consequently its regeneration. (I have the utmost respect for the Clark’s Nutcracker, who can store over 30,000 seeds in thousands of caches and remember every location!) Watch a video of the bird extracting seeds on the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation website.

Whitebark Pine Seeds: A Grizzly Bear's Favorite Food!The nutrient-rich seeds of the whitebark pine support a diverse array of wildlife, from nuthatches and finches, to chipmunks and squirrels. Yet the seeds also provide one of Yellowstone’s largest mammals—the grizzly bear—with a vital component of its diet. Grizzly bears usually don’t pluck cones from the tree, but raid the middens of hardworking squirrels for the majority of their seed consumption.

Although the lodgepole pine is the most common tree in Yellowstone, the whitebark pine may rank as the most important to the park’s ecosystem. The tree acts as a keystone species—a species that exerts significant influence on the ecological community it inhabits, and as a result, its demise can have catastrophic consequences.

Whitebark Pine in Yellowstone (NPS Library)Unfortunately, those consequences might already be occurring as the whitebark pine is suffering from several ailments—some of which are enhanced by climate change. The mountain pine beetle and the blister rust fungus have begun to gain a foothold, perhaps due to changing climatic conditions. An increase in the frequency of severe fires, also thought by some to be the result of global warming, creates conditions unfavorable for the tree.

In early December, the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the federal government to list the whitebark pine on the endangered species list. The non-profit group cited some alarming statistics: in portions of the whitebark’s range, 50% of the trees are dead and 80 to 100% of the live trees are infected with blister rust or beetles.

In the press release announcing the petition, NRDC senior wildlife advocate Louisa Wilcox raised the alarm: “If these trees go, they could take Yellowstone’s grizzlies and a lot of America’s western forests with them. If we want to save not just the whitebark pine, but the animals and plants like the grizzly bear that depend on this tree for food, we need to move to protect and restore them now.”

Below is an excellent video by the NRDC on the threatened status of the whitebark pine.

How can you help? Support the important work of organizations like the NRDC and The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation. For more information on the whitebark pine, you can also visit an overview at the Greater Yellowstone Science Center.

Fall in Grand Teton National Park

Mt Moran and Fall ColorOn Monday, a business trip required traveling to the Grand Tetons, and the fall color provided us with spectacular scenery during our drive. 

Grand Teton National Park, located south of Yellowstone (about three and a half hours from my home), offers me a dose of an Eastern Sierra-like basin and range landscape with its expansive valley surrounded by 12,000 feet plus granite peaks. There’s a definite shortage of granite in Yellowstone—volcanic rocks form a good part of this park’s mountainous terrain.

As we circled Jackson Lake and the surrounding terrain, the local flora--willows, aspens, cottonwoods—proudly displayed their fall costumes of yellows, reds, and oranges. The shiny grey peaks and the sky blue lake added their color to the painting of fall, while the breeze caressed the leaves off the trees and brought a slight chill to remind us of winter’s approach. 

Fall Color Near Jackson LakeI donned my Patagonia down sweater and tried not to think about the onset of subzero temperatures, while nearby Mt Moran, having witnessed over 9 million winters, remained indifferent to the changing seasons. Maybe after a few more seasons here I'll be as detached as the mountains to the winter's bitter cold.

On the drive back to Yellowstone, we observed a hungry bear foraging for food near West Thumb. This bear, probably experiencing fall hyperphagia (basically the intense urge to gorge on as much food as possible before hibernation), did not even stop his feasting for a moment to raise his head--much to the dismay of those of us with cameras.

Grizzly Hyperphagia in Action at West Thumb

"Our Greatest Wild Animal"

such a track, I am beginning to make
bad jokes. I have read probably
a hundred narratives where someone saw
just what I am seeing. Various things
happened next. A fairly long list, I won’t

Read More

Yellowstone: Ursophile Paradise

bear cub eating 2.jpg copy.jpg“Bear are made of the same dust as we, breath the same winds, and drink of the same waters…” John Muir

I am an admitted ursophile (and I am not ashamed, Stephen Colbert!). As a young girl, I would gaze at wildlife encyclopedias with longing, and always dreamed of seeing grizzlies, black bears, polar bears, et al.

Bears frolic in large numbers over Yellowstone’s landscape, and my dreams have been realized—ten times over! I am in awe of being in such close proximity to these wondrous creatures, and it’s a rare week when I don’t see a bear.

Grizzly and black bears roam in Yellowstone—yet I’m not adept at quickly telling the difference between the two species. This beautiful young bear I saw munching on grass outside of Mammoth Hot Springs has large pointed ears, a flat nose in profile, and no distinct hump (yet the ruffled fur made it hard to tell)—all of which indicate a black bear. But as even the experts sometimes have a difficult time distinguishing between ursus americanus and ursus arctos horribilis, I would not rely on my judgment. Any bear experts out there—please advise if I chose wrongly.

bear cub eating.jpg.jpgBoth bear species can live up to 30 years. About 150 grizzlies live in the park, as compared with 500 black bears. An adult grizzly, despite their bulky size (males weigh up to 700 lbs) might be seen running at a speed of 40 mph. Bears have a very diverse diet ranging from insects, to grasses, to trout. Both black bear and grizzlies also hunt and have been know to take down elk calves. When my parents visited in May, they had to evacuate a trail at Old Faithful as a grizzly had just killed a bison calf.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears vs. Stephen Colbert!

Stephen%20Bears.jpg“Bears are soulless, godless, rampaging killing machines.” Stephen Colbert

Despite Stephen Colbert’s cowardly and relentless campaign against bears, most of us want to know grizzly bears still roam in our wildlands.

In the past grizzlies inhabited a range that encompassed most of North American west of the Mississippi. Today, only 1,200 grizzly bears in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington live in the lower 48 states. Almost half of those bears call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem home.

Grizzly%20and%20Cub%202.JPG.jpgThe predicted effects of climate change in the Yellowstone area, however, bode ill for the survival of the grizzly. Much of the grizzly bear’s fall diet comes from the nutrient-rich whitebark pine seed.

A bark beetle that infests the tree has been eradicating whitebark pine forests at an alarming rate, mainly due to warming temperatures. In the past, colder temperatures kept the beetle infestations in check. Today, trees are dying at an unprecedented rate.

In the NRDC’s Losing Ground report, Dr. Jesse Logan warns, “We are witnessing the catastrophic collapse of high mountain ecosystems as a result of how people are changing the climate, and grizzly bears could end up paying the price.”

Be green. Don’t let Stephen win in his plight to eradicate grizzly bears. This is your challenge, America and the world! And Stephen, a real man would confront his fears and visit Yellowstone.

PS: Check out more about Stephen Colbert’s view on bears at the hilarious http://www.wikiality.com/Bears Wikality is “The Truthiness Encyclopedia.”

Hayden Valley

hayden valley.jpg.jpgTuolumne Meadows in Yosemite remains my favorite place on earth, but Hayden Valley in Yellowstone definitely ranks a close second. Imagine Tuolumne cubed, and you’ll be able to visualize the scale of Hayden Valley. My one complaint about Hayden is I won’t be able to wander aimlessly (vigilantly, yes, aimlessly, no) through its soft green meadows and hillsides—not with grizzly bears around! Yet its peaceful, pastoral landscape literally brought tears to my eyes.

grizzly in hayden.jpg copy.jpgDuring my brief walk in Hayden, I observed a grizzly far off on a snow-covered hillside digging intently; a herd of bison munching on the spring grass; and, a white pelican paddling in the Yellowstone River.

According to Lee Whittlesey’s excellent book Yellowstone Place Names, the valley’s namesake, Ferdinand V. Hayden, was “as much as any other individual…responsible for the creation of Yellowstone.” A medical doctor who later became a geologist, Hayden conducted three government surveys of the Yellowstone area in the late 1870s and has “at least 44 genera and species of various organisms ‘from a living moth to a fossil dinosaur’ named for him.”

white pelican 2.jpg.jpg

15 minutes, 1 Black Bear, 1 Grizzly Bear, 2 Wolves

I think I might have set a new record for rapid wildlife sightings in Yellowstone. On my drive back to Mammoth from the Grand Tetons, I encountered what can only be described as a “wildlife hotspot.” I pulled my car over to watch a black bear amble on a hillside and took some photos of it through the snow flakes. I had not even traveled a quarter of a mile up the road when I sighted a grizzly bear in the surrounding forest. But wait, there’s more! A half a mile up the road, I observed a bunch of cars on the shoulder, a sure sign of wildlife activity. I quickly saw the reason for the crowd--two beautiful wolves were crossing the Gardiner River.

Here’s a photo collage of my wolf and bear sightings. I am still recovering from the euphoria that accompanies a wildlife overdose!
wolf crossing gardiner river.jpg.jpgblack wolf 2.jpg.jpgblack bear in snow.jpg.jpggrizzly in snow 3.jpg.jpggrizzly in snow 2.jpg.jpggery wolf close.jpg.jpgblack wolf close.jpg.jpg

The Three Bears

On my drive to Grand Teton National Park, a grizzly bear and her two cubs were wandering on the side of the road near West Thumb in Yellowstone.
grizzly and cub 2.jpg.jpggrizzly mom 2 cubs.jpg.jpg

And here's a view of Lake Yellowstone, still frozen.
lake yellowstone.jpg.jpg