The Wild Life in Dubois, Wyoming

More joys of winter hikes: Abundant deer and tasty snacks.

Advertisements

DeerInTrail This gal crossed our path the other day. A few seconds later, the rest of the family bounded after, too fast for me to catch their pictures.

The master of her clan stood watch afterward, just over the ridge on the right, staring warily at us as we proceeded uphill. Then he too wandered off.

The dog didn’t seem to notice. He never chases deer, apparently preferring someone else to do that.

Deer are nothing unusual in the countryside anywhere, of course. We must be wary for them as we drive the highway. They have been so abundant nearby in town that last year the council decided to have hunters cull the herd. People could reserve some of the venison at the local butcher.

deerWe don’t see them often on our property for some reason, although last year the dog did alert us to one brash creature who had approached the front door to enjoy the flowers in my planter.

My friend Karen tells me that all the houses on her side of the highway seem to have the same lawn ornaments. They reposition themselves from day to day.

One good thing about being here in the winter is that we don’t need to worry so much about bears when we hike. The bears are supposed to be sleeping it off, although a cub has been sighted in town recently. As you can see from the picture at the top, it’s been mild lately. I guess someone woke up before the end of naptime.

TelescopeKaren told me that people had been seeing lots of elk lately on the ridge to the east. I told Mark about this, and he set up the telescope facing out the east window. We’re not used to seeing them on that particular hillside. Sure enough, there they were. ElkInScope

Seeing “lots of” elk is a relative statement. Our friend Leon, a retired cowboy, says they used to see them up on that ridge by the hundreds when he worked for the Cross Ranch. Ab used to tell him to ride up there and drive them off.

In the warmer months I often scare up these beautiful, elusive creatures when I hike uphill. They always bound away out of sight, of course, but a lone male will often stand guard behind, chattering loudly at the dog and me to stop trespassing. They don’t seem to understand the concept of “public land.”

The wolves and bears have devastated the elk and moose population here, alas. (But why not the deer? Perhaps someone will write in and tell me.)

Moose are so rare that sightings are cause for celebration, while the published oral histories of the area tell us that they were abundant a century ago.

I’ve read about the explanations for this shift in the natural history of the Greater Yellowstone region, but that’s a better topic for another author. I merely note with regret that I encounter far fewer moose than when we came here less than a decade ago.

A few years ago I did see one up close during my morning bicycle ride, to my sorrow. Someone had struck it on the highway just west of Stoney Point. I wanted to hold a funeral.

BennyLeaveIt1The dog and I have somewhat different sentiments about the actions of nature’s predators, of course. He often comes trotting after me proudly dragging something far too large to transport, or stops to enjoy a snack from a disembodied joint.

In the warmer months (as you see here) I have to prevent him from indulging in these pleasures, for his own safety. Another good thing about winter is that these treats are frozen, and probably safe to consume.

He knows he’s not allowed to bring them into the car or the house. But I am tempted to import one of these bones back to Brooklyn so that he can show them off at the dog run.

(“You and your silly tennis balls! You think that plastic thing from the grocery store is a bone?“)

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

Please sign up at the top of the right column if you’d like to see every new post on Living Dubois via email.

 

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

2 thoughts on “The Wild Life in Dubois, Wyoming”

  1. Here’s the rest of the story about Wyoming’s bears, wolves, elk, deer, moose and other wildlife. It’s hard for some not to be confused by the facts when they have already made up their mind to claim that wolves and bears are “decimating” the elk. Fortunately, science has proved otherwise.

    Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported in March, 2013 that Wyoming elk hunters killed a record number of elk in 2012. Elk hunt reports that favorable conditions, long seasons, growing elk population exceeding herd objectives in many areas and up to 3 elk licenses per hunter all contribute to hunters killing the highest number of elk in the history of game management ever – 26,385 – a success rate of 46%. The report went on to state that elk hunters have killed more than 22,000 elk annually during the past decade. Since wolves and bears have occupied the same elk hunt areas around Yellowstone throughout this same decade, the data demonstrates that wolves and elk are mutually beneficial in their evolution on this landscape.

    Moose were rare a century ago in this area, but increased in number until they declined in northwest Wyoming in the 1980s about a decade prior to Yellowstone wolf reintroduction. Those studies done since then claim the moose population dropped from 3500 to 500 in the Jackson area and cite habitat decline as the cause. Now moose are occasionally seen in the Dubois and Dunoir areas throughout the winter when they stay in the river valleys of willow habitat.
    Mule deer are so numerous around Dubois that about 100 were killed this past fall in town. However, numbers have plummeted in many areas of the state. WYGFD is now funding the Mule Deer Initiative to protect statewide deer populations and their migration route habitat.

    Bears and wolves are wildlife just like moose, elk and deer. They are all part of the big picture that make Dubois such a special place.

    References:
    http://www.migrationinitiative.org

    Wyofile: Elk Numbers Strong Despite Wolves

    “Wyoming has never been a state to let science or fact get in the way of culture, custom, and wishful thinking. Our 1880s-era political system is based on a one cow, one vote premise, and change comes hard.”

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! As a science writer, I regret not looking into the veracity of my statement about wolves, elk, and moose. We probably don’t know for certain whether wolves are more important than, for instance, the effects of drought.

      I took time to check into Google Scholar and other resources on the web, including the Yellowstone official website (http://www.yellowstonepark.com/gray-wolves-impact-elk/). Those people have this to say:

      “– Wolves are altering the abundance, distribution, group sizes, movements and vigilance of elk. There are some indications that these interactions may be causing new growth in willows as elk are kept on the move by wolves and don’t stay to browse in any one area very long.
      — Elk are the primary prey for wolves, comprising 92 percent of kills during the winter.”

      They add that several other factors including human hunting and climate also affect elk populations.

      The real situation about the impact of wolves on the elk population in Yellowstone (and therefore probably elsewhere) after the introduction of wolves into Yellowstone 20 years ago remains uncertain. An article posted last September on the Utah State University website (http://upr.org/post/new-findings-wolf-and-elk-populations-yellowstone-national-park) describes research on the subject by wildlife biologist Dan McNulty. He said that the number of wolves in Yellowstone appears to be increasing, but that both their future and their true impact on elk populations still remains to be determined.

      “One of the results that I think did surprise me to some degree, is that the average age of an adult female elk killed by wolves has changed very little in the 20 years that we’ve had wolves in Yellowstone,” he added. Of course predation of adult females would have the most direct effect on the future of the elk population.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s