Wildlife Management 101: Home Work

On getting along with grizzlies and other wildlife

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Grizzly_Bear_sow_and_cub_in_Shoshone_National_Forest_editedYesterday, the Federal government acted to remove Yellowstone’s grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Although we do love to watch for grizzlies on Togwotee Pass from the safety of our cars, the thought of grizzly population control is not anathema to some of us who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, love to hike in the woods, and don’t want to carry a weapon that probably wouldn’t stop a grizzly anyway.

There are some places I just won’t hike at all, ceding them to hypothetical bears. I go for places with long sight-lines. I always take bear spray. I sing, I talk, I try not to hike alone. I don’t crash off into the woods. I look for bear sign. One reason I love to snowshoe is that I don’t even have to think about bears.

Wildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people come out this way; we know that. What I didn’t understand before is that living side by side with wildlife entails a certain degree of compromise and, now and again, sadness.

ElkInScope

Although I once worried about grizzlies trying to crash through our back door, I’ve never actually seen one nearby  (although I know others have). Where we live, we are more likely to spot moose through binoculars or elk through the telescope.

A few months ago, we heard and then saw a lone wolf near the aspen grove. Yesterday we were startled to see a scruffy coyote loping behind the garage. We watched him trot along the trail beside the buck and rail fence, until he spotted a ground squirrel and raced off to grab some lunch.

The dog and I have been compromising about where to hike for months–and not just for fear of bears. We still can’t walk into our go-to small patch of woods. The latest moose is gone; she seems to have lost her calf when it ventured into the rushing floodwaters. But now a doe is over there with twin fawns, making it eminently clear that she does not want us around just now.

RobinShe leaped about and ran back and forth past us. Don’t mess with a mother doe: She’ll kick you with hard, pointy hooves. We went home by another route.

Most of the wildlife we watch close-up are birds. “Our” robin demands no compromise. Nested, as always, right above where I store my garden tools, she watches me warily whenever I pull out the trowel. But she doesn’t even budge.

The beautiful hummingbirds hover outside the dining room window in early June and stare directly in at us, as if to demand their own dinner.
HummingbirdFeeder
So we boil up the syrupy water, get out the ladder, and hang their feeder. Our reward is to watch these tiny creatures ever-so-briefly at rest, as they sip from the little wells in the base.

A few years ago we had the delight of watching some bluebirds slowly build a nest in the crook of our gable, just outside the bedroom window, and then swoop back and forth for weeks to feed the hatchlings. We could hear the young birds chirping as we woke up in the morning, bringing to mind all the thoughts you’d expect from an empty-nester.

One weekend late in summer, we left to camp at Turpin Meadows, and returned on Sunday to the scene of a terrorist attack. Just outside the back door were the bloodied corpses of five fledgling bluebirds, already cold. This struck us like a personal tragedy, after all the effort and care we had witnessed to raise these young ones to independence. A neighbor suggested that a magpie must have attacked as they left the nest.

It nearly broke my heart to watch the beautiful mother swoop down to her dead fledglings with something in her mouth. We plugged that hole in the gable so birds could never use it again.

BirdFeederMeanwhile, this bird house sat unused on a post in our back yard for the past decade. We’ve never been in Dubois year-round before, and never took time to make it nest-worthy.

Inspired by the birth of the Dubois bluebird project, we decided to follow instructions for cleaning out a birdhouse. We opened it up, cleared out the old filthy nest mess, cleaned it with bleach, rinsed it well, left it for several days to air out, and closed it up again. Before leaving for a month in Arizona, we watched the bluebirds house-hunting all over the property.

When we returned, I was delighted to see birds hovering about the nest and going into the hole. Then someone informed us that they couldn’t be bluebirds; more likely sparrows. Bluebirds don’t like houses with a perch.

Bluebird_drivewayBut bluebirds were still flitting around, so they must have nested somewhere. We couldn’t ignore the pair that were obviously keeping surveillance on our driveway. Every time we came out the front door we’d see them, perching on the zip line or, often, just sitting in the bare gravel looking warily in the general direction of the front porch. (You can just barely make out the gray female inside the black circle in this blurry shot from my cellphone.)

Two days ago, after parking the SUV when returning from a hike, I stepped out of the car to a flurry of wings. Looking back from the porch, I saw the female dive under the car. I slid beneath the car to take a look, and she swept out past me. I’ve seen her go under there several times since then.

We took the pickup to Arizona, and left the SUV in the driveway. We think they’ve chosen to nest in a space above the spare tire, which hangs horizontally beside the two rear tires. How many rides have those eggs taken since we returned, and did they survive?

We’re told it takes about a month for bluebird eggs to hatch, mature, and fledge. Then the birds abandon the nest.

Oh, well. We have other vehicles to drive.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Wishes Come True: New Merchants in Dubois

Springing up like wild flowers, and just as beautiful.

WRArtisans3For a long time I have been hoping to see two new kinds of shops in town, and here they are. Maybe this came about because I finally got around to reading a Harry Potter book, and some magic rubbed off. (Or maybe it’s not about me at all.)

Last evening, the doors opened on the first new shop in the complex built on the site of the old Mercantile, which was destroyed in a famous dead-of-winter fire in late December 2014. The new business is an outgrowth of Sandy Frericks’ charming Christmas shop, Yeeha! Studio, which operated out of the old drugstore last November and December.

SandysShop4As I told Sandy yesterday, this answers my dream that Dubois would have what I’ve seen in so many other small towns on my road trips: A shop that features art and craft items by local designers.

Hey, presto! Wind River Artisans and Sky Photography now proudly faces onto our main street. (More, I hear, are coming next month.)

At least as important, but not so visible, is Scarecrow Bike & Key, operating out of a lean-to on the side of the hardware store at the back of the Mercantile site. This great idea bubbled up out of a couple of Bud Lights at the Rustic Tavern one day last winter, when Chris Wright told his buddy John McPhail that he had always wanted to open a bike shop in town.

100_0838As the official host for the many cyclists who spend a night at St. Thomas church while passing through town on cross-country bike treks, John quickly saw potential in the idea.

“Do you know how many cyclists came through town last summer?” he replied. (At least 375, in fact, who stayed at the church house. Who knows how many came through without stopping or camped out at the KOA?)

“Two weeks later,” Chris told me, “we were ordering parts.”

BikeShop 2Like two famous Wright brothers a century ago, Chris Wright was attracted to mechanics early in life. Growing up in a small California town, he and his friends built bikes from trash parts left in alleys. They saw to it that no kid in town was without a bike.

After working as a diesel mechanic in high school and at oil fields after graduation, he decided to become a fly fishing guide. Chris has worked at guest lodges near Dubois for the past four years.

John McPhail, who also enjoys making broken things work, has hoped for years to open a locksmith shop. He had seen an ad in the Roundup that said simply, “Don’t call me any more,” put there by a local man who wanted to close a locksmith shop he had been running out of his garage. John did call him, snapped up the equipment, and the other half of Scarecrow Bike & Key fell into place.

BikeShop4The bike shop opened in early May. John said they made 11¢ on the first day. (I didn’t ask what on earth had that price tag.) Not many touring cyclists reach Dubois in mud-and-slush season, and the startup was scary. But by the third week, he told me, “the floodgates opened.” (I don’t think he intended a metaphor; the actual snowmelt floods in Dubois didn’t begin until a few weeks after that.)

“We got bike after bike that had sat in a garage for ten years,” John said. “People would say, I just never wanted to take it all the way to Lander.”

BikeShop3Chris pointed out a vintage red-and-yellow model sitting outside the shop, waiting to be picked up. Its owner got it as a present for her ninth birthday. She wanted it tuned up so she could ride it again — at the age of 75.

What will happen to the business when the cycle tours end in the fall? Bicycles are always breaking, John responded calmly.

“That’s one good thing about bicycles,” Chris had said a few days earlier. “They are always repairable. And they always make you smile.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Nature Brings the Mountains Down

Melting snow hurries past, any way it can.

WindRiverFlooding“Hydrogeology in action,” said my neighbor Anna, with her usual wry wit, as she pointed out the high-water mark where the river was lapping up onto her lawn.

Well put.

Last winter’s record snowfall has been coming down the mountain this week, bringing plenty of the mountain down with it. The Wind River and its tributaries, which are normally crystal clear, are muddy and brown. The banks have disappeared. The water is level with the land.

For neighbors with riverside property, this is no mere curiosity. My friend Mary left home 3 days ago, and has been  sleeping on someone else’s cot.

Her worry wasn’t just that her lawn is now a lake. Like many of us, she had heard about uprooted trees coming downstream, possibly with catastrophic consequences. She didn’t want to wind up like old Doc Welty. He drowned in the worst of nightmares during great flood of 1919, when his cabin was dislodged overnight as Horse Creek swelled and rose.

Living well above the river, I (and my dog) find the flood only a minor inconvenience. Favorite hiking spots are denied to us.

RiverwalkinFlood

In the Town Park, the dog’s beloved Riverwalk is awash in both directions on the south side of the footbridge. So we’re limited to the more public north end of the Park, where he’s not free to run and roam. And I won’t even let him dash down and paddle in the river as usual, lest he be swept away.

The back half of the beautiful Wind River Access site west of Stony Point, where we like to wander around in the pine duff under a forest of conifers next to the river, is now inaccessible (unless I want to get my feet wet). A charming stream has wandered across the peninsula, turning that area into an island.

But the flood has granted unexpected pleasures. I turn off the dirt road at Sheridan Creek and the dog and I follow a game trail off into the woods. Father along under the trees, in a low spot we have always crossed on foot, a whole new lake has materialized — crystalline blue, complete with several floating ducks.

Waterfall

Here’s a little waterfall I’ve never seen before because it hasn’t existed, at least not for the past decade or so. Now it’s trickling merrily down a slope toward the highway, in a spot I pass every day on my morning bike ride.

You know how you can learn about something in school, and read about it later on, and be able to explain it to someone else, but somehow never really get it? For some reason, at the sight of that little waterfall, with the memory of a record snowfall, the light finally dawned.

Ah, yes! The melting snow has to get down the mountains any way it can. Here it happens to be digging this little ditch a little deeper. I think of the Grand Canyon, which I saw only last month. Same concept. (Duh.)

Some afternoons, as usual, a crazy wind blows up and gusts a lot of dust around. Downwind comes a fraction of the badlands, being carved by that invisible sculptor. It also roils the already swollen river, and more of the banks fall away.

OxbowsWhere the land is flat, the onrush of water carves new islands in the oxbows and creates little swamps. The river is changing course.

Every day, we’ve been watching the distance between the surface and the under-side of a particularly low bridge. Yesterday there were barely two inches of clearance. This afternoon there was about a four-inch gap.

News sources predicted the flood would be at its worst last night, and I haven’t heard any reports of fresh disaster. Presumably life will return to normal again, until the next time Nature decides to bring up something else to keep us busy.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Dubois’ Closely Guarded Unofficial Register of Historic Places

Why so much of our history goes unrecognized

PrescottSignsWe’ve just returned from a visit to Prescott, Arizona, a former mining town south of the Grand Canyon. The town wears its history like a badge.

Besides all the historic markers around the town square, perhaps a third of the houses in the residential area nearby bear handsome bronze plaques, announcing that the U.S. Department of the Interior has placed the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

A land surveyor out marking property lines told me that all those historic markers resulted from a campaign by the town government several decades ago. This set me wondering.

Those well-kept Victorian houses are charming, sure, but they’re no more “historic” than many buildings in Dubois. Why aren’t our old structures on the Register?

Weltys_LWIt’s easy to check. I looked up the National Register of Historic Places  online. Several properties in Dubois are listed, in fact. They include two original guest ranches (the CM Ranch and Brooks Lake Lodge), Welty’s store, and the Twin Pines motel.

But why not the historic Dennison Lodge, which once famously hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard? Why not St. Thomas church, built a century ago by some of the same fellows who cut the railroad ties? Why not the little cabin that Tony Dolenc brought down from the tie hack village up Union Pass, after the operations up there closed down and he became manager of the Mercantile?

One answer is obvious, if you read the rulebook. Properties aren’t accepted for the National Register if they have been moved (Dennison, Dolenc cabin) or if they are religious buildings (St. Thomas).

Another answer came to me only yesterday: We actually like to keep quiet about the identity of our favorite historic structures.

SheepTrap1_090515I lived here for several years before I learned who the hill west of our house was named after, and what went on in her establishment over the hill, whose only remnant is a stone fireplace. Curiously Jerome, Arizona, does mount historic plaques about establishments like that, but we continue to be fairly discreet about Mabel.

You probably have to go on one of the great hikes sponsored by the Museum, and get breathless climbing some pretty steep slopes, to see what remains of the traps that ancient Shoshones built hundreds of years ago to capture wild sheep.

You also need to take a Museum trek, or find someone who knows about them, to visit our remarkable collection of petroglyphs. The teepee rings on Table Mountain are very difficult to find. I had to ask a friend to take me on the jolting road across the plateau to locate the spot where the Shoshone had fabulous views from their tent flaps. I’d gone up there myself, but I couldn’t find them.

These relics are precious and vulnerable, so we don’t just bandy the locations about.

One of our newest claims to historic fame actually is on the National Register, put there recently by an enthusiastic graduate student in archaeology. High in the wilderness east of town, its discovery inspired a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to designate Dubois as “the epicenter of Rocky Mountain archaeology.”

AmArchCoverNobody’s hosting any guided walking tours to High Rise Village, the first of many ancient Native American occupation sites to be identified at a very high altitude in the Greater Yellowstone region. Until then, nobody suspected that the earliest humans in this area occupied villages at such breathtaking heights.

Because of their location and their age, these sites seem to overturn a favored theory about how humans migrated across North America. This has been of great interest to archaeologists.

It takes several hours on horseback to reach it, and the better part of a day to walk back down. You’d be hard-put to find the site if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for. Except to trained archaeologists, this very historic place looks like nothing more than a bunch of rocks lying around.

Registered or not, it’s our kind of historic place: Very old, fairly well hidden, quite a treasure.

© Lois Wingerson, 2017
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.