Protect our Bears by Keeping Them Wild

Protect our Bears by Keeping Them Wild

Holy cow. I am impressed at the boldness of bear 399. She is a survivor and is imparting this skill and resourcefulness on her four cubs. How did we get from the near extirpation of grizzly bears to bears walking through Jackson?

The incredible foresight of the Endangered Species Act has played a huge role in saving this incredibly charismatic and fascinating bruin. In our small community—a community that has broad impacts on both the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the world audience as a whole—can we step up in the spirit of science-powered knowledge to protect our bears?

Grizzly 399 and cubs: Shutterstock image.

We’ve shown our love of our local moose through our willingness to spend millions of our dollars to protect them from cars and provide a permeable landscape. We adamantly protect our elk and deer by modifying and removing impediments such as fences on the landscape. We urge our elected officials to make decisions that reduce our carbon footprint. Can our community also take unified bear-wise actions to protect our beloved grizzlies such as removing our bird feeders, paying extra to bear-proof our waste, and while recreating, moving about the landscape is if we share it with wild creatures?

Science tells us that feeding wildlife leads to the un-wilding of those animals and often their death. Feeding wildlife can lead to increased incidence of disease spread (think social distancing) and draws animals into human-dominated areas where the potential for conflict is very high. Wild animals generally do not need our help, especially with food. They have evolved to fit specific niches and often have very specific diets. Human-provided food can kill animals directly. Deer, elk and moose experience great pain leading up to their death if they consume foods other than what they evolved to eat.

Human-fed wildlife often become habituated. A habituated animal may seem “tame”, but the problem is that they are not; they are simply willing to tolerate reduced spacing from humans in order to get food resources. This tolerance has a threshold and when that threshold is broken, it becomes a dangerous situation for nearby humans—whether it be the hand that feeds or a hapless passer-by. The reaction of the animal to its boundaries being breached often leads to that animal’s death by management decisions that are in place to protect humans from harm. At the least, our infringements on their space increase the release of stress hormones in their bodies, reducing their capacity to survive harsh winters and reproduce successfully.

I know I’m not saying anything earthshattering; you’ve likely heard all this before. But it’s worth reminding ourselves about the needs of wildlife and we are in a new juxtaposition: We are feeling a powerful pressure from being trapped in our homes or in our masks, all the while watching Jackson’s human population growth and visitation break records. Traffic jams and long lines; our favorite quiet places are not so quiet anymore. Imagine how the wildlife are managing. On top of the density of people, phenology is wacky; berries came in a whole month early this year. Fires are raging around the West; smoke fills our precious air.

Now more than ever, wildlife need a respite from our pressures. Give them space, let them gather natural resources and let them stay wild. Respect that this is also their Jackson Hole and they need their wild to stay wild.

Meet the Neighbors to Nature Volunteers

Meet the Neighbors to Nature Volunteers

By Hilary A. Turner, JHWF

Neighbors to Nature (N2N) is a community science project supported by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation (JHWF) and our partners – The Nature Conservancy of Wyoming (TNC), Friends of Pathways (FOP), and the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF). The four-way partnership launched N2N during the summer of 2018 to collect baseline data on wildlife, recreation use, and plant phenology in a popular recreation area near Jackson, WY. We maintain an array of 27 trail cameras throughout the Greater Snow King area, which includes the trail system from Game Creek to Cache Creek. We also collect incidental wildlife observations through Nature Mapping Jackson Hole, plant phenology data through Wildflower Watch, and recreation use through trail use counters in the project area. An important aspect of the N2N project is our engagement with the Jackson community, especially through volunteerism. Through this engagement we seek to expand public awareness of the issues which surround recreation and wildlife, as well as appreciation of the natural resources this area offers.    

The N2N project is an example of how successful collaboration can be. Each partner organization leads an aspect of the project which fits their mission and provides staff time annually to help with tasks such as trail camera maintenance. Volunteer efforts are also essential to the success of the project. We rely on volunteers to classify trail camera images, collect wildlife and plant data, and assist with trail camera maintenance in the project area. 

A volunteer arrives to service a camera

Trail camera maintenance is a relatively labor-intensive part of this project. It involves going to each of the 27 cameras and replacing SD cards and camera batteries so that data collection can continue. N2N is lucky to have a corps of volunteers who help us maintain our cameras. In addition to reducing staff time spent on the project, involving volunteers in trail camera maintenance allows community members to experience on-the-ground science firsthand. The volunteer experience gives the project more meaning to these individuals, as well as continuing education in ways that volunteers sometimes do not expect!

During the summer of 2021, N2N was lucky to have Leo Harland, Forest Dramis, and Tom Hargis assisting with N2N camera maintenance. These volunteers represent three generations of Jacksonites, each bringing a unique perspective to the project. They are avid outdoor recreationists who also value conservation, and the communion of these two things brought them to the project. They were kind enough to answer a series of questions about themselves and the project and their responses are summarized here.

Leo Harland backpacking in Grand Teton National Park

Born and raised in Jackson, Leo Harland is an 18-year-old former Jackson Hole High School (JHHS) student. Among his many accomplishments in his young life are being a member of the back-to-back state championship soccer team for JHHS (2019 and 2021, with 2020 being cancelled) and recognition as “Student of the Season” by the Rotary Club in Feb of 2021. During his senior year, he led the championship soccer team as their captain. This summer, he worked at Jackson Hole Drug as a “Soda Jerk,” making milkshakes for customers who walk in from the nearby town square. He reports that it is “super busy the whole time, but is a solid job.” Not surprising for someone from Jackson, Leo loves skiing and spends as much time skiing as possible each winter. During the summer, he enjoys backpacking and hiking whenever he can carve time out of his busy schedule. He was introduced to Neighbors to Nature by TNC’s Trevor Bloom, who trained Leo on Wildflower Watch and trail camera maintenance in April of 2020. Leo started volunteering to gain community service hours as part of his membership in the National Honor Society, but his work morphed into an internship and in 2021, he helped with cameras independently when needed. Leo finds the N2N project valuable because it helps us understand how wildlife are distributed on the landscape, relative to human recreation activities, and how those activities might impact wildlife. While volunteering on the N2N project, Leo enjoyed learning about wildflower identification and study design, including the importance of random sampling. He also thinks it is awesome that, while he has never seen a mountain lion in the wild, the N2N cameras capture them somewhat regularly. Leo is now in Fort Collins where he will soon start his freshman year at Colorado State University. He plans to study Geology. After college, he hopes to get a job he loves, where he can work outside, doing something to help the environment. He summarizes his goals by saying, “I feel like it is wrong not to help save the planet…while I’m living here so I guess that is my goal.”

Forest Dramis enjoying the great outdoors

Forest Dramis co-owns Benchmark Builders LLC in Jackson. He is 47 and moved to Jackson after experiencing the Tetons during a backpacking trip in his 20’s. Forest’s passion in life is outdoor recreation. When he is not working, he can be found cycling, trail running, ski mountaineering, hiking, or backpacking. Among his notable achievements are solo running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim route in the Grand Canyon in a day (50 miles and 10,000ft elev. gain) and summiting Gannett Mountain (the highest peak in Wyoming) in a day. He is the Executive Director of the nonprofit he founded – JHCycling – and runs JHSkimo.org. Forest learned about the N2N project through his partner, Aly Courtemanch, and their good friend Kate Gersh (JHWF’s Associate Director) in May of 2021. He maintained a series of cameras on the Skyline, Sink or Swim, and Ferrins Trail areas during the summer of 2021. While performing camera maintenance, Forest encountered a variety of wildlife including mule deer with fawns and red-tailed hawks. Less enjoyable for Forest was learning that while capturing images of wildlife, N2N trail cameras also provide great habitat for spiders, which “do not appreciate having their homes disturbed.” When asked what his favorite part of volunteering on the N2N project is, Forest responded, “N2N allows me to spend time outdoors recreating while at the same time helping to inform others of the importance of the wildlife habitat that abuts the town.” Forest finds value in the project because he has seen the transformation of Jackson over the last 20 years to an “entity that prizes economy and tourist-dollars above wildlife and habitat.” He believes it is important to collect data that examine wildlife and recreation coexistence so the community of Jackson might be able to move toward making decisions that also benefit the wildlife we cherish.

Tom Hargis ice climbing near Dubois, WY

Tom Hargis is an avid rock climber and mountaineer. He is 74 and has lived in Jackson for over 25 years. During most of that time, he worked for Exum Mountain Guides and has an impressive resume for mountaineering. He was a member of the first team to summit the Pakistani peak Gasherbrum IV via its northwestern ridge, and he is the only American to have accomplished that feat. Also in his portfolio are expeditions to Mt. Everest and Gasherbrum II. In 2004, Tom was awarded the Lifetime Achievement in Guiding Award by the American Mountain Guides Association. Tom now does carpentry work and teaches skiing at the Snow King Mountain Resort. While rock climbing in Wilson Canyon, Tom met Trevor Bloom, who introduced him to the N2N project. He thought volunteering for the project seemed like a good form of community service and was also curious to learn how frequently mountain lions and other wildlife use the Wilson Canyon Trails. His favorite part of volunteering on the N2N project is being outside, enjoying the wildflowers. Maintaining cameras for N2N gives him a good reason to get out for a hike and he sometimes sees peregrine falcons in Wilson Canyon. For Tom, N2N is valuable because it “allows for collecting hard data” and enables us to gain information on secretive species which are otherwise difficult to survey.  According to Tom, “I’ve found that if you go hiking looking for mountain lions, the probability is low that you’ll see one. The cameras aren’t intimidating to the big cats, so it’s a good way to find out if they’re up there and how often they use that trail.” When asked what his plans for the future are, Tom responded in wisdom that he has “no particular plans beyond just enjoying life.”

It has been a pleasure for us to work with this crew of dedicated volunteers. Thanks to all JWHF volunteers for your work on our various projects. From fence projects to bluebird monitoring and camera maintenance, the JHWF would not be able to undertake as many conservation initiatives as it does without all of you! If you are interested in becoming a Neighbors to Nature volunteer, please contact Hilary@jhwildlife.org

August is for the Shorebirds

August is for the Shorebirds

Hilary Turner | Nature Mapping Program Coordinator

Fall migration is a fun time for birders and it is the only time of year we Wyomingites get to examine many members of one of my favorite groups – the shorebirds.

These members of the order Charadriiformes can be intimidating to learn. Many shorebirds look very similar but understanding habitat, behavior, and subtle differences in shape, size, and plumage can help you identify the many different species.

All three of the species migrate seasonally through NW Wyoming. Can you identify one difference between the Least Sandpiper and the Western Sandpiper (hint: look at the legs)?

Larger shorebirds such as godwits, avocets and stilts are usually found wading in deeper water than smaller shorebirds such as sandpipers and plovers.

Phalaropes are often seen swimming, and their foraging behavior is quite unique. They spin in tight circles, grabbing invertebrates that get caught in their vortex.

Calidris sandpipers are a daunting group to learn, but paying close attention to subtle details is helpful in accurately identifying them.

Bill shape and size, leg color, body shape and size, primary projection (how long the primary feathers are), and plumage characteristics are key for separating species of this group.

Shorebird migration starts mid-summer, and is quite protracted, lasting through mid-to-late-October. During migration, shorebirds tend to congregate in shallow water and on mud flats.

Look for places where water had recently receded and mud has become exposed. Once you start paying close attention to the shorebirds, you will see how beautiful they really are!

June Update: Bird Banding and Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring

June Update: Bird Banding and Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring

Hilary Turner | Nature Mapping Program Coordinator

MAPS Bird-Banding

Our MAPS bird-banding program is experiencing an eerily slow start to the 2021 banding year.

So far, we have captured 193 birds of 32 species. Of those 130 were newly banded, 47 were recaptures, and 16 left our hands unbanded.

Although we are only 7 species short of our total from last year, the overall numbers are fewer than in previous years. For example, on one morning we captured zero Yellow Warblers, which are typically our most numerous species (see what we banded in 2020).

This could be correlated with the mass die-off of migratory birds that occurred last fall in the southwest (https://www.audubon.org/news/the-southwest-facing-unprecedented-migratory-bird-die) and greater Western region.

We can’t say for sure what the cause is and we won’t know exactly how different this season was until we analyze our data. However, it has been interesting to experience what has seemed like an unusually slow spring migration and start to the breeding season.

Mountain Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring

Nature Mapping citizen scientists began another season of Mountain Bluebird nestbox monitoring on May 1st 2021. Our bluebird trail is comprised of 112 boxes mounted on the National Elk Refuge fence along Hwy 89. These boxes are monitored by 14 volunteers.

These hardy volunteers brave mud, ants, and empty nestboxes to ensure accurate and quality data collection along the bluebird trail. We are ever grateful for their good work!

This year, seven nestboxes have been occupied by Mountain Bluebirds and many more boxes are occupied by Tree Swallows and House Wrens. The first wave of bluebird nesting is almost over, but a couple bluebird pairs have already initiated new nesting attempts for their second broods.

JHWF is color-banding Mountain Bluebirds as a part of our effort to understand survivorship, dispersal, and site fidelity of the bluebirds in Jackson Hole.

This year we have banded 35 Mountain Bluebird nestlings and two adults that we caught opportunistically. We also color banded two Mountain Bluebird adults that we caught at our Boyles Hill MAPS banding station.

If you see a color-banded bluebird in or near Jackson, write down the color combination, note the location, and report the sighting to reportband.gov or Hilary@jhwildlife.org!

Bluebird Bliss: An Interview With JHWF Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring Volunteers Patti and Andrew

Bluebird Bliss: An Interview With JHWF Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring Volunteers Patti and Andrew

How long have you been involved in Mountain Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring and do you have an estimate for how many active bluebird nests you’ve monitored?

Patti – We first volunteered in 2018 and 2019.  We watched a set of 10 nest boxes, in 2018 we had 3 nest boxes that produced little baby bluebirds – it was like magic to me. We witnessed 2 sets of nestlings being banded, one nest with 5 and the other with 6.

What drew you to be a Mountain Bluebird nest box volunteer?

Patti – My first thought was “Have you see the color of those birds? Who wouldn’t want to watch them.” But really, any chance to watch birds that close up through an entire breeding and nesting season was really exciting.

Do you a specific fond or rewarding memories related to this project?

Patti – I would say the first blue egg in box 15 did it for me. Also seeing them being banded was an amazing feat by the professionals

Are there any challenges/negative aspects of being a Mountain Bluebird nest box monitoring volunteer?

Patti – Being dive-bombed by the tree swallows was not fun. They are feisty creatures and do not like visitors to their nests close to egg laying time.  It’s because you have both of them protecting their box! The other challenge is being about 3″ too short to see into some of the boxes. The pocket digital camera became my assistant if Andrew was not there.

Do you have any advice you would give to new Mountain Bluebird nest box volunteers?

Patti – Use your camera to record what you see. Even if no one needs the data in picture form, you yourself will be amazed to remember the whole process in such a clear way – from the first scraps of grass to the eggs appearing one by one, to the hatchlings then to the nestlings, and then on to the abandoned box.

What is it specifically about birds that draws your interest?

Patti – Andrew is a mammalogist by training and has been interested in nature all of his life. I was a girl scout from 2nd grade through adulthood. We both love the outdoors. Andrew’s interest in birds came as he was watching mammals! My interest was a bit delayed because I thought I would never be able to spot them quickly enough and make any sort of identification. As usual, his patient teaching methods and field identification hints helped me gain skills and he is still here to help me spot field marks and bird behavior. My first life-list bird was a raven in Logan, Utah in 1980.

Celebrate Wildlife!

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