By Frances Clark | Lead Nature Mapping Volunteer
The data is in: 127 moose, 100 volunteers in 32 teams, who donated over 350 hours! Wow, thank you all. Teams ranged north to Arizona Creek in Grand Teton National Park, east out the Gros Ventre, west to Alta, and south to the county border.
The total number of moose fits in with two other peak years: 127 in 2019, and 124 in 2011, which were extreme snow years that concentrated moose into the valley near roads and homes for easier movement.
This year, with temperatures in the mid 30s and mostly sunny, it was good weather for humans scouting for moose, although less good for moose, which are adapted to extreme cold and begin to stress at temperatures over 23 degrees.
We had a whopping 172 moose in 2017, due to 57 out the Gros Ventre to the Darwin Ranch. This year the U.S. Forest Service team headed by Jason Wilmot snowmobiled to the Darwin Ranch and saw 39 moose.
In addition, we had a record number of volunteers: 100 up from 92 last year, which was then the all-time high. We had a several family teams and teams of new Nature Mappers. Thank you!
We particularly appreciate John Beller who trained and deployed eight volunteers in a new area around Alta, on the west side of the Tetons. They saw one moose.
Reports noted moose in great shape with glossy coats. Rarely did mappers observe injuries, and no rubbed fur (a sign of ticks) or nicked ears (a sign of carotid artery worms).
In general moose appeared at certain nodes – Buffalo Valley (16), out the Gros Ventre (39), a subdivision west of the airport (11), off the south dike in Wilson (8), and around Trail Creek/Old Pass Road region (16).
They were more scattered elsewhere throughout the valley requiring patience and in some cases causing disappointment. Several teams saw fresh tracks but no moose, and other teams saw no trace of moose. As we often say, “The moose disappear on Moose Day.” We don’t know why or where.
On Moose Day there were many other critters to nature map: coyotes, fox, otter, Pacific marten, ermine, bison, and elk, along with various birds: Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Common Mergansers, Ring-Necked Ducks, and “first-of-the-year” Red-winged Blackbirds.
We thank Wyoming Game and Fish, Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the National Elk Refuge for their contribution of staff time to the cooperative cause of Moose Day. And we thank all of you who snowshoed, skied, drove, and snowmobiled for hours. Finally, particular appreciation to the private landowners including the Resor Family, Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis, Teton Science School, among others for granting permission to survey their property.
Below are excerpts from individual team reports:
In the north part of the park Moran junction to Arizona Creek, Kate Winters, her mother Nancy Winters, and Jon Wiedie observed coyote, ermine, a skier, an old snowshoer, and rodent tracks around Oxbow Bend. Skiing south of the roadway between oxbow and dam, they found two female moose, an adult and juvenile, who had been hanging around cottonwoods and crossing over to hide in the evergreens.
Covering her part by ski, Deb Patla saw one set of old moose tracks near the end of that jaunt, mostly covered by fresh or wind-blown snow. She saw swans, bald eagles, and lots of coyote, fox and ermine tracks.
Matt Fagan and Karyn Greenwood snowshoed five hours around Pacific Creek with no moose in sight, which puzzled him as he sees them regularly there in the summer. He was rewarded though by a couple of Buffleheads and Bald Eagles over the Snake River, and four Mountain Chickadees; also lots of tracks of fox, coyote, and otter!
Grand Teton Park biologists Sarah Dewy and Carson Butler found the motherload of 16 moose in the Buffalo Valley – good willow habitat!
Bev Boynton, Ray White, Kathy McCurdy, and Nancy Shea were surprised to find only four moose in their area covering Antelope Flats, the Gros Ventre river bed, road east of Kelly, and north along Ditch Creek to the Teton Science School’s Kelly Campus.
While there was plenty of sign, they saw only two moose up Ditch Creek eating cottonwoods. They saw plenty of other species including 70 elk walking on the Kelly Peak massif; Red-wing Blackbirds, Barrow’s Goldeneye, four geese at Kelly Warm Springs (“First of Year for us”) along with five bison, two swans, five Common Mergansers, 10 Ring-necked Ducks.
Two teams of two under the aegis of U.S. Forest Service biologist Jason Wilmot, snowmobiled 6.5 hours to find 39 moose along the Gros Ventre Road out to the Darwin Ranch.
A team of Jackson Hole natives Leith and Barb Barker and Reade and Dave Dornan reported, “Several places of good moose tracks, which we really scoured with our four sets of binoculars, but nary a twig eaten did we spy, not even an ear tip. And nobody we approached saw moose either. We asked photographers, eco-tour drivers, cross-country skiers, and a bartender (at Moose). Nobody has seen a moose in ‘a couple of weeks.’ Alas . . . we were moose-less. Sigh. Hope others had better luck!”
To the west and north of the airport, Steven Squillaci and family cruised in an SUV to find 11 moose in a subdivision clustered along two roads, a sign of likely feeding. Unfortunately, feeding moose can be harmful as their gut may not be adapted to digesting the well-meaning handouts.
A team covered the region around Jackson Golf and Tennis (JHGT) by snowmobile, car, and ski to see five moose. The team included JHGT manager Jeff Jensen and Randy and Robin Reedy, who postponed a trip to participate in Moose Day!
Thanks to permission from the Resor Family, a team of six skied much of the Snake River Ranch, (“It was pretty rough!”) and two drove around the Snake River Ranch. Unfortunately no moose but David Watson and daughter Taylor Woods watched a Pacific Marten for 5-6 minutes. Bruce Pasfield saw two coyotes, and Ben Wise and company saw four individual foxes. “It was great to get out this morning!”
Jana Stearns and Kerri Ratcliff skied down the length of Old Pass Road, finding no moose there, but one at the cemetery and another few nearby. Jeremy Schmidt tramped around the woods with no luck. A neighbor provided a report of 11 moose.
The riparian area along the Snake River was scouted by three teams: Taylor and Brook Phillips are starting their son Canyon (above) and daughter Isa off early as naturalists, to find a cow/calf pair along the “north dike.” Susan Marsh, Meg Gilbert, and Julie Holding saw eight moose along the “south dike” in Wilson. AJ DeRosa deployed three teams of two to cover the extensive area around his “tipi camp” in the cottonwoods for one moose sighting.
Patty Ewing and daughter Heather covered Cache Creek for three moose that they know well, marking their movements throughout the day (most were loafing).
Many, many more of you covered neighborhoods of Wilson, Teton Village, Jackson, High School Road, South Park, Game Creek, and way south to the county border. Again, thank you for your time, enthusiasm, and commitment to the moose we all care for!
Frances Clark, Moose Day Coordinator