The unofficial number of moose counted on Moose Day 2019 (Saturday, February 23) was 131 moose. This is over the 124 total in 2011 (another deep-snow year) and below the record of 172 in 2017—when a mother lode of 57 moose was observed out the east end of the Gros Ventre at the Darwin Ranch. So 2019 is an exceptional count year! Notably too, we had a record number of 94 volunteers this year.
February 2019 was an epic month for snowfall and fell just short of the all-time record, missing the record mark by a mere 3.1 inches. Needless to say, it was an incredibly harsh winter for moose and all long-legged critters, including elk and mule deer. We have all seen moose standing on roads, blocked by snow banks, or huddled near buildings. Even with their long legs, food is hard to reach and the going is tough for moose.
What the Biologists Noticed:
Aly Courtemanch, ungulate biologist for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, surveyed for moose in a helicopter while Nature Mappers were searching on the ground. According to her, this was an especially important year for the contribution of volunteers on Moose Day because with the high snow, moose where huddled up against structures and vegetation, which made spotting them from the air especially challenging.
In recent years the moose population in the “Jackson Herd” has been estimated at between 400-450 individuals, down from a decade ago. However, there were some positive indications from this year’s Moose Day.
“This year we saw quite a few cows with calves, which was very promising.” Courtemanch said. “Generally there were more cows that had twins too; twins indicated those cows were healthy and have great nutrition.”
Another good sign was the observation of moose in areas where they had not been seen in some time.
“This is the second year in a row that we’ve seen moose in Willow Flats,” said Courtemanch. She added, “there used to be a lot of moose that wintered there in the past, but not so recently. After many years, this is the second winter in a row we’ve noticed moose there!”
Moose Day surveyors worked hard to cover their territories ranging North to Arizona Creek in Grand Teton National Park, east out the Gros Ventre, west up Trail Creek (with a new area around Alta), and south to the county border.
Most surveyors traveled in teams by car intermittently getting out, walking, and peering over snow banks. They scouted along the main highways and throughout neighborhoods. Others skied and snowshoed public lands and extensive private tracts. One agency team snowmobiled far out into the Gros Ventre Range.
All were looking for sign of moose: tracks, poop, and browse, and dark masses with long ears silhouetted against white.
As usual, some “regular” moose vanished, such as one that had been lingering for days under a volunteer’s window. Others were found in their habitual spots, up Trail Creek and near Cache Creek by veteran surveyors.
Condition of moose varied. Most appeared pretty healthy looking, but some, especially juveniles and moose in Jackson were thin with worn coats from an overload of ticks. One long-time valley resident commented, “All wildlife is struggling with deep, dense snow.”
So where were the most moose?
Buffalo Valley harbored 19 moose and the area west of Lower Slide Lake had 18. Antelope Flats, Kelly, the floodplain corridor and the area west to the airport had a total of 13. The Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club north into Solitude had a count of 10. The majority of moose, over 50, were in and around Wilson: south down the dike (9), Trail Creek drainage (16), Fall Creek Road (5), and Snake River Ranch (9), as well as scattered in subdivisions (15). Three moose were sighted in Jackson (with several others later in the day), and a few moose were spotted south around Cottonwood, Rafter J, and South Park.
Where did moose not show up?
Zero is an important number in science. Despite great effort, intrepid surveyors– mostly on skis–did not see any sign of moose on the north and west regions of the Grand Teton National Park where snow is particularly deep. They did see a few coyote and weasel tracks. Upper Cache Creek trails and vicinity have been devoid of moose sign in recent weeks, where the snow is also deep. Also, teams surveying below South Park to the county border had no moose, consistent with years past. Special thanks to the surveyors who covered these areas without the reward of finding moose.
Nature Mappers recorded other sightings while out and about: One keen-eyed team saw dippers, Golden Eagle, Red-winged Blackbirds, swans, mergansers, and sage grouse in their area around Kelly and along the Gros Ventre . Two volunteers noted an elk as well as, several mule deer in the heart of Jackson. Many of you reported these and other species as well.
Over eleven years, the number of Moose Day volunteers has gradually risen to an all time high of 94 this year. Some are long-time Nature Mappers, others have not yet been certified, but will be trained soon. They come from all walks of life and from around the country, including Jackson Hole. We are also pleased that long-time Nature Mappers and Jackson Hole residents were joined by newcomers to the community who helped survey their neighborhoods.
Several agency biologists volunteered their time: Sarah Dewey of Grand Teton National Park, Jason Wilmot of the U.S. Forest Service, and Ben Wise of Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Besides all staff members and several board members of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, David Watson and Sarah Ramirez took a busman’s holiday from Teton Raptor Center and Morgan Graham from Teton Conservation District..
Many Jackson Hole News & Guide folk also stepped up for the fun: Jennifer Dorsey, Melissa Cassutt, Mark Huffman, and Becca Harris. We also thank Jeff Jensen of Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis, and AJ DeRosa and his team from Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures.
Thanks to everyone for taking time to help the moose here in Jackson Hole. Our Moose Day 2019 numbers will become “official” once all data has been reported and vetted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. A formal report and map will be circulated in the coming weeks and made available for download on our website. The Nature Mapping data will be shared with Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s WOS database to help protect our vulnerable moose population. By participating in this survey, many of you have acquired an extra understanding of moose here in Jackson Hole. The moose thank you! Job well done to all!