Message from JHWF Executive Director April 12th, 2021

Message from JHWF Executive Director April 12th, 2021

By Renee Seidler | Executive Director

What a great time to be out traveling between Victor Idaho and Farson Wyoming! On Friday, a beautiful sunny spring day, wildlife was on the move and easily seen from the road. My wildlife sightings list in one short day included large groups of elk, mule deer and pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sandhill cranes, vultures, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, bluebirds, and light-colored slatey male Northern Harriers. Enough to give me a grin for days! And lots to report to our Nature Mapping database. 😊

This drive also elevated my vivid awareness of how dangerous this time of year can be for animals moving toward summer range and it reminded me of the work and collaboration we are doing to protect this precious resource. Some updates that may interest you:

In December 2020, at the behest of the Wildlife Foundation and others, the Board of County Commissioners added a statement to the County Transportation Plan that requires a county planning process for WY 390 as a whole corridor. This highway is challenging to mitigate in part due to the dense development and number of access roads. By planning for mitigation at a ‘corridor’ level, the county can move past piece-meal mitigation efforts that have been employed in the past (which have been helpful, in bits and pieces) and create an inclusive plan that makes sense for motorists and wildlife for the length of the roadway. We celebrate this milestone and we look forward to working with the county to create the safest plan for all who live and drive along WY 390 that also preserves and improves habitat for native wildlife that need the “West Bank” to survive.

On the topic of WY 390, our 4 fixed radar signs will be replaced this summer, and an additional radar sign will be added for southbound traffic where the speed limit decreases from 55 to 45 mph. WYDOT has also been scheming additional signs for either end of the corridor that are larger with multiple species represented. These will be similar to other wildlife signs in the county on US 191 and 89.

Planning and design for wildlife crossings at the WY 22-390 intersection is moving along. Construction is slated to begin late 2022 – early 2023. In a similar time-window, the Stilson parking lot is undergoing planning for expansion by JHMR and Teton County. This important work aims to preserve the greater ecosystem by expanding public transit. We are engaging with the county and partners to ensure that wildlife movement in this critical location is not compromised along the way.

A recent federal project was approved to plan for improvements of WY 22 on Teton Pass. This, along with the Stilson plan and another federal project—the BUILD grant— aim to seamlessly tie traffic, transit, and pedestrian flow together from The Village to Driggs, Idaho. We remain vigilant to the process to safeguard wildlife needs for habitat and movement.

Good research continues to help us adaptively improve wildlife crossing structures. Colorado DOT just released results from a study of ~5 years of monitoring over 10 miles of highway mitigation. You may find some of the results interesting…

• Wildlife-vehicle collisions were reduced by 92% where mitigation was installed
• Round-bar wildlife guards (similar to cattle guards) were the best at deterring wildlife breaches
• Elk—a notoriously challenging animal to mitigate for—took 4 years to begin using the structures

Data from our very own South US 89 mitigation is now being processed by the University of Montana. Researchers there are processing wildlife-vehicle collision data, carcass information, and trail camera data collected by a broad partnership, including JHWF, WYDOT, Game and Fish, Teton Conservation District, Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) and others. We hope to see preliminary results that delve into crossing structure use with and without funnel fence as well as any long-term concerns about wildlife deviating from the mitigation and crossing the highway surface at fence ends. These results will help direct any adaptive management needed to make the crossings as effective as possible.

We were just awarded seed money from the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Program (thank you Youth Philanthropists!) to launch a social media marketing campaign that will provide messaging around safe driving for wildlife in Teton County. The advertisements will include messages like local statistics and safe driving tips for locals, commuters, and visitors.

Finally, stay tuned for a JHWF-GYC-JHCA hosted speaker series that will dive into some of the wildlife-road mitigation that is in planning stages and/or has been proposed for various problem roads around the county. In our first meeting, we plan to talk more about ElectroCrete, which may be tested at fence openings along pathways adjacent to wildlife mitigation.

Thank you for your support and, as always, if you’d like to learn more please reach out to us!

Moose Day 2021 (Unofficial) Results

Moose Day 2021 (Unofficial) Results

By Frances Clark | Nature Mapping Ambassador

All 2021 Moose Day Volunteers,

Thank you for your extraordinary participation in Moose Day 2021. At this time, we have preliminary totals of 106 moose and 109 volunteers who spent 300 hours scouting! The majority of you drove (163 hrs), others skied (74 hrs), a few snowmobiled (33.5 hrs), many walked (25 hrs), and one group snowshoed (4 hrs).This is impressive! Unfortunately, as often happens on Moose Day, only half the teams saw moose (18 out of 34). This is not a reflection on your effort—you tried hard! Moose appeared most frequently along the Gros Ventre River as far east as the Darwin Ranch (14), to along the stretch around Kelly to the rotary (19). Others were seen in much less wild terrain, such as around golf courses at Teton Golf and Tennis and Teton Pines (around 20). Some were resting and feeding in neighborhoods around Wilson, Tribal Trails, and Crescent H subdivisions. Areas of deep snow in the park, downtown Jackson, the forested slopes along Fish and Fall Creek Roads had none this year. Even the Buffalo Valley, a former hotspot, had only 4 moose.

Photo: Josh Metten, Ecotour Adventures

Searching for moose had its challenges. Several reported steep and high snowbanks along roads. “Berms were high so though we tried to cover the area, one never knows as it only takes a small something to hide the animals when they are lying down.” Grace Barca and her granddaughter Elly spent the morning combing the area along Fall Creek Road and up into Indian Paintbrush. “The residents said the snow was too deep on the hill.” So they looked on the flats … “We crossed three streams: Fish and Fall Creeks and the Snake and expected something in the lowlands.” Still no moose. Moose were few around Trail Creek likely because of the cross-country ski races. Notably, for only the second year, we had a team in Alta who spotted 2 moose after much driving and walking.

Photo: Jenny McCarthy

Jason Wilmot, biologist with the US Forest Service, led the most adventurous team on two snowmobiles east out the Gros Ventre to the Darwin Ranch. He texted: “We saw 14 moose up the Gros …. Only one dead snowmobile! Bummer. All safe though!…Beautiful up there!”…“On the hunt for a new snowmobile.” His teammate Lesley Williams, who waited two hours while the one snowmobile finished the search, was delighted to have the time alone in the solitude of wilderness. We appreciate the USFS folks for taking their days off to go search for moose.

While many people did not see moose, they did see other wildlife. The team in the north end of the park around the Jackson Lake Dam had a special treat: Kent Clements and his wife saw otter tracks around Willow Flats, and Eric Carr actually saw an otter “catch the biggest sucker fish I’ve ever seen. Huge!” Matt Fagan reported, “No moose, no traces, but we did get to watch a family of four otters moving through Willow Flats up and over dam wall…body sledding, each taking their own line down the back side. Very fun to watch. Their movements were like inchworms: doubling up in the middle then slide stretching out. Inchworm or slinky like.”

Photo: Beverly Boyton

In their territory around Ditch Creek, Beverly Boynton and Ray White reported Horned Larks, mule deer, Greater Sage-Grouse, and a Great Grey Owl. Kathy McCurdy and Nancy Shea skied the stretch from Kelly to the Gros Ventre Campground and were surprised by an elk in the willows. Marjie Pettus and Brian Bilyeu scouted East Jackson and “did not see a single moose. That said, our trip was not uneventful: we saw elk (of course), bighorn sheep, 2 bald eagles, 3 deer, and no surprise, but fun 2 trumpeter swans” on the National Elk Refuge. Sue and John Ewan were down by the Snake River Sporting Club and spied a large flock of American Robins, along with Townsend’s Solitaires, and a Mourning Dove. Kathy and Jay Buchner also spotted robins north of the junction of Boyles Hill and Ely Springs Roads.

While there were no moose in their territory of the Snake River Ranch, team members observed many tracks and critters. Ben Wise saw “lots of fox tracks, maybe some ermine tracks, and a magnificent pair of bald eagles”. Jennifer Dorsey and KO Strohbehn noted tracks of martin, coyote, fox and deer, and heard Red-winged Blackbirds. Josh Metten, was able to discern “many fox tracks and holes they dug for the ‘catch.’ Vole?” Gretchen Plender reported. “Two Canada Geese flew into land in the ponds on the Shooting Star grounds! Julie (her ski partner) exclaimed, ‘Oh spring is coming!!’”

In addition, Renée Seidler, executive director of JHWF, in the area south of South Park found “two coyotes and a boat-load of swans south of the Snake River.” Mary Ellen and Bill Fausone surveyed Saddle Butte area and reported a fox, 9 deer, and “when we got home a gorgeous Great Horned Owl nesting in a tree. So is was a great day to see wildlife.”

We want to add thanks to the contributions of agencies, wildlife tour companies, and landowners. Sarah Dewey and Carson Butler of Grand Teton National Park found the 4 moose up at Buffalo Valley (fewer than in past years). Sarah also facilitated the park permit. Ben Wise of WGFD organized the team on the Snake River Ranch. Morgan Graham of Teton Conservation District surveyed Game Creek. Note, Morgan used his GIS skills to produce the Moose Day maps when Moose Day first started. Aly Courtemanch is the lead for Moose Day at WGFD. Without her, we would not have Moose Day!

Photo: Josh Metten, Ecotour Adventures

We thank the owners and property managers for permission to scout Snake River Ranch, Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole Winery, Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis, Teton Pines, Astoria Park Conservancy, Snake River Sporting Club, Teton Mountain Schools, and the many other private landowners. We appreciate the volunteer time of tour companies: AJ DeRosa of JH Vintage Adventures, Josh Metten of EcoTour Adventures, and Matt Fagan of Buffalo Roam Tours.

And a final note: We had participation from hearty volunteers of the Barker, Dornan, Craighead, Ewing, and Linn families—who have contributed to the understanding and appreciation of our wildlife heritage over decades. Without their commitment to the valley, we would not have so many moose and other wildlife to enjoy on Moose Day.

This is preliminary data. We will have a final report in our next Nature Mapping enews with a map of where all the moose were and comparisons to years before. However, we wanted you to be the first to know the success of Moose Day 2021.

Thank you all!

Frances Clark,
Volunteer Moose Day Coordinator

 

Small Mammals: What Good Are They?

Small Mammals: What Good Are They?

by Frances Clark, Lead Ambassador Nature Mapping Jackson Hole

At this time of year, people see their lawn and gardens riddled with ground squirrels or pocket gophers or their trees chewed to toppling by beaver and ask, “What is the purpose of these pests?”

Small mammals serve as prey for our large mammals and raptors and provide other ecological services, such as aeration and recycling of soil and nutrients. Beaver, our largest rodents, form habitat for many other creatures, although they are a nuisance to homeowners with ponds and aspen plantings.

Small mammals serve as prey for raptors and other animals.

Small mammals serve as prey for raptors and other animals. Photo: Steve Jurvetson

Uinta ground squirrels are common in sage and grassland habitats, and they find similar features in lawns. They dig tunnels and form sleeping chambers, thereby creating holes and mounds, much to the consternation of homeowners and ranchers. I have nature mapped dozens and dozens of ground squirrels driving out the National Elk Refuge road in spring. Indeed they emerge and mate in April and each pair can produce four to seven young by May, which then scamper about every which-way eating grasses and flowers. Their abundance can seem overwhelming, even repulsive.

Driving out this same route a day in mid-June, I spied several red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks and even golden eagles soaring overhead and a coyote or two trotting through the fields, ears alert. The high-pitched alarm calls of ground squirrels came from all directions. I realized the abundance of raptors was due to the plentitude of squirrels.  Uinta ground squirrels are tasty packets of protein. They are a necessary and timely food source for raising young raptor chicks, red fox kits and coyote pups. And the time is short… Uinta ground squirrels are above ground only three months before they go dormant in August for the next nine months. Many don’t make it.

Other raptors, including northern harriers, prairie falcons and American kestrels, hunt open areas for rodents in sizes appropriate to their body weight. In addition to Uinta ground squirrels, least chipmunks, meadow voles and deer mice are important components of their diets. In old growth forests, red-backed voles nourish northern goshawks and pine martens. Great horned owls also devour small mammals. Fortunately, most small rodents don’t bother us humans.

Another annoyance in cultivated areas is northern pocket gopher. As snow melts, one can see the extensive “eskers” that mark the pocket gophers’ progress underground eating roots, rhizomes and tubers for food. In summer, occasional fresh mounds of soil indicate areas of activity. Rarely does one see a whiskered grey face, with tiny eyes and ears, emerge from a hole. Bear, fox and coyote use their ears to find this plump fossorial (digging) prey. The Teton Raptor Center is monitoring pocket gophers as part of their population studies of the majestic great gray owl. Great gray owls can hear pocket gophers moving under feet of snow and plunge feet first to catch their vital winter meal.

In addition, pocket gophers are particularly important in enhancing soils in mountain meadows. Their prodigious earth movement churns up nutrients, allows water and air to seep into hard-packed soils and provides opportunities for seed germination.

Young beaver move up creeks and irrigation ditches to find new territory to raise a family.  The sound of running water and presence of willows and aspen stimulates dam building. Some of these appealing sites are now landscaped into ponds surrounded by aspen trees. Beaver build dams to impound water to serve as moats and insulation for their lodges, where they raise their young and keep safe. Anyone who has visited Schwabacher’s Landing or Moose-Wilson Road in the park has witnessed the diversity sustained by these industrious rodents. Beaver impoundments encourage willows, sedges and aquatics, which in turn provide food and shelter for ducks, sora, amphibians and moose. The U.S. Forest Service and other groups are moving trapped beavers up drainages to enhance wildlife habitat and also to help with flood control and water quality. While beaver can be pesky in our expanding human habitats, they are much needed in our natural habitats.

Even the most lowly, annoying-to-us critter has a role to play in our ecosystem. While no one wants wildlife in our homes, understanding the importance of each species in Jackson Hole can enhance our enjoyment of the out-of-doors, even in our own backyard.

How to Nature Map Small Mammals:

Nature mappers can help record the use of habitats — both cultivated and wild — by many of our often unseen or unappreciated small mammals. Here are some tips for mapping a few rodents and related species:

Uinta ground squirrels are buffy brown, about a foot long, with short tails. They often sit erect near the entrance to their burrow holes or look like soft lumps of manure on the edge of roads, until they move. We particularly encourage notations on the First of Year (FOY) appearances in March and April and Last of Year (LOY) sightings in late July and early August.

High Uinta Ground Squirrel

Uinta Ground Squirrel

Our other ground squirrel, Golden-mantled ground squirrel, looks like a chipmunk due to two set of stripes on its back, but unlike chipmunks, it does not have stripes on its head or tail. These are mostly found in forests, rocky areas and some shrubby sites, particularly at higher elevations.

Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel

We have three species of chipmunks: all have stripes on their heads, backs, and to some extent down their tails. Least chipmunk is more likely in the sage flats and runs with its tail straight up. The tail is longer than its body. It is smaller and darker on its belly than the Uinta chipmunk, which is found more in coniferous forests or shrubby areas. Uinta chipmunk tends to have a lighter belly and a wider tail. Unlike the other two species found in Jackson Hole, Uinta chipmunks have a white outermost stripe along their backs (rather than a fairly distinct black or blackish-brown stripe), which is shown nicely in this Berkeley photo. Relatively more brightly colored, yellow pine chipmunk is also a forest species and has orange highlights. These can be very difficult to distinguish. Do your best, but when in doubt leave it out.

Three chipmunks found in Jackson Hole

Three Chipmunks in Jackson Hole: Least (left), Uinta (middle) and Yellow Pine (right). Middle and right photos Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD).

Northern pocket gophers by their nature are hard to see unless you are lucky. These gray, 8 inch animals have small eyes, tiny ears, and large front feet with noticeable claws.  Their tunnels are obvious either as 3-4 inch rounded eskers left over from winter foraging or fresh mounds of soil about a foot wide and several inches high in summer. This “sign” can be used to indicate areas of abundance in sage flats, meadows or forest openings.

Pocket Gopher

Pocket Gopher, Yellowstone National Park; Gillian Bowser; 1990

Mice, voles, and shrews are impossible to identify to species; therefore, we encourage nature mappers do their best record the groups. Mice have big ears and long tails. Voles have smaller ears and shorter tails and look relatively compact compared to mice.  Shrews, which are a separate family, have elongate pointed heads with small eyes and ears and many teeth to eat their prey of insects, earthworms and the like. Tails vary in length. Our common species is masked shrew. We do not have moles in Jackson Hole.

Mouse (left), Vole (middle), and Shrew (right).

Mouse (left), Vole (middle), and Shrew (right).

Beaver can be distinguished from their relative muskrat by their flat vs. rat-like tails seen while swimming in water. While both have rich brown pelts, beaver are usually bigger with a flatter head and are found among willows or other woody plants, which they use for food and dam building. Muskrats use soft-stemmed cattails, reeds and rushes to form their mounds and for food; therefore, they are more likely in wet meadows and marshes.

Beaver versus Muskrat identification

Beaver (left) has a flat tail while its relative, the Muskrat (right), has a rat-like tail.

Red Squirrels: Many people recognize the wide-eyed, bushy-tailed red squirrel found in forests and porches. Often we hear their chatter in the deeper forest. These tree squirrels are defending their territories and particularly their caches of cones. If you happen to see an active “midden,” pile of cone scales and stalks, take a point. This is an indicator of highly productive trees and possible pine marten habitat.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Bullock’s… Wait, BALTIMORE!

Bullock’s… Wait, BALTIMORE!

by Max Frankenberry, JHWF Assistant Bird Bander

This past Saturday, May 19, 2018, JHWF staff participated in the annual Wyoming Game & Fish Department bird survey of the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area, just south of Jackson. Our group of volunteer birders, including enthusiastic Nature Mappers and Jackson Hole Bird & Nature Club members, met bright and early Saturday morning, led by our local bird nerd expert volunteer, Tim Griffith. Tim has been crucial to organizing Game & Fish bird surveys of the South Park area since 2016, which have so far logged 96 different species for the area! Our pack split into two groups, one to tackle waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors around the ponds, the other to take on “Warbler Alley,” the thick cottonwood tree groves hugging the backwaters of the Snake River to the southeast. What an appropriate nickname that was – Yellow Warblers dotted most every tree in South Park, and were joined by the radiant Yellow-rumped, Wilson’s and MacGillivary’s Warblers as well. It was a different traveler from the south, however, that took everyone by surprise.

south park wildlife management area annual bird survey jackson wy

‘Warbler’s neck’ is a common occurrence on a bird survey.

After a busy four hours of hiking and birding the survey was winding down, and brunch was on the brain. But birding tends to deliver the bombshells at the last moments, and Saturday was no different. Jon Mobeck, our team’s oriole-obsessed leader shouted. “Bullock’s! Wait… BALTIMORE!” In a low hawthorn tree not 50 feet from us, was not only a Bullock’s Oriole, a gorgeous but fairly common bird in Jackson Hole, but next to it was a Baltimore Oriole, a normally much more eastern cousin. Historical records vary, but this bird may be one of less than a dozen ever reported in the state of Wyoming, and likely less than a handful have ever been seen in Teton County. What a find! The Bullock’s and Baltimore seemed to follow each other, flying from tree to tree after one another. Perhaps the Baltimore had lost his way on his normal spring route up from Central America, noticed a bird that resembled his brilliant orange color, and followed that Bullock’s back to our western mountains, far away from his normal east-of-the-plains summer vacation.

Baltimore Oriole and Bullock's Oriole found on bird survey Jackson Hole

A Baltimore Oriole (left) is a rare find in Jackson Hole. The Bullock’s Oriole (right) is more of a local. Photos: Kate Maley

It’s moments like these that make us realize how special close-to-home wild places like South Park are. The diversity of wildlife in these areas can be astounding. But problems exist in the fact that unless these places are studied or surveyed, we may never know the rarities or struggling populations there. This is the issue Nature Mapping Jackson Hole is helping to solve – by submitting data from your commute from work, a dog-walk in a Jackson city park or a backpacking trip through the Gros Ventre, you are helping to build our human community’s understanding of the wildlife community that surrounds us. And every data point really is significant! You don’t often find rare birds like the Baltimore Oriole, but it’s very possible that the deer you saw driving home could represent the beginning of a muley movement exploring a new feeding ground in Jackson Hole. The data you enter from these sightings help JHWF’s partners to prepare management decisions that inspire positive interaction between humans and the wildlife moving into these areas. Knowing that your effort can directly benefit our local species is a reward in itself, and who knows – maybe your attention to wildlife developed from Nature Mapping will lead you to that once-in-a-lifetime animal.

Birding in South Park Jackson Hole Wyoming

Max Frankenberry spots a Common Merganser on a back channel of the Snake River through Wingspan Optics binoculars.

South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area Species Count 2018 Surveyed by 22 Participants

American Coot 3
American Crow 1
American Goldfinch 11
American Kestrel 13
American Robin 74
American White Pelican 38
American Wigeon 9
Bald Eagle 6
BALTIMORE ORIOLE 1
Bank Swallow 4
Barn Swallow 6
Barrow’s Goldeneye 16
Belted Kingfisher 4
Black-billed Magpie 9
Black-capped Chickadee 24
Black-headed Grosbeak 2
Blue-winged Teal
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Broad-tail Hummingbird 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 6
Bufflehead
Bullock’s Oriole 4
Calliope Hummingbird 6
Canada Goose 114
Cedar Waxwing
Chipping Sparrow 2
Cinnamon Teal 47
Cliff Swallow 7
Common Merganser 37
Common Raven 15
Common Yellowthroat
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Dark-eyed Junco
Double-crested Cormorant
Dusky Flycatcher
Eared Grebe
Eastern Kingbird
European Starling 21
Gadwall 84
Gray Catbird 1
Great Blue Heron 6
Green-tailed Towhee 1
Green-winged Teal 2
House Wren 14
Killdeer 12
Lazuli Bunting
Lesser Scaup 7
Lincoln Sparrow
MacGillivary’s Warbler 3
Mallard 52
Marsh Wren 5
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Chickadee
Mourning Dove
N. Rough Wing Swallow 11
Northern Flicker 19
Northern Shoveler
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Osprey 6
Pied-billed Grebe
Pine Siskin
Redhead Duck
Red-naped Sapsucker
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Red-winged Blackbird 62
Ring-billed Gull 2
Ring-necked Duck 12
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 7
Ruddy Duck 4
Sandhill Crane 3
Savannah Sparrow 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Song Sparrow 51
Sora 3
Spotted Sandpiper 24
Swainson’s Thrush 1
Tree Swallow 219
Trumpeter Swan 2
Turkey Vulture 6
Vesper Sparrow 2
Violet-green Swallow 3
Virginia Rail 1
Western Meadowlark 3
Western Tanager 1
Western Wood Pewee
Western/Clark’s Grebe
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-crowned Sparrow 3
White-faced Ibis
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Wood Duck
Yellow Warbler 130
Yellow-headed Blackbird 37
Yellow-rumped Warbler 94

Species Total 68

Louisianans and Barbed Wire in the Rain

Louisianans and Barbed Wire in the Rain

by Jon Mobeck, Executive Director

A steady rain saturated the ground as I looked out the window. It was 5:30 a.m. on the day of a fence pull – Saturday, May 12. It’s hard not to feel that a bit more sleep would be a better choice than pulling down barbed wire fences, but that fleeting thought is dismissed as I think about the others who are doing – and maybe thinking – the same thing. I’ve done this work in the rain before, but nowhere near as many times as those key “Fence Team” volunteers who I would join later that morning. And then I have the thought of all the people who have done this over the past two decades, in all sorts of weather conditions, in any terrain. There was never really a doubt that we would pull down fence that day.

On this day, we were scheduled to benefit from a large volunteer crew generously offered by EcoTour Adventures. EcoTour was hosting a group of 16 students from a school in Louisiana along with an equal number of parents. While visiting (vacationing) here, the Louisianans would see the typically amazing sites of Jackson Hole, experience exhilarating adventures, and learn about the area’s wildlife and natural gifts from EcoTour’s exceptional guides. Because of EcoTour’s commitment to the area’s wildlife, they encourage their guests to participate in activities that help preserve what makes this place special.

ecotour fence project hogback wyoming

On this day, though, with rain coming down and more rain forecast throughout the day, I had assumed that the group would cancel, and I wouldn’t have blamed them for a second. After all, they were on vacation. Pulling down barbed wire fences in the rain is not high on the “to-do” list for most of the vacationing public.

So at 7:22 a.m., when EcoTours CEO Taylor Phillips texted: “OK we are all in for the fence pull. Expected arrival 9:15. Yahoo!” I was surprised. I knew I would be meeting our indefatigable Fence Team volunteer leaders Gretchen, Steve and Randy since we had all decided that we were going no matter the weather, but now the prospect of our small team working through the rain turned into the excitement of a huge group (41) of us doing so together.

wildlife friendly fence project hoback wyoming

As it turned out, the rain was relatively light throughout most of the project, and I was amazed by the resilience of the Louisianans. I suppose they are accustomed to rain, but as one of the parents – James – said, “We don’t get to do anything like this in Louisiana.” The Louisianans worked for 3 hours with us, and it sure seemed like they were having a good time. That knowledge filled me with joy. Here all of us were, in the rain, removing barbed wire fences to make things easier for wildlife. And it was fun! And it reminded me of how great it is to share such an experience with new people, from a different place. We’re all so similar, and we all can do so much together!

Of course, we do this for the wildlife. On this occasion, we worked in an area at the northernmost end of the recently mapped Red Desert-to-Hoback Mule Deer Migration Route. The Wyoming Migration Initiative elucidated this 150-mile route through extensive GPS collaring and subsequent mapping that is now recognized and discussed around the world. Each spring, mule deer that were once thought to be a resident population of the Red Desert region migrate across and through many roads, houses, industrial developments, and about 100 fences before finding summer range in the greater Hoback area. We worked near those summer ranges, where they will spend considerable time, removing obstacles that can separate fawns from does, and just generally make their route more challenging.

The northern end of the Red Desert to Hoback Mule Deer Migration Route, as identified by Wyoming Migration Initiative, which includes summer range for mule deer.

We were on Bridger-Teton National Forest Land, where we removed about ½ mile of nasty barbed wire fences. It is a privilege to be able to support our agency partners who couldn’t possible deploy enough staff members to remove or maintain every fence in the region. Our volunteer fence pullers pitch in to care for our public lands in partnership with those terrific land managers.

Hundreds of individuals have helped in this way over the past two decades. Some of whom have been on hundreds of fence projects. I’m personally grateful to all of them, and when I pull my boots on to go work on fences, I know that I’m part of something much bigger than me, in so many ways. It is a big, impressive landscape. It is an amazingly long mule deer migration. There are so many people over many years. There is still so much to do.

Thank you to those great young people from Louisiana and their parents, and to EcoTour Adventures. We’re all a part of a great tradition of giving back to the land!

Celebrate Wildlife!

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