GUEST BLOG: The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation asked our friends and fellow Nature Mappers, Betty and Chuck Mulcahy to share a bit with us about their current volunteer work at the National Elk Refuge. Betty and Chuck do a lot to educate the public about the wonders of snakes and demystify their wicked reputation. Don’t be afraid, read on and learn about our serpent friends:
“Count the snakes and keep your distance!” a friend warned in an email after we told her our new assignment for biological work on the National Elk Refuge was to survey reptiles, mainly counting the snakes.
Unknown to her, the snakes in Jackson Hole are comprised of three non-venomous species. Because one species, the rubber boa, is nocturnal, we don’t expect to encounter it on our rounds, although our biologist mentioned he had seen one once during the day.
The other two species are the wandering gartersnake and the valley gartersnake. The wandering gartersnake is the more numerous and is unlikely to bite if picked up. Instead, this species prefers to defend itself by exuding a musk in your hand, much like pooping. As we tell school children when we present a reptile program in their classrooms, this defense is very effective due to the pungent odor! Their response is always the same: “Eeeeeew!”
However, locating snakes on 25,000 acres can be tricky – perhaps likened to searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Our long-time mentor in snake locating is a Denver Zoo reptile keeper, as well as rattlesnake researcher, who can find a snake with the ease of a professional.
In the past, we have spotted snakes on top of Miller Butte, thermoregulating across roads, swimming in creeks, and hiding in sidewalk cracks and under steps. Now, scouring the Refuge, we flip rocks, turn logs, lift tarps, and trudge through thick vegetation in our search.
Because snakes have yet to be surveyed on the Refuge, no precedent is set for their documentation. Consequently, we outline our search area on a map and record date and findings in a comment section. Finding nothing is as important to record as our successes, according to our biologist, as is recording any dead serpents.
While the wandering gartersnake can often be found at a distance from water, the valley gartersnake is found more often near water and is believed to have declined in population over the years.
We hope to encounter each of these species!
̶ Betty and Chuck Mulcahy
To keep up-to-date on Betty and Chuck’s survey and other adventures you can follow along via their blog Have Snakes Will Travel: The Unconventional Lives of Volunteer Naturalists.
For more detailed information including photographs on the three snake species found in Teton County, WY visit the following links:
- Northern Rubber Boa – Charina bottae – looks like a fake rubber snake, with its lack of distinctive head or tail or any markings. In Wyoming, it is found only in the mountainous northwestern region.
- Wandering Gartersnake – Thamnophis elegans vagrans – is by far the most common gartersnake in Teton County and ranges across the state. The body background color varies from brown to olive, and the stripes and markings can vary in intensity, but it will not have red.
- The Valley Gartersnake – Thamnophis elegans fitchi – has a very limited range in Wyoming: the very western edge of Teton and Lincoln Counties. It is distinctive from the Wandering Gartersnake by its red accents.
Please join us Saturday, June 3 at Buffalo Valley Swan Pond, Bridger-Teton National Forest to volunteer to help with the removal of barbed wire and smooth wire fences.
For our first public project of the year, we plan to remove .5 miles of barbed wire and smooth wire fencing in prime wildlife habitat in the Buffalo Valley. The work area is scenic and the terrain is flat and easily traversed. This project assists our partners at Bridger-Teton National Forest as they aim to make important habitat more permeable to wildlife movement.
The project is average in difficulty (3 on a 1-10 scale).
We will meet at two car pool sites:
- Home Ranch Parking Lot (north side) at 8:15 a.m.
- Gros Ventre Junction at 8:30 a.m.
We will carpool from these sites to the project. We plan to work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and half-day (morning) is welcome, as well. We will provide water, Gatorade and snacks. Please bring your own water bottle or hydration packs. We will take a mid-day lunch break so please bring your own lunch.
Gear: You should wear layered clothes, long pants, sturdy shoes, and bring a rain jacket in case of storms. Sun or eyeglasses are a MUST for working with barbed wire. Sun protection (hat & sunscreen lotion) is also recommended, and will hopefully be necessary! We also recommend that volunteers check the status of their tetanus shots, in case of scratches from the old fencing material. We will provide work gloves and tools.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to attend and let us know at which car pool site you will join us (1 of 2 locations listed above). You can also send questions to this same email address. Additional last-minute information on this event will be posted here.
See you on June 3!
Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank take years to fulfill, and must include completion of an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads, and manages. Luckily for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, prospective Eagle Scout Maclain Smith from Utah, made us the beneficiary of his service project. This past Friday afternoon, Maclain came up to Jackson to install 52 Mountain bluebird nestboxes that he and fellow Scouts constructed by hand.
With lots of laughs and great spirit, Maclain and nine of his family members spent a sunny autumn afternoon installing new pinewood nestboxes on half of our Mountain bluebird trail that runs along the western boundary of the National Elk Refuge. Our old nestboxes (that served their purpose for 13 years!) were taken to Teton Recycling Center where they will be repurposed into wood mulch and used for gardening and landscaping purposes. After 13 years, we felt it time to retire the old nestboxes as they had seen many repairs over the years, but their deteriorating condition was starting to present challenges in terms of predator control and protecting nests from bad weather conditions.
Not only are we fortunate to have the help of Maclain, but we currently have two more prospective Eagle Scouts producing a total of 72 additional nestboxes that will be installed this coming spring. Of these 72 — the other half of our trail will receive 52 new nestboxes, we are looking into placing additional nestboxes elsewhere on the National Elk Refuge, and keep a few in storage. Thank goodness for Scouts!
Click here to see a photo gallery documenting Maclain installing new Mountain bluebird nestboxes with the help of his family and JHWF staff.
Click here to read an account of the project published by the National Elk Refuge.
Join Us for Our August 6th Fence Project:
On August 6th, we are returning to the Gros Ventre to Crystal Creek, to remove more than one mile of barbed wire fence on Bridger Teton National Forest land. The project is average in difficulty (6 on a 1-10 scale), with most of the work on rolling terrain after a moderate hike up to the fence line. Please join us!
We will meet at three car pool sites:
- Home Ranch Parking Lot (north side) at 8:00 a.m.
- Gros Ventre junction at 8:15 a.m.
- Kelly Warm Springs at 8:30 a.m.
We will carpool from these sites to project. We plan to work from 9:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m. and half-day (morning) is welcome, as well.
We will provide water and snacks. Please bring your own water bottle or hydration packs. We will provide water and Gatorade to fill your bottles, and some granola bars for a snack. Additionally we will take a mid-day lunch break. Please bring your lunch.
You should wear layered clothes, long pants, sturdy shoes and bring a rain jacket in case of storms. Sun or eyeglasses are a MUST for working with barbed wire. Sun protection (hat & sunscreen lotion) is also recommended, and will hopefully be necessary! We also recommend that volunteers check the status of their tetanus shots, in case of scratches from the old fencing material. We will provide work gloves, tools, and detailed instructions.
Please RSVP to email@example.com if you plan to attend and let us know at which meet-up point you will join us (1 of 3 locations listed above). You can also send questions to this same email address.
30 Volunteers removed 1 mile of barbed wire at Crystal Creek on July 16th.
On behalf of us all at JHWF, we are so very shocked and saddened over the sudden passing of our amazing volunteer, Fence Program Leader Greg Griffith. We are so very grateful to have known him and be witness to his incredible passion–helping to keep wildlife safe.
Greg was a man of honor, respect, and loyalty and he was so deeply devoted to any project he was working on. What Greg valued most was the commitment of the Fence Volunteers who gave up many hours every year helping him get projects completed. On our behalf, Greg had an incredible relationship with our agency partners, private and public land owners, schools, non-profit groups, corporations, ranchers, wranglers, and so many others. His time spent in organizing on behalf of JHWF and for wildlife was endless. His passion was to always keep wildlife as the focus of his work. He never once waivered to what may be easier- he stood up for wildlife, for wilderness and for conservation. Greg remained diplomatic, working many times on two sides of a fence with his goal in the end to be a win-win for people and the wildlife they were interacting with.
He had led the Fence program to the highest standard ever, getting the materials needed, transporting equipment, collecting data, constant due diligence, site recons, and then running the project days. He educated volunteers with regard to what the project day would be, the safety steps, and so many other things, always showing us on project days how to work together and be open to learn from one another. He was passionate about his role at JHWF and it showed immensely. He was brilliant in his knowledge of wildlife and fencing and habitat and he spent so many hours prepping for a project and engineering what would have the least impact on the wildlife. Greg was truly one of a kind.
As our community and our wildlife mourn the loss of Greg, we thank you for your emotional support, especially to Greg’s family and friends. He led a very private life and in deep respect for Greg and how he chose to live his life, we ask for your prayers and thoughts to his family and friends. We would be honored to pass on any notes you may have for Greg’s family. If you wish to do so, please mail them to our JHWF office with attention to Greg’s Family and we will pass them along. The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation Fence program will go on and we will do our best to continue the very important work that Greg dedicated his life to. We owe that to Greg and his precious wildlife.
With our deepest sympathy, Aly, Bob, Cory, Dan, Dawson, Geneva, Gretchen, Henry, Steve B., Steve M., and Sue