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National Park Service

Wind, Winter Storm Force Grand Teton to Delay Mountain Goat Cull

in News/wildlife
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By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Several days of wind and snow in western Wyoming forced National Park Service officials to delay plans to eradicate non-native mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park, according to park spokeswoman Denise Germann.

The Park Service initially planned to close portions of Grand Teton from Jan. 5 to 12 in order to remove the mountain goats by shooting them from helicopters. Wind earlier in the week created unsafe flying conditions, Germann said on Thursday, while snow from a winter storm later in the week created further issues.

Germann said the removal will be rescheduled, though no dates have yet been determined. An environmental impact study on the removal determined efforts should be completed by early March, when park visitation is low.

Approximately 100 mountain goats dispersed into Grand Teton National Park in recent years. Germann said the animals are descendants of mountain goats released south of the park by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for hunting purposes in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“We’ve been looking at this for the last few years,” Germann said.

National Park Service officials said the mountain goats carry pathogens that can cause pneumonia, posing a potential threat to a herd of bighorn sheep native to Grand Teton.

“(Disease transmission) has not been documented, but it is a primary concern,” Germann said. “The bighorn sheep have low genetic diversity … because they’re isolated from neighboring herds.”

Germann said using firearms from a helicopter was determined to be the most efficient way to eradicate the mountain goats.

“We’re trying to rapidly reduce their numbers,” she said.

According to the environmental impact study, National Park Service officials believe the entire population of mountain goats can be eradicated in one to five years.

“The National Park Service has a responsibility to arrange for native populations,” Germann said. “When there’s something that jeopardizes that native population, we take action.”

The National Park Service is not the only agency to address the encroaching species. Last year, Wyoming Game and Fish Department opened a new mountain goat hunting season on the west side of the Teton mountain range in an effort to allow hunters to thin the herd. Forty-eight licenses were issued.

Get real: Dumping Disneyland for nature

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife
Range Writing elk in traffic
National Park visitors oblivious to the danger posed by a bull elk among them. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

When instances of human-wildlife conflicts make the news, wildlife and land managers should feed reporters “thematic information or contextual data,” including information about the low likelihood of such conflict, as in “only the nth time in x-years,” in attempt to “help counteract the intense emotions” media consumers may feel that after learning of these conflicts, which “can lead to unfavorable opinions about the risks associated with spending time in nature and national parks.”

That’s the point of a paper published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin last year by three researchers at Colorado State University (CSU), which also noted that when a grizzly bear killed a person in Yellowstone National Park in 2015, the National Park Service failed to mention that there were only 38 reported cases of humans injured by bears in 36 years, while 104 million people visited the park, “and only 8 known fatalities in the park’s 145-year history.”

This kind of media framing  – especially those noting that “only” X number of people have been killed by a particular species – sets my teeth on edge. When journalists are reporting breaking news about a severe conflict (such as that involving the death of a human being by a wild animal), thematic reporting be damned. Each death is a loss of human life, a human’s story, and it is entirely appropriate to report in an episodic manner.

I would hate to be a family member reading an article about the attack on my loved one only to see that loss of life minimized by taking the thematic approach, which seems to be advanced in order to minimize the negative aspects of such human-wildlife encounters. It’s like when I have a dozen dead sheep in my field due to a wolf attack, and wolf advocates respond that livestock losses to wolves are less than one-half of one percent of the nation’s livestock inventory.

The CSU researchers wrote: “We conclude that it is reasonable to assume that if a reader with minimal experience in nature reacts with emotion to these episodic stories, those emotions are likely to be of the sort that has a negative effect on attitudes about spending time in nature, such as fear.”

Perhaps it’s past time for the public to learn that wild animals are not the Disneyesque characters they’ve been portrayed for decades. Perhaps scaring people into the reality that human-wildlife conflicts do exist across the nation is what’s needed. Perhaps people should once again learn some fear and respect for the wild animals that share the planet. Perhaps then we won’t have people trying to put wild bison calves into their cars so they don’t get cold, etc.

Besides, every year we hear news stories of “rare” attacks on humans by large carnivores. Since it’s every year, and multiple times every year, perhaps it’s not so rare in the modern age. 

I generally try to keep up with scientific literature involving human-wildlife conflicts, and a new paper in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions by Michael Conover examined the number of human fatalities, injuries and illnesses in the United States due to wildlife, conservatively finding that more than 174,000 people were injured and 700 killed by conflicts with wild animals every year in the United States. This includes everything from wildlife-vehicle collisions, snakebites,  and zoonotic diseases, to attacks on humans by large predators. Conover said large predator attacks were “rare,” while also noting that “attacks by alligators, cougars, polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, and coyotes have been increasing in recent decades in North America.”

According to the Conover paper, the “best estimate” of the annual number of people injured by grizzly bears in the United States is 0.8. But I contend that this number is grossly understated, and based on outdated information (plus the source cited in the paper referred only to grizzly bear attacks on humans in Alaska).

According to other current research, there were 62 attacks by grizzly bears on humans in the tri-state area of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, from 2000-2015, and seven fatalities during that time. There were an additional 51 attacks in Alaska, with another seven fatalities. This totals to 7.53 attacks annually for the United States – substantially higher than Conover’s estimate.

But back to the fear issue, Conover noted that rebounding populations of animals “which currently enjoy either complete or partial legal protection, certainly have less reason to fear humans than they did previously. Fear of humans have deterred predator attacks in the past but less so today.”

And the fear needs to flow both directions, according to Conover. “Today, many people no longer have a healthy fear of dangerous animals and engage in activities that put them in harm’s way. This naivety also contributes to the increasing frequency of people being injured by wildlife.”

Conover recommends: “Biologists can teach dangerous animals to fear humans and educate humans to recognize and avoid dangerous situations involving wildlife.”

With more than 80 percent of the American public residing in urban areas, I understand the importance of connecting people to nature. But rather than have the American public remain ignorant about the natural world and its wild animals, we need to work to educate the public of the reality of human-wildlife conflicts so that we can seek to minimize these conflicts.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Yellowstone Visitors Need to Give Wildlife More Space

in News/Tourism/wildlife
Bison in Yellowstone
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By Seneca Flowers, Cowboy State Daily

A bison chucked a 9-year-old Florida girl visiting Yellowstone National Park into the air like a rag doll in late July. The incident was shared via social media and was soon followed by an unrelated video of a man reaching over a fence to pet a bison. 

Time and time again, videos surface of park visitors, often branded “tourons” by social media, violating rules that many people in the area see as common sense. 

But officials say knowledge of safe wildlife interactions isn’t always common.

“Sometimes they [tourists] don’t really know what they can or can’t do,” said Linda Veress, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park. 

Veress said tourists will often watch what other people do and assume that those actions are acceptable because they have never been in those situations before.

Yellowstone provides a different environment than those in which people usually see wildlife, such as in zoos that have barriers and other forms of dividers. So tourists may not completely understand how to safely view and appreciate wildlife, Veress said.

Yellowstone and Wyoming have a variety of wildlife for viewing, but Sara DiRienzo, a public information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, reminded Wyomingites and visitors to give the large animals plenty of space.

“Keeping a safe distance from wildlife is important for the individual’s safety as well as the wildlife’s,” DiRienzo said. 

She recommended people stay a respectful distance from wildlife and remember to observe the animal’s behavior. She added that if the animal begins making eye contact or acting nervous, it is time to back away. DiRienzo recommended people understand how to handle various wildlife situations before setting out to view animals.

The National Park Service website states that 67 mammals, including bison, wolves and bears, call Yellowstone their home. Bison cause more injuries than any other animal in the park, Veress said.

Bison are agile and sometimes aggressive creatures with the ability to charge at 30 mph, and bulls can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. This means people should stand at least 25 to 100 yards away from the animals, according to Yellowstonepark.com.

Veress noted when people visit Yellowstone, large numbers of animals are often visible in public areas. This is an unusual experience for many people. But she added that people can forget the animals are still unpredictable and wild.

The park attempts to educate tourists with the widespread use of illustrated signs with warnings written in several languages at key locations. But she also recommended visitors take the “Yellowstone Pledge” for wildlife education prior to visiting the park. 

The Yellowstone Pledge is part of a National Park Service public education initiative found here. It offers 10 tips designed to educate visitors about proper park etiquette in several of the most common tourist languages, such as Chinese and Spanish.

As recordings of Yellowstone wildlife conflicts become more widely available, officials are using social media to pursue individuals acting inappropriately within the park. Veress said it was hard to tell what kind of effect videos and other social media sharing are having on tourist behavior because the posting of videos is a new phenomenon. There is no way to correlate a reduction or increase of incidents to the videos. Videos are mainly used for identifying individuals.

“Some of these incidents were taken on video and passed onto us,” Veress said. “From there, the videos can result in court (action).”

The videos enable park rangers to deduce locations and identify people involved. As federal law enforcement officers, rangers are able to issue citations to help reduce incidents, Veress added.

Many people are more worried about the dangers of bears than bison, but bears are often less accessible than bison in the park, she said. In addition, there are fewer bears than bison, and they tend to remain further away from people. 

The National Park Service website states that eight people have died from bear attacks since the park opened in 1872. But deaths caused by bears are less common than other causes of death in the park, such as drowning, which has claimed 121 lives in the park’s history.

The Wyoming Game and Fish currently offers “bear wise” education on its website along with other wildlife information. The key to viewing any wildlife is to stay back and stay safe, according to the department.

“The onus is people to be safe around all types of wildlife,” DiRienzo said. “Wyoming [and Yellowstone] offers an incredible opportunity, anywhere you go, to view and enjoy wildlife. It can give people some of the most incredible experiences outdoors.”

GTNP’s Jenny Lake improvement project completed via private partnership

in News/Tourism
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A formal ribbon cutting was held this week at Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park’s most popular destination, to celebrate the completion of a $20.5 million improvement project.

The public-private partnership between Grand Teton National Park and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation (in which two-thirds
of the total raised was by private donors) is the “secret sauce” to getting some key projects completed, according to Wyoming native Rob Wallace — the incoming Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

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