The Ewes Have It

Photos by Don Wells

“…better than any other animals the bighorns typify the Tetons.”
-Fritiof Fryxell, 1938

An early season visit to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson found a herd of bighorn sheep working the Miller Butte area.  Very comfortable with our presence, it was a great opportunity to observe and photograph these seldom seen inhabitants of this Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Some ewes appeared ready to lamb, so follow-up visits are definitely on the shortlist of things to accomplish.

Derived from a much larger bighorn sheep complex that historically lived in northwest Wyoming, numbering perhaps 100-125, Wyoming’s smallest and most isolated native herd of bighorn sheep, the Teton Range bighorn sheep resides year-round at high elevation in Grand Teton National Park and surrounding National Forests.  This population’s hold on the future is tenuous owing to its small size, likely isolation and the combined effects of loss of historic winter ranges, habitat alteration due to fire suppression and threats posed by increasing recreation in and near important seasonal ranges. has been studied.  A three-year collaborative study has just been completed to improve the understanding of how and why bighorn sheep use the Teton landscape through identifying locations, characteristics, and use patterns of seasonal habitats and movement corridors by collecting data from GPS radio-collared bighorn ewes.  Furthermore, a better understanding of the relationship between human activities and sheep habitat use is needed to evaluate whether sheep avoid high human use areas and to devise appropriate management strategies.  Additional information on the study project is available at http://tetonsheepproject.blogspot.com/

Wondering how this Elk Refuge population relates to the Teton Range bighorn sheep population, a phone call was made to the National Elk Refuge for information.  According to Eric Cole, Refuge Biologist, with the development of the National Elk Refuge, a relatively new bighorn population now winters on the Refuge.  This year saw a record population estimated to be around 75 animals.  This herd’s Summer home is the Gros Ventre range rather than the Teton range and as the snow melts and suitable food sources become available, this herd will migrate to the summer range high in the Gros Ventre range.  Cole indicated lambing generally occurs in early June which makes this is an outstanding time to visit the Elk Refuge to view these seldom seen animals.

Grand Teton National Park is just 310,000 acres of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that is estimated to be between 12—18 million acres. This is one of the largest intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth today.  Only in this Ecosystem exists the largest free-roaming, wild herd of Bison in the world, one of the largest Elk herds in North America, one of two Grizzly populations in the contiguous US, the longest migration of native Pronghorns of any North American mammal, and home to the Teton Range bighorn sheep.  Visit often and stay a while, youlee be amazed at what you can see.

From Don’s Corner

Grand Teton Lodge Company Echo Day

Grand Teton Lodge Company will participate in a Fence Pull across from Jackson Lake Lodge as part of our contribution for Echo Day on August 7, 2010. The Fence Pull results in allowing wildlife to pass freely throughout the area without being injured. We are inviting members of the Jackson Hole Community and our guests of Grand Teton Lodge Company to volunteer with our employees for an hour of their day and to be part of this effort to improve our environment of Grand Teton National Park.

If this activity sounds like the perfect way to give back to the environment we are excited to have you participate! Plan on meeting at the Jackson Lake Lodge Corrals at 10am on Saturday morning. If possible wear long pants and work type clothes, gloves will be provided for your safety. This event is from 10am-5pm, but even an hour of your time will be a huge contribution to the Fence Pull!

If you want to learn more about what really happens at a Fence Pull please read our blog “The Clearing of Devil’s Rope”. Also, to find more information about Vail Resorts Echo Day – click here!


When: August 7th
Time: 10 am – 5 pm
What: Continue/complete fence pull across from Jackson Lake Lodge
Where: Meet at JLL Corrals
Who: All GTLC Employees, Community, Guests, National Park Service


Only you can prevent a forest fire!

smokey

Most of us grew up with Smokey’s motto and as we learn more about fire ecology we find we don’t always want to prevent a forest fire.

Fire is important for nutrient recycling, plant diversity and overall landscape health. 

When a fire burns through an area it essentially speeds up the decomposition process and recycles phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements back into the soil.  This creates a nutrient rich area that is now open to sunlight, where sun loving plants can now grow uninhibited. 

The most important thing about fires is that they need to be managed!  The Fire Managers at Grand Teton National Park do just that as they try to balance natural forest health while protecting people and property.

 Fire managers use a variety of plans to achieve their goals:

  • They closely monitor natural fires!  When lighting strikes and sparks a fire, crews take minimal action unless it threatens lives or property. 
  • They use a control burning method!  This can occur for several reasons which include restoring early vegetation environments, diversifying habitats, and to burn accumulated fuels to minimize the risk to developments.  They usually burn in the spring or fall when the weather conditions are more favorable. 
  • They also monitor regrowth areas both immediately after the fire and over the long term to learn more about fire ecology.

If you are interested in seeing the fire scars of Grand Teton National Park, take a hike near Jenny Lake, Taggart Lake or Colter Bay.  

Now does this mean you can leave your campfire unattended?  NO, of course not!  You still need to prevent unsupervised fires! Give yourself an extra hour to burn down your fire, and always be sure to keep enough water nearby to squelch any flair-ups.  Also be aware of Park regulations and report any unattended fires!

Do you want to know more about fire management?   Than check out the NPS website at http://www.nps.gov/grte/parkmgmt/firemanagement.htm

Want to know more about the fires currently burning in Grand Teton National Park visit: www.tetonfires.com

From Melissa’s Corner
Image credit: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/environmental-destruction-agency-making-parks-coal-friendly.php

The Clearing of “The Devil’s Rope”

 
photo by Don Wells
photo by Don Wells

The history of Range Land in the American West could be defined simply as “before wire and after wire.”  Many historians believe one of the defining moments in the history of the West came when a small bunch of wild longhorn steers stopped and backed away from eight slender strands of twisted wire equipped with sharp barbs. This event happened in 1876 when John W. (Bet-a-Million) Gates erected an enclosure on the Plaza in San Antonio, Texas to demonstrate to gathered ranchers, that newly-invented “Devil’s Rope” could securely contain wild livestock. From that moment on, the West would never be the same again.  This defining event ended the era of open range and the use of free graze which had reigned supreme since the earliest settlers began to populate mid-America.

As early pioneers moved into the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming, the need to use fencing as a range management tool was already well understood.  Even though smooth and barbed wire was available, it was expensive.  And besides that, fence postholes were nearly impossible to dig in this cobble/gravel soil left by our early glaciers.  Our earliest settlers turned to the abundant supply of Lodgepole Pine trees to construct our iconic “Buck and Rail” fences.  Later, with increased modernization, the “Devil’s Rope” would weave its way into Jackson Hole as well.

 photo by Don Wells
photo by Don Wells

John and Frank Craighead began studying Grizzly bear in Grant Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in the late 1950’s.  It became clear through their research that our animal population didn’t understand the concept Park boundaries.  Their studies reflected a significantly larger habitat study area defined as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  From that date forward this ecosystem, the greatest intact temperate zone ecosystem remaining in the world, has and will continue to host scientific studies of all facets of this ecosystem.

Of study interest are the migratory habits of many of our large mammals.  Each year Elk and Pronghorn migrate through this ecosystem.  Pronghorn constitute the second largest migratory heard in the Western Hemisphere – second only to Caribou. Current herd estimates are around 40,000 animals.  Elk seasonally migrate from the National Elk Refuge, North of Jackson, to the Yellowstone Plateau.  Our challenge is the existence of non-used fences that remain in this migratory habitat, dating back to our early pioneer days.  These unused fences block heard travel and often entrap newborn calves.

Each year Grand Teton Lodge Company along with Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, (www.jhwildlife.org)  volunteer to remove miles of both old buck and rail fence line and unused wire fencing.

photo by Don Wells
photo by Don Wells

Take advantage of Grand Teton Lodge Company’s Give and Getaway Program on September 22-23, 2009 and enjoy a private interpretive tour of the Menor’s Ferry Historic District along with the opportunity to participate in the removal of a mile of fence line to improve wildlife migration in Grand Teton National Park.  For more information on this program please call 800-628-9988.  Rates start at $120 per room at Jackson Lake Lodge.

From Don’s Corner

Take A Walking Tour Through Menor’s Ferry Historic District

A visit to Menor’s Ferry Historic District opens a window on Jackson Hole life as it existed in the late 1880’s.  Site of a once vibrant commercial enterprise, this piece of touchable history witnessed the spark of conservation which led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park and protection of Jackson Hole.  Some visitors leave touched with the inspiration that the struggle for conservation continues even today.

Menor1

William D. Menor arrived in the valley known as Jackson Hole in 1894.  Settling on the bank of the Snake River, he found farming to be a difficult way to make a living.  He put to work to design and construct a ferry which became a vital river crossing for early settlers to the valley.  A simple platform was set on two pontoons.  A cable system was stretched across the river that kept the craft from floating down river yet let it move sideways, powered by the current, to the opposite river bank.  Early fees charged were 25¢ for a rider and horse and 50¢ for a wagon and team of horses.  Menor built a bridge for winter crossings and dismantling it each spring.

menor 2

Menor sold out to Maude Noble in 1918.  She doubled the fares, hoping to earn a living from the growing number of tourists traveling to the valley.  Nobel charged $1 for local autos and $2 for out of state vehicles.  She moved her three room cabin to the property shortly after purchasing the business and took up permanent residence.  She continued to ferry an increasing number of visitors and even opened a store called the Ferry Ranch Store.

As Jackson Hole continued to develop, concerns turned to conversations until one evening in 1923, a group of local residents met with Horace Albright, then superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.  The meeting place was Maude Noble’s cabin and the conversation centered around how to protect the “Old West” character of the valley.   Albright was an ardent conservationist who had witnessed the Owens River completely diverted for supply Los Angeles with water.  He understood the issues.

menor3

In 1926, Superintendent Albright met John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and aroused his interest in saving the valley.  Rockefeller described the Tetons as “quite the grandest and most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.”  The seed was planted for a lengthy struggle.

Mr. Rockefeller’s Snake River Land Company began to acquire property in the valley.  Meanwhile, Congress established Grand Teton National Park in 1929 – just the Teton Range and some of the glacial lakes at the foot of the mountains.  In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument consisting of federal lands in the valley.  In 1949, Rockefeller donated over 32,000 acres and combined with the National Monument, Congress established the present Park in 1950.

menor 4

Bill Menor’s three room cabin stands as a living display of his early commercial enterprise.  A replica of his ferry is on display and occasionally operates, ferrying visitors across the Snake River.  The Transportation Shed houses a collection of early wagons and coaches representing frontier transportation.  The Chapel of the Transfiguration sits on land donated by Maude Noble and is still operated by St. Johns Episcopal Church in Jackson.  And finally, Maude Noble’s Cabin still stands as an iconic reminder of the decade’s long struggle for conservation of Jackson Hole and the Teton Range.  On display are wonderful photographs of early life in Jackson Hole and correspondences between Mr. Rockefeller and Congress.

menor5

Be sure to take time during your visit to tour Menor’s Ferry Historic Center, one of the Park’s best pieces of touchable history.  Perhaps you will touched with a thought that the struggle for conservation continues today.  Through understanding comes appreciation and through appreciation comes protection.

Take advantage of Grand Teton Lodge Company’s Give and Getaway Program on September 22-23, 2009 and enjoy a private interpretive tour of the Menor’s Ferry Historic District along with the opportunity to participate in the removal of a mile of fence line to improve wildlife migration in Grand Teton National Park.  For more information on this program please call 800-628-9988.  Rates start at $120 per room at Jackson Lake Lodge.

From Don’s Corner
All images were taken by Don Wells

Awesome Autumn Deals!

If you are looking for somewhere to go for a fall holiday, now is the time to book!  You will find a spectacular last-chance vacation getaway by combining our special $145/night Elk Lovers Excursion package with a cheap “Autumn Adventure” Fare from www.United.com

photo by Ernst Mutchnick
photo by Ernst Mutchnick

In addition to Grand Teton National Park’s colorful foliage, a popular fall activity is witnessing the unique sounds of elk during the annual rutting season.  The bull elk’s bugle starts as a low whistling sound that builds and culminates into the high-pitched sound of a flute.  The bugle lets other elk know that the bull has staked claim to a territory and a harem.  In preparation for the winter season, elk herds can be found in abundance migrating through the Park toward their winter home near the town of Jackson, making it prime elk-watching season.

Jackson Lake Lodge’s Elk Lovers Excursion package is valid from September 4 (Labor Day weekend) through September 27, 2009 for new bookings only, and is based on space availability for single or double occupancy.  The $145 nightly rate for Elk Lover’s Excursion includes a welcome amenity and is exclusive of tax, gratuities, and incidental charges.  Use of a private car is recommended in order to enhance the overall elk experience, and transportation is not included in the package. Advance reservations are required and can be made by calling 800-628-9988.

Check out United’s “Autumn Adventure Sale” under Special Deals on www.united.com.   Act fast as tickets must be purchase no later than Monday September 7th.