Saturday, December 19, 2009

Article in USA Today

Hopefully I can paste a reference to an article in USA Today written by one of the students who was here this fall. This gives some idea of what is happening here. Steve

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pictures from Jim

The past few days I've been working on my pictures. Here's a collection of some recent ones - many of the wildlife images from Yellowstone are from roadside encounters - we've seen coyotes, elk, bison, wolves, otters, fox, and many birds. Of special note is the bison calf, it's only a few months old, very unusual for this time of year. We first saw it during a "bison jam" on the road where we had to stop and let them pass - then yesterday I spotted it again with its mother and other bison grazing off the side of the road. The otter was an unusual sighting - we know about where they hang out and every time I pass that spot I stop and check it out - yesterday I was lucky!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happenings from Yellowstone

We have our share of celebrities here in the Park. This week David Brancaccio was doing a piece on the wolves and probably the results of the first hunting of wolves in Montana and Idaho. His show is and the result should air sometime in January. Watch for it. In addition there is a Nature series and on January 17 they will air the latest grizzly/wolf video. It is called Clash and the filming was done by Bob Landis, who we have seen on the road daily as well as presentations here at the Ranch. The last class of the Food for the Masses is finished and we got to visit several carcasses. The amount of debris left after the ravens, coyotes and wolves work on a carcass is minimal. Just a little hide and some bones. The winter study with the Park end on December 15. Now we have some free time and the temperature is reasonable, above 0 degrees, so we hope to get back to our hiking and if we get some snow, cross country skiing. Steve

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wolves, some info

The wolves were introduced into Yellowstone in 1995. At the peak there were well over 100 wolves. But in recent years the population has declined to about 80. The official count isn't until the end of 2009. The same has happened with the major prey, the elk. There were some 19,000 elk in the northern range in the late 90,s and now the count is down to 9,000. It is possible that an equilibrium is being reached. Most of the deaths this year have been from other wolves, probably 13 wolves killed that way. The browse of willow and aspen that was depleted from the high number of elk is starting to recover which brings in other animals such as the beaver. To give an idea of the capacity of a wolf, their stomach can hold 20 pounds of meat. But they do not usually eat that much. Also, the teeth of the wolf are only designed to bite and tear. They can't chew, so they have to depend on the canine diet of meat. There are different studies of the Yellowstone wolves, in fact one individual, Rich, has been watching wolves in this Northern Range of Yellowstone for 9 years and 5 months, every day of the year, without a break. The Park has what is called the winter study going on right now and another in the spring. They track the wolves from the ground as well as from the air. The radio collars enable the studies to get data that would be very difficult to obtain otherwise. So they know for instance that the major prey is the elk and the elk who are killed are mainly the older and diseased animals. We are learning a lot about the ecology of this area as well as seeing many different birds and animals. But right now we are dealing with a cold spell, the official low yesterday was a minus 22 and the high was minus 6 Fahrenheit. Too chilly to be enjoyable. More later, Steve

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Here are two examples of carcasses that we have recently seen. I'll try to show another carcass that was taken by one pack, the Slough Creek, fed on by the Miller Pack (three brothers) and also by the Druid pack. Sorry the photos are mixed up. The top one is the wolf kill. The intact carcass at the bottom was near the road and probably an old elk. Notice what I call the Druid girls, they gather the data on the carcass. They remove the teeth of age dating, cut the bone to examine the marrow for health, and take a leg to also see how well the elk was doing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food for Masses Update

The new group started on Tuesday and it was very fruitful. Steve is supporting and that day we discovered a carcass, saw two young wolves near the carcass. Another carcass (a bull elk) was killed the night before and we observed it for two hours in the AM. Ravens and coyotes and an eagle were the main diners. This carcass was killed by the Blacktail pack. In the PM we returned and two wolves from the Druid pack were feeding on the carcass and we recorded for another hour until a light snow reduced our visibility. The carcass was about 4 miles away and with a 75X scope the ravens and other critters were visible, but with the 60X scopes the images were very tiny. The next morning, Wednesday, we went to Slough Creek drainage to look around. And we found a new carcass. It could have died of old age and when we started watching there were coyotes and ravens feasting. Then we had a report that the Miller pack was coming in our direction. The amazing thing was than after they crossed from the Lamar Valley to Slough Creek drainage they went across the creek and directly to the carcass. The theory was that they could smell the dead bull elk. But they did not hang around for long since there were in foreign territory. Wolves are very territorial and the Slough Creek pack lives in that area and the Druids were visiting nearby. And there were only three Miller Creek wolves and they could easily be outnumbered by the larger packs. The wolves mark, just as the coyotes do, the territory that they claim. Today is Thanksgiving and Linda and I have the day off. We went for two short hikes and are now ready to enjoy two 20 pound turkeys with 15 other people who live and work in the area. It will be fun, but because I have to drive the bus at 7 AM tomorrow, I'll be on my best behavior. Steve

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food for the Masses - Session 1

Monday evening we finished Session 1 of Food for the Masses. Although we never had a carcass to study, we enjoyed long days of wildlife watching and several short hikes. In addition to bison and elk, we saw coyotes, wolves, white tail deer, mule deer, pronghorn and big horn sheep - birds spotted included blue grouse, golden and bald eagles, rough legged hawk and the ubiquitous ravens and magpies. We listened to coyotes sing, wolves howl, and owls hooting in the night. It was a marvelous week!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Typical Volunteer Day

Today Linda and I have to stay in camp. We clean the bunkhouse (kitchen and class rooms), spiff up the wash house. The rest of the day is pretty relaxed, clean up after lunch if the class comes back. As it happens, the class has not found a carcass and with the snow showers outside, Brad is reviewing some wolf characteristics in the classroom. Jim is supporting this class and that means driving as well as loading scopes and helping the instructor as needed. The weather has been cold here, low teens in the AM and 40's in the afternoon. It looks like it is about to change, but at 6200 feet and a semi-arid climate the snow is usually a dusting and the wind sometimes bitter. Steve will support the next class starting on Tuesday. Stay tuned. Steve

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food for the Masses

This is the title of the courses that start today. Each class of 8 students with one instructor and a volunteer will go out all day to find carcases. They will observe from a distance who and what feeds on the carcass. The class is for seven days and three more classes will follow. This study has been going on for several years and they hope to eventually publish the results. It is an example of the predator/prey relationship. In the past the animals that have fed on the carcass beside the wolves are eagles, ravens, coyotes, foxes, magpies, grizzlies, and other critters. Linda and I are off today, Jim is supporting the class. Each day those responsibilities will change. As these classes develop we will report on the results. The wolves have been active this year so the hope is that the classes will be successful. Steve

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Snow

We woke up Friday morning to 2 degrees F and 6 inches of new snow. Here are some pictures.

Linda's Update email

Dear Family and Friends
Our last group of students/classes was the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. It is one of many groups that support YNP. So this was geared to be a fun 2+ days to encourage generous donations, as well as the cost of the weekend. So it was very pricy. It was really busy. In fact I’m not sure how to cover it all and may have to finish it tomorrow.
I’ll start with the schedule and speakers, and drift into what I did.
Both full days, Saturday and Sunday started at 6:30 with a cold breakfast, coffee, fruit, rolls and so forth… did I mention that this weekend comes with a chef and helper? A very good chef too.
The buses (Steve and I) were loaded and rolled out at 7:30 for wild life watching until 10:00 and then back for a hot breakfast. After breakfast there was a talk and the instructors organized the afternoon, mostly hikes or wild life watching until 5:00, so the buses rolled back out. Aside: it had snowed pretty hard on Thursday and flurries on Friday and Saturday, but the roads were pretty good, so I was just mildly panicked. Wine and cheese at 5:30, dinner at 7:00 or so and a speaker after dinner.
Besides the chef (did I mention the chef? How great is that?) There were two dynamic instructors, very knowledgeable and two guys from GYC. I was especially fond of Scott. He always rode in my bus and watched the blind spots for me and helped unload the scopes. What a nice guy.
The speakers were all the big guns: Doug Smith (the guy I talked about before) the head of the wolf recovery program; then Bob Landis. He is the best of the cinema photographers and has done most of the Nat’l Geographic and discovery films on YNP and wildlife. He is a scruffy mountain man kind of guy, and very interesting. He showed us his new film, due out in 2010 called Clash, encounters between grizzly bears and wolves. A big male wolf is about 130 lbs, a griz is 800 lb. The bears watch for the ravens, spot the wolves’ kill, move in and take it over. Sometimes. But the bear is alone, and slow. Wolves are strong and quick. 5 or so wolves can drive away a bear, so it was a dramatic film. The last speaker was the head of GYC (he came in after the wine to do the big pitch.) GYC is an advocate for the park. They study the issues, then decide what is best for the preservation of the park and gather political and public support for that. He talked about the hot button issues: wolves, bison and snowmobiles.
I’ve rambled enough more later. To be continued.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buffalo Ranch History

The ranch goes back to 1902 when there was an authorization to start a bison herd. At first they corralled the bison utilizing bison brought in as well as the few wild bison. The herd increased over the years and in some years they slaughtered and sold/gave away bison. The hay barn, the bunkhouse and ranger cabin were built in the 30's and now are on the historic register. The cabins were built by the Yellowstone Association as well as the wash house. The attached picture shows our visitors yesterday, Linda was trapped in our cabin, the one in the middle, for a short while until the bison decided to move on. Steve

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ham Radio at Buffalo Ranch

Jim, one of the volunteers here this winter, is a ham radio operator. He brought along some of his equipment to enjoy his hobby while staying at the Buffalo Ranch. This past weekend was a national competition for ham radio operators – Jim operated his portable equipment from his car in the parking lot up the hill from the cabins. He talked to over 300 other ham operators as far as Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii.

One of the highlights of the day occurred just after sunset on Sunday, when a group of the local bison browsed through the area where Jim had set up his antenna wires. First they smelled the wires and some of them licked the ropes. But most of them paid no attention to the minor obstacles and just walked through them, pulling them to the ground. All the time, Jim sat in his car wishing they would go away and continuing to make contacts on the radio. What else was there to do?

Another ham radio activity he has planned is to make contacts via a ham radio satellite. It’s possible to span considerable distance using a repeater station a hundred or so miles overhead.

Other hobbies we’re enjoying here are hiking, reading and photography. We’re all looking forward to having snow for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Off the Grid

Here at the Buffalo Ranch we are, for all practical purposes, off the grid. The only wired connection we have to the outside world is our telephone line which runs underground along the road.

Electricity comes from an array of solar panels. Energy from the sun is converted into DC (Direct Current) power and stored in large batteries. The batteries are connected to an inverter that converts the DC power to AC (Alternating Current) for the lights, fans, refrigerators, freezers, microwave, and coffee makers. There is a propane powered backup generator which is available when the batteries are too depleted to supply the required power.

In addition to the generator, propane provides heat for the cabins, bath house, and classroom/kitchen building. The bath house is heated by radiant heat in the floor which is really nice when it’s freezing outside. Hot water for the kitchen and bath house is provided by propane water heaters.

Living with limited resources is teaching us to turn off lights when they’re not need and to carefully consider all our energy use.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More on Are Wolves Worth the Effort

To follow up on our second day of this class. Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974, the year following the Endangered Species Act. The preliminary count for the Northern Range (where we are, Mammoth Hot Springs to the NE Corner of the Park), is 47. This is down from a high of 90 two years ago. But this regon has a high density of wolves. The interior of Yellowstone has about 67, total for the Park, 118. The high was 174. The number of pups has decreased and there are different theories, but the strongest theory is that it is stress. On the same note, the large carnivores in the USA have been on the decline for some time. People??? Some of the changes that have been noticed in this study of the wolves is that the willows, aspen and cottonwood have started to recover since 1998. Also, the number of beaver colonies has increased. Beaver need those trees/bushes to survive. Also, the beaver is a favorite of the wolf. The other thing wolves need is low elevation valleys (1600 feet in the Northern Rockies) to thrive. So, no conclusion but the study has produced ideas. I'll try to sumarize in a non-scientific way. The reduced elk have caused less browse pressure. The wolf almost always takes the old, sick animals. The ecological system works better when you have a diverse population of preditors and prey. Enough for now, Steve
Notice the intact elk antlers and skull. Not all elk are killed by wolves, there is also winter kill. How do you differentiate? With winter kill the bones and whole carcas are not torn apart, it is a complete structure. This skull was later dragged to the present position, but the carcas was intact.

Pictures from the Lamar and the class

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are the Wolves Worth the Effort?

This is our first class, about 17 students, a great variety. It is being led by Doug and Christine Smith. Doug is in charge of the wolf program for Yellowstone and has been studying wolves for 30 years. He is the one who first brought the wolves to the Park in 1995. His PhD is in beavers and we will learn the relationship of that tomorrow. A few facts, not too much so you aren't bored. This year is the first hunt of wolves, ever. Remember they were considered a varmit and we shot on sight, or poisoned before they were protected. Of the Yellowstone wolves, four were shot in Montana, two with collars. Why do they collar? Because they can get data, genetic, blood (DNA) and disease. This time of year is the hardest for them because the prey, elk and bison are hearty from a good summer. When wolves are stressed they attack one another, as just happened. the Alpha female from the Druid pack was killed by another pack just two weeks ago. They are a pack animal, for the following reasons, social, travel and killing. They can travel 25-30 miles a night. More later, we now have a movie on wolves to view. Steve

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Start of the Blog

Linda, Steve and Jim are in joint effort to start a BLOG!!! This is strictly our comments and have nothing to do with our employer/volunteer duties. Linda and Steve and Jim are spending two months, November, December helping the Yellowstone Association as Volunteer Program Assistants, as such we will keep our friends and associates up to date on all our happenings, such things as how much fun it is to clean the wash rooms. But really, the wildlife, the students who come here to participate in the educational programs, the geology, the bison, the wolves and the other animals that live in this area make it interesting. We are at about 6200 feet elevation staying at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. The accomodations are confortable, a 12 X 16 cabin, wash room, bunk house with kitchen and class rooms, a small store and the resident rangers. The Lamar Valley is an open range with few trees, lots of grass for the bison. Enough for now, Steve