I've spent much of the past few weeks scouring the northern range of Yellowstone looking for wildlife. I've never devoted so much time looking for animals. Although I am no stranger to Yellowstone, I am still amazed by the diversity of the wildlife in an ecosystem with very little human interference. Before lunch on Thursday I had seen a 5 point mule deer, a golden eagle, a bald eagle, bison being hazed back into park boundaries (that's another story), coyotes, a trophy elk resting in a pasture among some horses just outside the park, pronghorn antelope pawing away the snow to reach grass, and three bighorn sheep rams battling for mating privileges with a young ewe. The days that followed added to that list multiple foxes, a wolf pack, and an assortment of birds. Not to mention Dasher and Dancer were hanging out by my door this past week. I've learned that if I pull over with a scope and search carefully, something will be out there going about its life. I spent yesterday snowshoeing up a ridge with overlooking a glacial carved valley contrasted with a canyon created by a river. I felt all alone at the top of the world, until I came over a rise and found a few bighorn sheep looking back at me. I detoured around three separate groups. It isn't easy to survive the harsh winters here. I watched kids born in the spring paw at the snow to reach the dead grasses underneath. Sometimes it takes more energy to get to the grass than is received from eating it.
As I trudged (which is the only form of movement that can be done on snowshoes) back towards my car I thought how difference between an excursion in Yellowstone than other places: the animals here are as much a part of the landscape as the thermal features and rivers. It is easy to imagine myself as a mountain man like Jim Bridger, or even a pioneer. They saw the West filled with life around every corner. To take a walk alone here is to step back in time and catch a glimpse of life before Europeans fulfilled their "manifest destiny". It takes more effort to live near wildlife. If there are deer or other ungulates around having a garden or planting new trees can be difficult. If there are predators it changes how we care for our pets and where we put our garbage. I have been impressed by the community here that has learned to do some of these things.
|Coyote taking the easiest path to his destination.|
Yellowstone is a place where wildlife can live essentially without human involvement and that's not the best choice for every landscape. But in every landscape we can make small changes in our lives that improve the situation for our furry, feathered, and pollinating friends. A backyard can easily be made into a bird habitat. Do you know which plants are native to your area? Try growing a few. Nature isn't just thousands of miles away in a designated state or federal facility. It can also be in each town or city, if we make a place for it.
"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." -Aldo Leopold