Nature News from GYE #47

March 10, 2023

snowmageddon!! Just like so many parts of the world, this winter has brought us much unexpected weather. Our snowpack has been as high as it’s been in many years, very few sunny days (we have much more sun most winters) and just as many places have come to experience, so much wind. Do you remember the photo below from Nov 24, 2022, compare to the one taken this morning!

photo of my front yard Nov 24, 2022
looking out south window of my house at same trees March 11, 2023

Snow pack impacts ground and surface water. With all the information about drought conditions in the western states and how drought is instigating unprecedented wildfire activity, this should be considered good news, right? So many factors will influence how these big snows will impact drought conditions. How quickly temps warm will impact how fast it melts and if it has time to soak in to the ground and surrounding vegetation. How much wind will impact evaporation. Depth and density of the snow will impact the amount of water released as it’s melting. The take away is, so much snow is likely to help balance drought conditions, but how much relief remains to be seen.

Many of the herding animals are leaving Yellowstone’s heavy snow pack and migrating downstream along the river corridors. This brings them outside of the protection of NPS land and into private and other public lands. North of the the town of Gardiner (and sometimes IN town), we’ve been seeing herds of Bison, Elk, Pronghorn and Bighorn Sheep.

Elk and Bison migrating, photo by NPS

Many of the Lamar Valley (Northern herd) bison are found out in the Gardiner river basin. Residents have mixed feelings about these late winter visitors. Hunting permits are allocated for some of these animals. The danger is those bison that are hunted and killed are “dressed” right where they fall, so gut piles are left out in some these places close to private homes.

Bison from the Northern Range north of Gardiner

That in combination with the spring reawakening of Grizz and Black Bears is not a good mix. These carcasses can attract scavengers such as hungry bears that depend on carcasses for some of their first food sources as they come out of their dens. Bears are likely moving around closer to neighborhoods where homes and schools are located. These are concerns for those of us who live close to the National Park boundaries and everyone who recognizes the need to protect bears.

Male grizzlies come out of hibernation in early March. Females with cubs emerge in April and early May. When bears emerge from hibernation, they look for food and often feed on elk and bison that died over the winter. Sometimes, bears will react aggressively to encounters with people when feeding on carcasses. It’s a matter of our community’s well being, and just importantly, for the well being of the bears. Bears never come out ahead when they are in a situation that brings them into proximity with humans. It often times causes a bear to become habituated to humans and thus, too comfortable. Or they end up protecting their food source and end up getting in trouble. Both cases often result in a management action ending up with a dead bear.  

Grizzly tracks in Spring

Notice from Yellowstone National Park Management:
MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WY – On Tuesday, March 7, a Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist on a radio telemetry flight observed the first grizzly bear of 2023 to emerge from hibernation. The adult bear, estimated at 300-350 pounds, was seen near the remains of a bison carcass in Pelican Valley, in the central-eastern part of the park.  
 The first bear sighting of 2022 also occurred on March 7.  
This bear is right on time………

 A bit about denning bears below….

Grizzly bears and black bears generally do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate during hibernation. Bears live off of a layer of fat built up during the summer and fall months prior to hibernation. Waste products are produced, however, instead of disposing of their metabolic waste, bears recycle it. The urea produced from fat metabolism is broken down and the resulting nitrogen is used by the bear to build protein, which allows them to maintain muscle mass and organ tissues. Their cholesterol levels are twice as high as during the summer and twice as high as the cholesterol levels of most humans (Baggett 1984). Bears, however, do not suffer from hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) or gallstones, conditions which result from high levels of cholesterol in humans. The bear’s liver secretes a substance that dissolves gallstones in humans without surgery.
Another mystery of hibernation is that bears do not lose bone mass during hibernation. All other mammals which maintain non-weight bearing positions for an extended period of time suffer from osteoporosis, or a weakening of the bones.
Both Grizzly Bears and Black Bears birth their young in the den. Cubs are born mid January and may be 1 pound or less. Eyes are closed and very little body hair. They will be nursing from mom all winter before they emerge from the den their first spring. They typically spend that summer with mom and sibs, go back into a den together the next fall and by the end of the second winter, those 2 years old will be denning on their own.
Bears may lose 15-30 % of their body weight during hibernation!

Male Grizzly traveling from winter den

When temperatures warm up and food is available in the form of winter-killed ungulates or early spring vegetation, bears emerge from their dens. Male bears emerge first, usually from early to mid-March (average days denned = 131 days), followed by solitary females and females with yearlings or two-years olds (average days denned = 151 days) in late March through mid-Aril ). The last to emerge are females with new-born cubs (average days denned = 171), from mid April through early May . Males, subadults, solitary females, and females with yearlings or two-year-olds usually leave the vicinity of their den within a week of emergence while females with new-born cubs remain in the general vicinity of the den for several more weeks
( some of this info comes directly from the NPS website)

At this moment, another round of debates about delisting the Grizzly Bear from the Endangered Species list is underway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Feb 2 that it is exploring whether grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems are sufficiently recovered to no longer be considered as an endangered species. A long process will be involved with a decision like this, including a public input period. The public has three months to comment on the USFWS’s 90-day finding, which is a preliminary step in the delisting process.   According to FWS’s most recent 5 year review, there are about 1,100 grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and about 740 in the NCDE. Before their near-extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies roamed across much of the American West.

The states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are interested in seeing the Grizzly delisted. Management of the species would be turned over to the states with oversight by Fish and Wild Service. The states are interested in establishing hunting seasons for these bears and having more control over the management of Grizzlies.

If you are interested in making a comment on this , go to this link below. You can read some of the comments that have been entered as well.

Below are links to some recent articles about delisting………..

Big Sky Adventures and Tours friends
photo by Andrea Saari

All in all, this winter season has brought good snow pack, time outside, and many fantastic guiding trips with wonderful guests and always a different day in Yellowstone. Take time to get outside everyday!

Best, Leslie

Leslie at Mesa Falls skiing with and taken by Jowayne Curran


  1. Great pictures and informative post. Thank you.

  2. Betty Santandrea

    Thank you for this post, Leslie!

  3. I first met Jim back in the 90’s when he came to Marshfield, WI. Who knows, maybe it was in the 80’s. Anyway, his life encourage me to follow my dreams of exploration. Thank you Jim. I’ve been from Ellesmere Island in the high arctic to Mexico. Life is to short to spend it making a living. Walk the trails.

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