Wildlife and Fish Initiatives: A Sampling of Current Foundation-funded Efforts
Grand Teton National Park lies at the heart of one of the world’s largest, intact temperate ecosystems, where robust predator-prey and other biological systems have remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. To preserve these fragile relationships, park biologists utilize Foundation support to help sustain a high level of conservation activity, commensurate with the park’s world-class wildlife resource. Through strategic research, on-the-ground protection and restoration, and targeted education, our initiatives focus on specific programs and projects that enhance the understanding, long-term conservation, and visitor enjoyment of the park’s fish and wildlife populations and the habitat they depend on.
WolvesBack To Top
A top predator missing from the ecosystem for nearly 70 years has returned
Wolves were absent from Grand Teton National Park from the 1930s to 1998, when a breeding pair originating from animals introduced to Yellowstone National Park denned and produced pups in Grand Teton—the first wolves to den in Jackson Hole in almost 70 years. A rapid recolonization of the landscape followed, and today, about 50 wolves in 5 or 6 packs roam the area. This recolonization of park landscapes by a top predator provided an unprecedented opportunity for ecological research, as the balance of native predator-prey systems was gradually restored. Foundation donors help support wolf research and monitoring, including the tracking of pack movements via GPS radio collars, telemetry flights, and ground-based surveys to identify and protect den sites, track recovery of the population, and conduct a variety of studies. The information obtained is critical for ongoing, dynamic conservation programs designed to ensure that wolves remain part of the park’s robust ecological system, to be enjoyed by current and future generations of visitors.
Grizzly BearsBack To Top
Research to help understand bear-human interactions
Considered rare in Grand Teton just 25 years ago, grizzlies have regained a stronghold in the park. Their rapid expansion into formerly occupied habitat mirrored population recovery around the Yellowstone ecosystem, and they now help shape ecological processes in the area much as they did for thousands of years. This relatively recent resurgence in the park has presented a few novel challenges to managing the human-wildlife interface. To help understand what local habitat attributes and landscape features are most important for grizzly bears, and what variables are most often associated with grizzly bear-human interactions, the park is partnering with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team in an innovative new project. The research is tracking movements of bears and people to learn when, where, and why they overlap. The results of the work will help land and wildlife managers address the needs of bears and safety of recreationists in today’s challenging conservation setting.
Mountain GoatsBack To Top
Magnificent beasts in a foreign land
While superbly adapted to Teton-like habitats, mountain goats are not native to our local mountains. Instead, they are likely descendants of animals translocated from native origins to the Snake River Range south of the Tetons by the State of Idaho in the 1960s, when such moves by game and fish agencies were common. Decades later, dispersing goats have begun establishing a population in the Teton Range, representing perhaps the biggest ecological threat to the area in modern history. Wild sheep and goat experts estimate that the Tetons could support 250-400 mountain goats if left to their own devices, where their presence would threaten native bighorn sheep, alpine plants, and the integrity of natural processes that have evolved over the millennia. Park biologists are studying goats intensively and developing a management plan that will assess alternatives for managing or eliminating the risk these otherwise splendid animals pose to our local environment.
FishBack To Top
Protecting Native Cutthroat Trout and Stream Habitat
Grand Teton’s pristine waterways contain vital habitat for the only native trout species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — the Yellowstone and Snake River Cutthroat Trout. These fish are subject to many stressors including culverts and other impediments to fish passage, competition with non-native trout, and warming stream temperatures. Support for fisheries research will focus on understanding non-native trout populations in Kelly Warm Springs, Ditch Creek, Snake River, and other park waters in an effort to protect native fish habitat and assure future health of the park’s aquatic ecosystems. Studies of water flow, water temperatures, and non-native fish distribution and movement will be coordinated with a variety of agency, academic, and non-profit conservation partners and stakeholders.
MigrationBack To Top
Reaching Beyond Borders to Protect Biodiversity
Building on the successful delineation and conservation of the Path of the Pronghorn in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, park biologists have studied migration patterns of red-tailed hawks, osprey, elk, and bison, and are currently focused on rough-legged hawks and mule deer. To date, six new migration corridors from mule deer summer ranges in the park to winter ranges well beyond the park’s borders have been discovered. In 2017, efforts will focus on continued migration monitoring and conducting detailed spatial and temporal analyses of movement data to assess potential risks to corridor permeability, focusing on important terrain features and land use. These steps are fundamental precursors to development of long-term conservation actions needed to help protect these important migration corridors and the park’s biodiversity.
Wildlife BrigadeBack To Top
Training Volunteers Who Make Grand Teton Safer for All
Tasked with facilitating safe interactions between visitors and animals, Grand Teton’s Wildlife Brigade members are part ambassadors, part compliance officers. This valuable group of volunteers manages roadside “wildlife jams,” patrols picnic areas for unsecured food, and shares educational information with visitors. By funding resources for topnotch volunteer training and everyday equipment needs, the Foundation ensures the Brigade’s effective operation year after year.
Bear Box ProgramBack To Top
Bear Boxes: Keeping Bears Wild and Visitors Safe
Each summer, Grand Teton’s 1,000 frontcountry campsites fill with visitors from near and far. Now that both black and grizzly bears frequent most areas in the park, it is more important than ever for campers to properly store food and toiletries. Bear-resistant food storage lockers, or bear boxes, are high-quality metal enclosures, spacious enough to fit your largest ice chest. People can open them with ease, yet bears cannot, making these boxes an incredibly effective tool that keeps bears from associating humans as a means to access food.
By funding a bear box, you can help the park succeed in outfitting each of its drive-up, frontcountry camping and picnic sites with these durable lockers. They also make great gifts! Recognize your friends, colleagues, or family members in a unique way by dedicating a box in their honor. We’ll send your gift recipient a teddy bear along with information regarding the importance of bear boxes and the location of yours. Plaque recognition is available.
You can fund an entire bear box with recognition for $1,500, or partially fund a box with a gift amount of your choice. Support this program today.
Wildlife Whereabouts: Restoring Energy Through Spring ForagingBack To Top
Spring provides wildlife with vital energy resources to help them regain strength after winter in Grand Teton.
• Moose and other ungulates are experiencing the toughest time of year as they emerge from winter with low fuel reserves.
• Early snow melt, warm temperatures, and greening vegetation will help many animals get a jump on replenishing these critical energy reserves, particularly pregnant females which will be giving birth in the next 2 months.
• Since gestation lengths in mammals are fairly consistent, calving seasons will be similar to previous years, regardless of weather. The first bison calves of the year were born in early April, with moose and elk to follow in May!
• Northern migration of elk from the National Elk Refuge into Grand Teton has begun. Elk typically move up in the Snake River corridor north of park headquarters in Moose first, where river banks and east-facing slopes melt early.
• Wolves, foxes, and coyotes are out and about, localizing around den sites, and tending to newborn pups and kits.
• Bald eagles, ravens, great-horned owls, and other early-season nesting birds are incubating eggs.
• Birds that migrate out of Jackson Hole in the fall are returning in increasing numbers (osprey, blue birds, meadowlarks, sandhill cranes, and others have returned to the valley).
• Bears are out in increasing numbers. They are looking for winter-killed carcasses, left over berries, pine seeds, and new vegetation on which they feed during the spring months. Don’t forget your bear spray when visiting the park!
• Beavers are showing up as ice melts from ponds and are raising new families inside their dens.
• With the early spring weather, bighorn sheep in the Tetons have moved off their high elevation winter ranges to mid-elevations where they can access nutritious vegetation green-up.
• Seen any “ghost moose” this spring? Moose with a ghost-like appearance are exhibiting the effects of winter tick infestations, which results in patches of broken hair or bare skin from attempts to rub off the ticks.
• Numbers of sage grouse attending lek (mating) sites likely peaked during April.