JACKSON, Wyo. — As snow is melting and fresh vegetation is sprouting, the wild ungulates of Jackson Hole are starting to become more active throughout the valley while they prepare for the spring birthing season. And with ungulates becoming more active, predators such as grizzly bears have also been spotted out and about recently.
Spring makes it difficult for bears to find food at higher elevations, drawing them closer to the valley floor where biscuitroot and other food sources are available. Some bears will take advantage of being close to roads and people to keep their cubs safe from boars or other wildlife. With more bears than usual frequenting the roads, it’s critical to give them space and photograph from a distance.
It is always safer to view bears from inside your car. Be sure to give them plenty of space if they are going to cross the road. If you do get out of your car in the presence of a bear, the National Park Service says that you should stay at least 100 yards away from a bear. Bears can run up to speeds of 30 mph which gives little or no time to react. It is always recommended to have bear spray on you where you can easily access it.
If you see someone is getting too close or not following proper etiquette, say something. Park staff can only be in so many places at once. It’s important to give bears plenty of space for our own safety, but also to make sure they don’t become comfortable being approached by humans.
Never run around bears or get in the line of travel of any wild animal. This only irritates them and could result in being charged.
According to the Moose Count which occurred last month, moose have been hanging out near roadways in the valley, specifically off of the Village Road, Highway 22, and in Grand Teton National Park from the roundabout all the way up the Gros Ventre Road to Kelly.
The active spring animals serve as an important reminder to be aware when driving or hiking through animal saturated areas, like Grand Teton National Park.
According to the National Park Service, vehicle strikes are one of the most deadly types of encounters for wildlife in parks, because roads cut through their habitats or migration routes. Be sure to always follow the speed limits and watch for wildlife that may dart into the road. When you want to stop to watch wildlife, pull your vehicle completely off of the road into a designated pull-out—this keeps wildlife safe as well as other motorists.
National Forest Closures
The Bridger-Teton National Forest is reminding forest visitors that winter wildlife restrictions remain in effect until May 1, 2020, saying it is important that all users understand the importance of observing the critical winter range closures.
Critical winter range areas have been designated as essential to the survival of wildlife. Winter Travel maps and closure maps are available on the BTNF website under the “maps and publications” tab.
According to the Forest Service, when people access closed winter range, they cause animals in the area to become stressed or flee to new locations. This retreat requires animals, especially ungulates like deer, elk, and moose, to use the energy they cannot spare. Further, it usually places them in areas less suitable for grazing and/or browsing, preventing them from gathering the energy they need to survive. This leads to a weakened condition, which can have a direct effect on the animals’ ability to defend themselves, making them more susceptible to predation and disease, and can lead to future reproduction problems in individual animals.
Additionally, forest biologists are stressing the importance of staying off freshly exposed slopes in and out of the closure areas. These muddy, tender slopes are prone to degradation from user traffic when wet. This type of degradation can lead to erosion problems that affect water quality, fisheries, and the production of grasses and forbs used by grazing/browsing wildlife.
“Remember, be responsible when using the great outdoors,” BTNF said in a press release. “Maintaining control of dogs through a leash or voice command is essential to minimizing impacts on wintering wildlife. It may feel as though spring has arrived, but winter is still on the ground in many areas. With cold temperatures and heavy storms still a possibility, your wildlife populations need your continued respect.”
The Forest Service also says to stay on designated travel routes and learn the location of closed critical winter range before heading out into the forest. Bears are coming out of hibernation throughout the area so please be prepared with bear spray and follow food storage orders where that applies on the northern and eastern parts of the forest.
Be sure to let someone know where you are headed and remember that creeks or roads, frozen in the morning may be soft and impassable after the temperatures rise. Additionally, have a plan for all waste, there are limited to no garbage services in the forest and many restrooms are closed or inaccessible due to the current conditions.