May is a glorious spring month. If you live in the Tetons, it is a month dominated by a whirlwind of weather. One day is sunny and bright and the next is a driving snowstorm. The word “variable” best describes it. You can’t leave home without a t-shirt and a ski hat then summer arrives. Temperatures are predicted to hit 80 in the next few days and snow just fell over a week ago.
Temperatures have warmed over the thirty years that I have spent in Jackson but we still don’t seem to have spring. It seems to change from winter to summer overnight. By the beginning of June, you can still find blooming daffodils and tulips while the lilacs begin to bud. When temperatures reach 70 and 80 F, everything grows and summer arrives.
One dominant, thrilling, vibrant color at this time of the year is green. You can almost sense the joy of the plants as they photosynthesize. They take sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are a type of sugar which is food for the plant. Plants make their own food and photosynthesis literally means to put together with light. Chlorophyll is the molecule that makes this process possible!
Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in all plants and in the spring, leaves are extra rich in color. As the plant ages, it will produce a cuticle or protective layer but in early spring the green pigment shines brightly as the cuticle develops. Once formed, the cuticle protects the leaf from insects, bacteria and other pests. The cuticle is very important but does dull the bright green color of early spring.
This spring has bears in the news. Bears are always in the news but this spring is a different. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is delisting Grizzly Bears from the Endangered Species Act. The Grizzly population was considered threatened in 1975 and added to the protected list. Today, 700 Grizzlies supposedly roam the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The Fish and Wildlife Service feels the population is recovered and the ecosystem has reached its’ capacity for bears. When delisted, Grizzly Bears will be hunted and managed by Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The three states that surround the ecosystem.
This will be a story to watch. I predict it will be as controversial as the wolf delisting and will probably be fought in the courts for years to come. Since I am a biologist, I stick to biology. The Grizzly is an indicator species for the ecosystem so if the bear can thrive and survive, the ecosystem in healthy. Increasing bear populations is slow since bears spend 2-3 years with cubs and have one cub on average. Females with more than one cub relates directly to her health.
A Grizzly was mistakenly shot in Idaho in early May. A young man from California was hunting for Black Bear near Henrys Lake, ID. He was fifteen and got a warning while dad got a citation. Bears live at a precarious tipping point of survival and mistakes can have adverse effects. Is delisting the great bear a wise decision? Time will tell.
We can all remember as we watch the story unfold how 700 bears are allegedly thriving today in the spring of 2016. They indicate the overall health of the ecosystem. If the great bear can’t survive, we are not doing a very good job of land and wildlife management. I know, in my heart, it will be a detriment to us all if we lose the great bear and the health of this amazing, rich, vibrant ecosystem.
What’s in the woods
5/5/16- Blacktail Butte- vetch- oxytropis and astragulus, bluebells, indian paintbrush, yellowbell lily, bison, pronghorn
5/8- bald eagle flying over Fish Creek, Wilson, WY
5/9- stormy weather
5/17- Yellowstone- bison, Sandhill cranes, osprey, bald eagle, lots of snow
5/17- east gros ventre butte- young bull moose
5/18- Shadow Mountain- bluebells, mountain bluebirds, pronghorn
5/20- rainy and cold
5/27- Munger- great grey owl, mule deer, moose, valerian, larkspur, arrowleaf balsamroot, waterleaf, sorrel, white-crowned sparrow, chipping sparrow, yellow warble
5/28- Glacier Gulch- Oregon grape, spring beauty, yellow bell, steershead, soaring Great White Pelicans, lots of bear scat
5/29- bluebird day with some wind
Winter trail closures end May 1 so lots of options. The entire Snow King trail system is open so Josie’s Ridge near town. It is a great spring hike with beautiful flowers and reasonable dry trails. Cache Creek near town is also a great spring excursion. Lower elevation hikes in Grand Teton Park are fun. I would check out Taggert or Bradley Lake. These areas have fewer trees so less snow. The LSR near Death Canyon should be clear of snow. Check out the beautiful spring flowers- yellow bell lily, spring beauty, clematis, bluebells and much more. Have fun!