February has been a wild ride reminiscent of the 2016-17 winter, which broke all records for valley snow. Storm after storm has hit Jackson Hole this month putting smiles on the skiers’ faces. But all this winter weather translates to delayed travel, ice dams on roofs, endless shoveling, and piles of snow to move and manage. As much as we love playing in the snow, harsh winters get a bit exhausting. As the month ends, we reach 114% of the average snowfall — quite different than 28 days ago, when we were at 86% of the average.
Valley snow depths are over 3.5 feet deep and more snow keeps coming! Here in the southern end of Jackson Hole, which is prime winter wildlife habitat, the deep snow also translates to added stress and potentially increased an mortality rate for wildlife. Watching animals move around town pulls at your heart strings. Wildlife prefer to use plowed roadways and shoveled pathways to avoid the deep the snowpack, which means more human-wildlife interaction.
This overabundance of snow is especially stressful for all plant-eating animals such as deer, moose, elk, bison, and pronghorn, who manage as best they can to forage for food. The native Mule Deer don’t like snow depths over 8 inches to forage for their food. Elk fare better but they don’t like snow depths over 3 feet. Moose handle the deep snow better than most with their long legs and double leg joint. This joint allows them to step up and out of the snow. The highway north of town has been closed twice to help Bison on the move for new forage. The months of March and April can be the tipping point for the survival of these animals who may already be skinny and stressed from previous months. During the winter of 2016-17, mortality rates were high and no deer fawns survived.
Many believe Grizzly Bears are the icon of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They are identified as an “indicator species” which means the overall health of the Ecosystem is reflected by the survival of Grizzly Bears. Being a large predator, they need miles of land to survive so they can mate, find sufficient food, and establish territories. Bear reproduction is quite slow since females keep cubs for 2-3 years and usually have one cub at a time. The state of Wyoming is passing legislation which will allow the state to make hunting decisions without Federal approval. This is a hot topic and environmental groups are preparing for a court battle. Last August, a Federal judge halted the fall Grizzly hunt so now the State of Wyoming is trying to take control of the decision. https://buckrail.com/wyoming-prepares-to-defy-feds-with-grizzly-hunt-enviro-groups-sue-state/.
As John Muir said, “With every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” I think “with nature” is the key. As we head into the mountains, we can go with an intention, or just go. Regardless, we benefit. Time outdoors resets our internal clock as we move our bodies, breathe deeply and enjoy nature. If you just go for a walk, you feel better. If you go for a walk and take the time to be present, notice your breath, breathe deeply, feel your feet on the trail or city block, notice the air on your skin, to notice makes the reward greater. By setting a simple intention and walking WITH nature, you reap greater reward. Try to let thoughts go and just enjoy the activity. Play with it. There is no right or wrong but to notice how rejuvenating the walk makes you feel with or without an intention. If you want more reward, focus on the activity and let your thoughts go. I think that John Muir was right.
I am excited for March and the feel of spring after this long and snowy month. Temperatures will effect the snow and the best time to play in it. Looks like there will be great spring skiing in our future, and this snowpack will give us endless options.
What’s in the woods
2/2- pair of bald eagles sitting on power pole over Snake River Bridge
2/3- winter storm
2/6- feeding elk on national elk refuge begins
2/8- Jackson- Highway 89/191 closed today from Moran to Moose to move about 100 bison
2/12- winter storm- road closed
2/13- game creek- stormy, about 10 cow elk browsing on hillside
2/14- storm abates
2/14- East Gros Ventre Butte- 20 mule deer
2/16- Jackson- five mule deer sleeping under spruce tree in my yard
2/17- Jackson Hole Mountain Resort- cow moose feeding near Teewinot Quad
2/18- cold front descends on valley and temperatures 15-20 degrees below normal
2/18- Jackson- red tail hawk soaring over town
2/21- deer under my spruce tree/ looking for food
2/22- cold snap continues with temps 10 to 20 degrees below normal
2/23- snow returns
2/24- three-day winter storm in forecast, total snowfall 399 inches at 9500 feet
2/27- 442 inches at 9500 feet
As I think of touring, avalanche danger is high at all elevations. The recent storms were heavy and wet so the snow is dense. Good choices are key for safe travel. Stormy weather delays plowing and grooming. Continual snow means trail breaking so you have to choose your activity for location and effort. Grooming will continue as conditions allow. Teton Pines is always great for a cross-country tour since they groom daily. Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton Park, offers protection from the elements but parking can be an issue if stormy. Touring along the Snake River Dike is a nice stormy option since close to town. A good book and a relaxing afternoon is always an option and maybe one that we don’t use enough.