Flat Creek Inn

Category: Wildlife

Sleigh Ride through the National Elk Refuge

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the elk refuge, snow is glistening. Winter is upon us and there’s snow place better to be than in Jackson! (We deeply apologize for that pun.) If you’re looking for a magical start to the holiday season, look no further than a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. Sleigh ride national elk refuge

About the Elk Refuge

First, a bit of background. It all started in the nineteenth century when the arrival of settlers in Jackson Hole resulted in a major disruption to elk migrations. Decreased habitat, severe winters, and other factors led to the starvation of thousands of elk. Wanting to preserve large elk populations in the area (but also keep the elk out of their stuff), Jackson locals began feeding the elk through the winters. And so in 1912, the elk refuge was formed and sleigh rides to feed the elk began.

Today, the National Elk Refuge consists of nearly 25,000 acres of winter elk range. And although guests no longer feed the elk, the tradition of winter sleigh rides continues!

Here’s what you need to know (as always, confirm hours and prices before arriving) :

Who

You, of course. If you can’t make it this year, you can always view the elk from the Flat Creek Inn Elk Cam.

What

A magical winter experience surrounded by some of the West’s most stunning and iconic landscapes. Also, the largest migrating elk herd in North America. In addition to elk, you may also see eagles, coyotes, foxes, badgers, bison, deer, wolves, swans, and a whole host of other fowl. Each ride is unique.

When

The 2023-2024 season runs December 16 through April 6, weather permitting. Sleigh rides run from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. Though reservations are not required, they are highly recommended, especially during the holiday season.

Where

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, in case you missed it the first time. If you need a place to stay while in town, check out Flat Creek Inn, conveniently located across from the elk refuge.

Why

Because it’s cool and fun.

What Else?

Blankets are neither provided nor sold. You are welcome to bring your own and I’m sure you’ll be glad you did. Sleigh rides last approximately 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll need to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled ride time. Shuttles from the visitor’s center parking lot run every 20-30 minutes.

Come with questions! Beyond just driving the sleigh, your guide is a wealth of knowledge and is ready to answer any and all elk-related questions you can think of.

Have you ever taken a sleigh ride through the elk refuge? Let us know in the comments!

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Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She thinks a sleigh ride sounds nice, as long as it’s followed by a steaming mug of hot chocolate.


Borgreen, D. (2011). Elk at National Elk Refuge [Photograph]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/5790547938

Beavers in Jackson Hole

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Beaver. Beaver, who? Beaver-y glad that beaver restoration in Jackson is well underway! (And be very glad you won’t have to suffer through another joke like that, too.) After decades of trapping in the early to mid-1800s that decimated the beaver population, wildlife biologists and conservationists are happy to report that the restoration of this keystone species is going well. (We’re sure you’ve been on the edge of your seat wondering.)

What is a keystone species?

Great question. I didn’t know either. A keystone species is defined as one that has a disproportionately large impact on their environment relative to their abundance. Think of the small pebble thrown into a pool analogy. Its effects ripple out much further. These keystone species can be predators, prey, ecosystem engineers (beavers), habitat providers, or pollinators. So basically anything.

So the beaver fits in this category?

Arguably, a beaver is THE keystone species in Jackson Hole. Beavers create some of the largest ecosystems in the region. A Buckrail article notes “beavers shift the landscape by building dams, primarily forming the larger, deeper ponds for their own safety; beavers use the water depth they create to hide from predators. But the impact of the pond is huge. … Beaver ponds have similar biodiversity to coral reefs and tropical rainforests. The ponds are able to support trout populations, moose, sage grouse chicks who need nutrients, ducks, swans, and more.” 

They do all this AND lead the Pevensie children to Aslan in Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Start at 8:35 for an accurate depiction of what Wookiees beavers do in their dens.)  Pretty incredible and not at all horrifying, right?

What happened to all the beavers anyway?

The exploration of what is now known as the Bridger-Teton National Forest began around 1807 to 1808. John Colter traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest but left on the return journey and is thought to be the first of the mountain men to explore the region. Others soon followed, including John Jacob Astor, establishing trading posts on the Pacific Coast. 

The streams and rivers in northern Wyoming became well known as beaver trapping country and, for the next 20 years, the trapping industry boomed. Before European settlement of North America, there were an estimated 60-400 million beavers. The beaver population was decimated through the 1700s and 1800s and by the early 1900s, their numbers were dwindling. Due to the work of wildlife biologists (and beaver pelts going out of fashion; I mean, when was the last time the cool kid in school wore a tall beaver hat?), more recent estimates put the beaver population around 6-12 million.

Give me more beaver facts.

Common name: Beaver

Scientific name: Castor canadensis

Type: Mammal

Diet: Herbivore

Average lifespan in the wild: 24 years

Size: Head and body: 23 to 29 inches; tail: 7.75 inches to 12 inches

Weight: 60 pounds

Fun fact: Beavers are the second largest rodent in the world.

Let’s give a round of applause to these amazing ecosystem engineers, conservationists, and wildlife biologists who helped bring this population back from the brink.

This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn

 

Breanne Kunz was raised in the Pacific Northwest but grew up spending summers in Idaho and frequently visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. She is a wife and mom who likes to write. She likes beavers as much as the next person, which is to say that the beaver is maybe number 37 on her list of favorite animals. 


(n.d.). About Beavers. Beavers Northwest. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://beaversnw.org/about-beavers

Defenders of Wildlife (2023, February 16). What is a Keystone Species. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://defenders.org/blog/2023/02/what-keystone-species

Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute (2019, April 19). 8 Facts to Celebrate International Beaver Day. Animal News Archive. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/news/8-facts-celebrate-international-beaver-day

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (n.d.). Early Trappers. Forest Service. Retrieved October 25, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/btnf/learning/history-culture/?cid=fsbdev3_063669#main_content

The Return of Grizzly 399!

A month or so ago, we posted about Grizzly 399, the famous mama bear for whom the world (or at least a small, bear-aware segment of the population) was awaiting with bated breath. 

This is not Grizzly 399 and her cub, but we’ll pretend it is.

As a recap, grizzly bears usually live 20-25 years. Not only is 399 still alive and kicking at 27, but she’s still Bear Mother of the Year. If she were human, she’d be collecting Social Security and driving the kids to soccer practice. 

Now 399 has emerged from hibernation at last with one more healthy cub in tow. 

On Tuesday, May 16, around 2:45 p.m., Grizzly 399 made her grand appearance in her usual spot, the Pilgrim Creek area of Teton Park. Word got out through the grapevine, and soon a crowd assembled to witness this momentous occasion. 

Wildlife photographer Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven describes 399’s current condition: 

“Both mom and her new offspring look great. Her cub looks to be in good health and pretty big (I guess it helps if you have only have to feed one versus the four she had in 2020!) and 399 herself doesn’t look skinny at all, which you may expect after just coming out of hibernation and having given birth.”

This little cub, whose gender is still unknown, is 399’s first offspring since 2020. Back then, she surprised everyone by emerging from hibernation with an unprecedented brood of four cubs. 

It should be noted that from here, it’s still an uphill battle for the cub. Fewer than 50% of grizzly bear cubs live to see their first birthday, and many don’t make it through their first summer. Older male bears will often pick off the cubs to make their mothers more fertile. It’s not that female bears are particular into that—it’s just that the female won’t mate again till she’s raised her cubs. So, like the evil suburban dad in a Netflix true crime series, the male has to get the kids out of the way so he can get some alone time with their mom. (Sorry, that got dark. But the animal kingdom is not a nice place.) 

That’s all to say that we wish 399’s new cub well, and hopefully he or she grows up to be the natural world’s next big star. Or at least doesn’t get eaten by a jealous stepfather. 

***

This post is brought to you by Flat Creek Inn, which has no bears in its rooms, thank you very much. We’re fancy like that.

Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He once saw a bear hiking and did not stay to ask it how old it was. 

Catching Up with Grizzly 399

Did you wake up this morning and wonder, “Hey, I wonder what Grizzly 399 is up to?” Maybe you’re the sort of person who only follows human social media influencers, occasionally making exceptions for raccoons who do tricks or cute British puppies. But if you’re into bears, you may have read our post a few years ago about Grizzly 399, a famous mama bear who roams the Grand Teton area. She’s poised to make history this year. We’ll tell you why. grizzly 399

But first, here’s a recap for those who have bear-ly heard of her. (We’re terribly sorry about that line.) At age 27, this glamorous sow is already a legend in her own right. For starters, she’s still alive. Only 9% of first-year female cubs survive to reach age 27, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. 399 is also still sporting all her teeth, a rare trend for female grizzlies her age (props to her dentist). 

Basically, 399 is the closest thing to a Hollywood celebrity ever produced by our particular slice of the animal kingdom. If animals wrote tabloids, she would be on the front page, those pearly ursine whites gleaming. We can imagine some of the questions posed by headlines now:

Who’s she dating? (A photographer spotted her breeding with a male named Bruno last year.) 

Wait, are she and Bruno back together? (He probably fathered her last four cubs. Maybe she likes him.) 

Has she put on weight? (Yes, a little, when we last saw her—but we’re body positive here, so that’s none of our business.) 

What will she be wearing? (Fur. Sorry, PETA.) 

And the biggest question of all: is she having babies this year? Here’s the big news at last: If she emerges from hibernation this spring with another litter of cubs, it will be her eighth, making her the oldest monitored grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem to bear a litter of youngsters. 

Like any good celebrity, Grizzly 399 has her own paparazzi: scientists, photographers, and social media fans are all eagerly awaiting her arrival. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, stay tuned for more hot animal gossip.*

This post is brought to you by Flat Creek Inn, Jackson’s closest lodgings to Grand Teton National Park. If you’re among 399’s many fans or want to check out all the other wildlife Jackson Hole has to offer, come stay with us soon. 

* We can’t promise this. But if one of the elk checks into rehab or something, we’ll definitely let you know. 

Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whatever else strikes his fancy. However, he doesn’t usually write about bears.


StevenPDeVries, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

7 Tips for Conservation in Jackson Hole

The West—and Jackson Hole is no exception—is home to some of the most stunning scenery on earth: jagged, towering mountains; glimmering rivers and tinkling streams; and unspoiled forests brimming with life. They’re the kinds of sights that fuel dreamers and inspire travelers, the stuff of endless John Muir quotes. Not to get all Pocahontas here, but we can’t really own the wild, not really. When you get down to it, we’re all guests here. So whatever your political stripes, whatever your thoughts on climate change or other hot-button topics, I think we can all agree that our natural landscapes are worth protecting. With that shared concern in mind, here are 7 tips for conservation in Jackson Hole and beyond—ways that each of us can step in and keep the wild West wild. 

Don’t litter.

We’re starting the basics here. We all learned this when we were young, right? When you’re hiking, pack out what you packed in. And Mother Nature doesn’t provide ashtrays, so please find somewhere else to dispose of your cigarette butts. 

Reduce your personal energy use and carbon footprint. 

Burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation can, to put it mildly, have some fairly negative effects on the planet. The good news, such as it is, is that each of us can do our small part in reducing our personal contributions by being more energy efficient. This section could honestly be an article of its own, and maybe soon it will be, but these are all great ways to start. Even taking action in one of the ways we’re about to list is a step in the right direction. 

Light your house with LEDs, change the filter on your furnace, turn off unused electronics, carpool or use public transit, and—where possible—power your home with clean energy. And make sure to avoid food waste, too—it contributes 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse emissions

Cut down on paper usage.

Your insurance provider or mortgage lender probably doesn’t want to send you paper bills any more than you want to get them in the mail. Go digital to save paper use and annoyance. It’s 2022, anyway. Unless you just really love the smell of a nice, crisp medical bill, you have no excuse.

Plant a tree. 

Forests cover a third of the earth’s landmass, but each year about 12 million hectares of forest (30 million acres) are destroyed. Nobody expects you to plant 12 million hectares of trees to make up for it. You’re welcome to try if you’ve got a trowel and a few million wheelbarrows of soil lying around—but that’s why it’s up to all of us, not just one person. The earth will be grateful, trust me. 

Watch your water waste.

The earth has plenty of water, right? Well, not exactly. With historically low water levels around the world, there’s reason to conserve it. Fortunately, it’s not hard to do. Turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth, run the washer and dryer only with a full load, fix leaks around your home, and avoid overwatering your home during peak periods. It also helps to contact your utilities provider and get a report on your water usage. You may not even realize how much water you’re wasting, or how much can be saved with a few simple adjustments. 

Learn from and contribute to conservation organizations.

Each of us can do a lot in our conservation efforts, but some steps require expert planning, coordination, and knowledge. That’s where conservation efforts in your area come in. There’s nothing wrong with simply making a monetary contribution, but you can also sign up for newsletters and take classes to stay appraised of efforts and opportunities in your neck of the woods. 

If you live in or near Jackson Hole, for instance, take a look at these organizations and consider learning more about the Jackson Hole Wildlife Alliance, Jackson Hole Land Trust, or Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation

Contact your representative. 

We get it—it’s probable you don’t even like the person who’s supposed to be voting on your behalf in Washington. Maybe you’re routinely embarrassed by them. I’m sure we all have one politician or another who we sorta wish would go quietly retire in Antarctica somewhere, but that doesn’t change their job. Educate yourself on environmental issues, write to your representative, and tell them how you’d like them to vote. If they don’t vote the way you want, vote for someone better next time. (Yay, democracy!) Don’t know who your elected representative is? Look at the House of Representatives here and the Senate here

This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn, Jackson Hole’s closest motel to Grand Teton National Park and a big supporter of keeping the outdoors the way they are.

Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whether or not Darth Vader could beat Batman in a fight. He also lives on the Earth, which makes him a little biased when it comes to writing articles about protecting the planet, but he does it anyway.

Photos courtesy of:

Burley Packwood, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I, Michael Gäbler, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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