Tensleep: saved for the plants, but the elk like it, too

When the Nature Conservancy bought about two thirds of the Girl Scouts’ biggest in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming in 1991, they mainly had rare plants in mind. But now plenty of elk, mule deer, pronghorn, weasels and other wildlife are taking advantage of the Tensleep Preserve.

Tensleep–named for the 10 nights it took to get there from near Laramie in the southeast up to Yellowstone–has got got high numbers of elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and weasels. 127 species of bird live here, but the most entertaining for manager Trey Davis are the ravens, which can tell him apart from other humans. “They follow my family around wherever we go,” he says. “If you came out here they’d be talking about you.”

Very low numbers of spotted bats and mountain lions live there. “I’ve never known a visitor to see a mountain lion,” Davis says.

While men do hunt mountain lions outside the reserve, they usually need to use dogs to find and tree them. According to a state survey, 65% of hunters used dogs to track mountain lions and 57% of residents felt that should be banned. Aside from hunting, accidental trapping, nuisance wildlife removal and car accidents are the biggest causes of death of mountain lions in Wyoming.

The preserve is open to the public from May to about mid-October. It closes for the weather and hunting season. Many of the ungulates drift in to the preserve and some other parks, as if knowing its safer, Davis say.

The Scouts bought the 15,400 acres in 1968 and used it as a wilderness playground, the setting of long camping adventures for older girls. The upkeep was too much, so they sold most of it to the Nature Conservancy and some to the neighboring Clay Ranch. The idea was to let researchers use the massive property to figure out ways to save some of the rare plants through fire ecology and keeping out invasives.

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