Yellowstone Without a Guide, but with Bear Spray

yellowstone bear

Step Away from the Bear

Yellowstone has so many animals you don’t even really need to hire a guide to find them, says one expert. But you will have to put some time and work into it.

“You don’t need a guide,” says Al Nash, parks spokesman. “But you probably need to spend more than one day.” Nash says the biggest mistake wildlife watchers make in Yellowstone is not giving themselves enough time. The park is bigger than you think and the animals aren’t going to always cooperate with a tight schedule.

The animals themselves have an elaborate schedule and sometimes seasonal territories. Lamar Valley is traditionally where wolf watchers go, but their pack size and territories are in constant motion. Earlier this year National Geographic had a package on the area’s Wolf Wars and featured a map of the local packs. Based on 2008 data, the biggest was Gibbons peak in the southeast. Just last week the last of the park’s famous Druid pack that hung around Lamar was shot dead on a ranch in Montana.

“A lot of people say they saw wolves,” but really only saw coyotes, he says. The coyotes here are size XL. “The wolf is a much larger animal. Think of a German Shepherd on steroids.”

Nash says, just check with a visitor center about what’s been seen where in the last few days. Badgers, big cats and moose are all pretty hard to spot, no matter how hard you try or

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Antlering: Hunters and Wildlife Watchers Both Love Collecting Antlers

You can congratulate me now: I just received an antlering permit from Utah after passing the 2010 Antler Gathering Ethics Course. I only got 95%, but they let me redo the question I missed. As gathering antlers shed in the winter by moose, elk and deer gets more popular among both hunters and wildife watchers, states are regulating the hobby so we don’t stress out the ungulates when they’re practically starving. It’s gotten so bad, even libertarian Wyoming has rules this year.

Utah’s online “class” is really to teach you not to follow or harass the animals. They don’t want people stalking  deer and elk in the winter and spring, when they could be stressed and starving. Even in a good year 40% of yearling deer and 20% of adults die, I learned. The stress of winter–low food, temperatures and light–can kill them off even into the spring. Expending energy to run away from somebody looking for antlers is the last thing they need. In a podcast, Anis Aoude, Utah’s Big Game Coordinator, says he’s caught people chasing animals around, waiting for their antlers.

The various species can loose antlers November through March. Aoude says shedding the antlers every year might help the animals survive because predators know that males are weak after the rut. The Utah rules say you have to have a permit to hunt for antlers in the spring; Wyoming, home of the National Elk Refuge, just bans horn hunters from December through April.

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Get a Glimpse of Native Illinois Wildlife on their Winter Break–Join the Wildlife Prairie State Park

Bison family

Mother Bison directing traffic,originally uploaded by Todd Ryburn.

Just a couple hours west of Chicago a herd of bison is taking the winter off from delighting kids. Wildlife Prairie State Park–a unique combination of wildlife center, praire re-enactment and park–closes for the winter.

The animals in big herds, the elk and bison, are taken off public display to give their summer pastures a rest, says park spokesperson Kelly Stickelmaier. The enclosures (80 acres for the elk) are big enough to approximate a natural setting, but not so huge you can’t see them. (Just check the park’s very active flickr group and you can see how much of the animals visitors can see.)

The park’s 18 bison are especially cooperative, coming up to the viewing stand, where they’re fed at 1 o’clock.  “The elk are a little more persnickety, especially the boys,” Stickelmaier says. Because the bison herd reproduces, the park sells off however many are born each year to keep the total at 18.

Badger at WPSP,originally uploaded by Mark Koonce.

I don’t think I’ve seen another wildlife park that has badgers–and, believe me, I’ve looked. They’ve also have otters, eagles that came in through wildlife rehabilitation, skunks, bobcats and cougars.

Philantrhopist Will Rutherford started the park in 1978 mainly as a kind of rehab area for animals from the Brookfield Zoo. The park eventually shifted to native animals, then Rutherford gave the park to the state in 2000.

 Rutherford’s family’s Forest Park Foundation still supports the park, the Peoria Journal-Star says, but it can’t make

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Elk Shun Official Viewing Spots for Benezette, PA, Yards

Elk Herd of Benezette, PA The largest elk herd in the east, about 552 as of the last count in 2003, roams wild in western Pennsylvania. There are elk viewing areas around Moore Hill in Cameron County and Benezette in Elk County. The NE PA Great Outdoors provides a driving map and a brochure they’ll mail you.

For travellers, the great thing is the easy access. Western Pennsylvania is where you’d want to stop overnight on the way to the midwest–it’s roughly halfway and it’s easily the most gorgeous area you’ll see on the way. The place to see elk are less than an hour off Route 80. Probably the easiest thing is to head to Benezette. When we visited in Jan., 2006, we toured the local official viewing areas. Some you just pull off the road and watch from your car, others have elaborate blinds or seated viewing areas. We got the consolation prize of tracks, but saw no elk. The woman at the Elk View Diner told us to check out the churchyard in town. Didn’t see any, but when we stopped at the Benezette Store and Restaurant, the man casually told us there were two bulls across the street. (He also said they can usually be found in town.) Sure enough two massive elk were chewing on a lawn. The owner came out and shooed them away.

That’s somewhat unusual. Most are very into the elk. There are elk decorations everywhere and endless elk-themed businesses. (Wapati

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