There are certain rites of spring in the Northern Rockies, some of them dangerous. It’s good to take a refresher course on the dos and don’ts as the weather improves and the compulsion to get outside becomes irresistible.
For starters, bears are out. There are two sides to every coin, and heads in this case is the early emergence of grizzly bear No. 399, a 24-year-old sow and prodigious baby griz producer in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Last spring 399 emerged with a remarkable four cubs, all of which survived the winter. Twenty-four is particularly old for a Yellowstone griz, and 399 has lived most of her life in and around the growing human population of Jackson Hole. She obviously knows how to stay out of trouble.
While she’s a wise, old Yellowstone bruin, 399 has a ways to go to match No. 168, who was the oldest known Yellowstone griz when he was euthanized last year by biologists due to the bear’s poor health. That male bear was 34 years old and had begun praying on livestock to survive.
While 399 and her brood are photogenic, tails is that griz are not cuddly teddy bears. Sadly, a man was attacked and killed by a different early emerging grizzly last week while he fished the Madison River, just north of West Yellowstone.
The man was able to call for help on his cell phone, but died the next day in an Idaho Falls hospital. The bear was killed when it charged a group of game wardens who were investigating the scene. There was a moose carcass nearby — about 50 yards from the site of the attack — which the bear was likely defending.
All of this is a reminder to be careful and pay attention. The griz population in the Northern Rockies is on the rise, and that means young bruins are exploring new places in search of unoccupied habitat, so they won’t get bullied by bigger bears. Bear spray, making noise on the trail and awareness are all prereqs for heading into wild places near Glacier and Yellowstone.
While we’re talking about cute baby critters — google No. 399, her cubs are adorable — if you come upon a baby bison in Yellowstone, don’t load it up in your rental SUV and deliver it to the nearest ranger station. Many babies appear abandoned in the spring, but they’re actually just resting quietly, while mom is away.
And even if they have been abandoned, which appeared to be the case with that infamous bison, abandoned baby herbivores have a role in natural ecosystems: they become food for baby griz, wolves, cougars and the like.
Baby predators need to eat, too, though some may disagree.
And finally, as the weather warms, the temptation of water will grow too strong to resist. And you shouldn’t. Early season floats are great — the first time you get your paws around some oars and feel moving water under your butt is really the unofficial start of spring. Well, the first day you do all that and catch a trout on a dry fly, that’s when spring begins.
Early season boating has particular hazards. The water is cold. Early season fly fishers usually wader up, which helps when things cool off and are a requirement when you hop out of the boat to fish. But cold water is especially lethal if you end up in the drink, or it fills your waders.
And river floaters need to be attentive to flows, especially during high water. We almost certainly will learn of a boater who puts in somewhere this spring, and doesn’t survive their day on the water.
Be careful. Wait for stable summer flows to investigate new water. And coffee and cream colored high flows are a good excuse to go golfing until things return to normal.
Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.
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