The Fuzzy Black Animal on the Trail

So there I was…

Hiking on the Medicine Bow Rail Trail from the Woods Creek Trailhead.

Woods Creek Trailhead

William was sauntering down the trail right in front of me. Finn was riding along in the Chariot. It was a chilly morning on an easy trail so I was sipping on a mug of Earl Grey with two lemon slices. That’s how I roll.

IMG_4018

About 1/2 mile from the trailhead we saw what I thought were either moose or elk tracks on the side of the trail. In my mind there was clearly a set of adult tracks alongside a set of smaller tracks.

It made sense, we were in a nice forest with a pond off to one side of the trail. It was prime moose habitat.

IMG_4021

I had visions of seeing a moose (from a safe distance of course) and could imagine the wild smiles that would show up on the faces of my boys when they saw a moose.

Even better I thought we might get to see a Mama moose and her babies and that we’d stand still watching each other sharing a Mama bonding moment.

I’d be like “so, you bring your babies here too” and the moose would look at me as if to say “yah, and by the way you’re a badass for hiking solo with two kids even if you are cheating and pushing one in a stroller.”

My fantasy of seeing a cow moose with her calves came to an end when my kids started whining.

So, I threw a few granola bars at them and we kept on hiking.

About another mile down the trail something caught my eye.

Just ahead of us was a huge black animal.

Maybe I was going to get to see my moose after all, I thought as I grabbed my bear spray, tossed William into the Chariot alongside Finn and proceeded cautiously down the trail.

IMG_4043

(This is a single Chariot it’s designed to carry one child, not two. It is also recommended that children be seated and safely buckled in when riding in a Chariot). When it comes to child transportation on hikes we break all the rules.

But as I kept hiking something wasn’t right. This animal was defiantly not a moose. It was too short, it was too bulky, it was just standing there not scampering off into the woods.

“Is it a bear?” I said, as we cautiously inched closer.

“Mom, you’re so silly, that’s a cow!” William giggled from the stroller.

Then I looked up and realized that the fuzzy black animal was indeed a cow and that I was hiking through a minefield of cow pies.

IMG_4185

I’d been so wrapped up hoping to see wildlife that I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the trail.

“Mooooooove over cow, coming through,” we called as we passed a dozen or so cows just hanging out on the side of the trail glaring at us.

Cows followed us for the whole hike, balking at us as if they were angry we were trespassing through their territory.

So, we kept talking about how much we wanted a bacon cheeseburger to show them who was at the top of the food chain.

IMG_4040

About an hour later on the way back to the car I stopped to examine what I had thought were moose or elk tracks in the trail. That’s when I realized that those mysterious tracks actually came from cows.

IMG_4019

So if you want to see real, wild cows head to the Woods Creek Trailhead.

And if you want to know what animal tracks you’re looking at or if you’re staring at a bear or a cow please consult a guidebook, not me.

I also promise that I’m not complete idiot. Just keepin’ it real around here.  We like to do that.

Have you ever had any “mysterious” wildlife encounters on the trail?

How To Use Bear Spray

In 2000 I was living and training for biathlon in Canada. On July 6th I had a good friend and teammate get attacked and killed by a black bear in Quebec. One minute she was out on a run through the trees, the next minute we were all getting phone calls about Mary Beth’s death. I was back in the states when I heard of the bear attack and her death. It was hard to lose a friend and teammate. It was also hard knowing that the cause of her death was a black bear.

Since then I haven’t been a fan of bears. I like them from a distance but sometimes when I’m skiing or hiking on the trails my thoughts turn to Mary Beth.

One thing that has helped calm my bear fears has been through education. Learning more about bears, both grizzly and black, and how they might react if I stumble on their path is important to know.

Another thing that alleviates my fears is hiking with a can of bear spray in places where we expect to see bears.

Last week Al and I were able to head over to the Laramie Game & Fish office where we were given a brief demonstration on how to use bear spray and then we were able  to practice using a training can of bear spray (one without capsaicin).

HOW TO USE BEAR SPRAY.jpg

Here’s what we learned about how to use bear spray.

1) Carry bear spray on a hip holster or chest holster to make it easy to access. Bear spray can be sprayed from a hip holster.

2) When you’re being charged or attacked by a bear remove the safety on the bear spray.

3) Steady your body and your can of bear spray and with your thumb deploy the trigger. You can hold onto the can with your other hand for more stability (while you are peeing your pants…because let’s face it, you’re being charged by a bear).

4) Spray several 2-3 second bursts when the bear is about 10-15 feet away. Pay attention to where the wind is blowing and aim the spray slightly down toward the ground since the bear will have it’s head closer to the ground while charging and you’ll want the spray to get in the bears’ face.

5) After the bear feels the effects of the bear spray it will likely back away and try to figure out what is going on. This is your chance to high tail it out of there but do so calmly without running.

6) Chances are that you’ll feel some effects of the bear spray–burning, your eyes might water, you might choke a little bit but that’s okay because it beats the alternative.

It’s a good idea to call the Game & Fish or Forest Service and report aggressive bear behavior just so they have a heads up after an incident like this.

A few other things to note:

  • It’s a really bad idea to have your bear spray tucked away inside your pack. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning because people do it.
  • It’s also a bad idea to leave your bear spray in a hot car…it can explode in high temperatures and it won’t be pretty.
  • Also, it’s recommended that everyone carries their own can of bear spray…except probably our 2 year old.
  • It’s a good idea to practice! You can always give an old can of bear spray a test in a wide open area on a non-windy day (just be prepared for the effects) or better yet call your local Game & Fish and see if they can show you how to use a can of bear spray.

While we didn’t use a real can of bear spray it’s good to learn how to remove the safety, press the trigger and how to aim. It’s really simple but I don’t think it would be so easy to do while being charged.

Bears are beautiful and amazing animals. I hope to never have to use my can of bear spray on one, but if I do I feel more confident that now I know how to do so.

Sometimes when I put on my old team warm up coat and see the ‘MB’ patch we sewed onto our jackets to remember Mary Beth I know and respect the fact that the bear is stronger and mightier than me. I’m humble enough to realize that but I’m no longer afraid.

For more info on how to use bear spray check out these three websites, and thank you Robin for taking time out of your busy day to teach us more about bear spray.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

National Park Service

Bear Smart

Have you ever used bear spray on an actual bear? If so please leave us a comment and tell us your story!

 

I No Longer Hate Bark Beetles…Here’s Why

For years bark beetles have been at the top of my enemy list.

Take a look at the Snowy Range, Chimney Park, Vedauwoo, Pole Mountain or pretty much anywhere I like to hike, snowshoe and cross-country ski. The forested landscape has morphed from green to an ugly reddish/brown.

But, on Tuesday night my hatred towards the bark beetles disappeared and I realized that like wildfires, there is a beautiful period of renewal after a beetle infestation. I hope to witness this as I continue to wander through the wilderness with my children.

I no longer hate bark beetles.jpg

On Tuesday night I attended a showing of the presentation Our Future Forests Beyond Bark Beetles on the University of Wyoming campus sponsored by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus institute.

It was positive and informational and the videography was amazing.

The presentation featured 10 short films produced by Morgan Heim. Each video showed how bark beetles are impacting different things in the forest.

One video highlighted recreation, another discussed wildfires. There was a video about logging, a fascinating video about water, and an awesome video showing volunteer groups like employees from SmartWool socks making a difference to clean up beetle damaged campgrounds. One video even showed the impact that the bark beetle epidemic could have on elk populations in the Sierra Madres.

Each video felt like I was watching the story of the beetle epidemic as told through the eyes of those who recreate and work in the forest.

our forest's are changing.jpg

Here are a few things that I found interesting.

  • Bark beetles have infested over 100,000 square miles of trees. This is close to the size of the entire state of Wyoming.
  • 70% of the trees  at Vedauwoo have been infested with bark beetles. But, tree planting efforts are underway in campgrounds.
  • One researcher is doing a study on the effects that bark beetles have had on elk, specifically elk hunting. He thinks that hunters are more likely to avoid areas with a lot of deadfall caused by beetles. Since hunting is the only form of population control for the Sierra Madre elk herd he’s concerned about overpopulation. So, this researcher is setting hunters up with GPS devices to track their movement when they are hunting to see if this is the case.
  • There was a large beetle epidemic in the 1940’s or 1950’s (I forgot to write down the location or exact date).  Researchers are noticing that trees in previously infested areas come back healthier and more resistant. Forests in these areas are also more diverse. So, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Now, I didn’t do this video series justice. There are upcoming showings in Saratoga and Steamboat and I’d highly recommend attending one. You can find more details here.

One quote from the short video on recreation really stood out to me.

“Dead trees are a monument to a changing landscape”

To me this is a beautiful way of saying that our forests are changing but it’s all going to be okay.

What do you think about the current bark beetle epidemic? Is it depressing or do you see hope and please I need a new kitchen table…somebody tell me where I can buy a blue bark stained wood table (that won’t break my budget)…

 

13 Things I Now Know About Bears, Wolves & Mountain Lions

What do you know about sharing our wild spaces with bears, wolves & mountain lions?

Last Saturday I attended the Wyoming Game & Fish’s Bear, Lion & Wolf Seminar here in Laramie. My goal was to put aside what I ‘thought’ I knew about these animals and really try to learn something new. I wasn’t disappointed, it was a great seminar and I highly recommend attending one.

Here are a few things that I learned:

13 Things I Now Know About Bears, Wolves & Mountain Lions.jpg

Mountain Lions

1) Mountain Lions are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat to survive. When they kill an animal, they eat the organs first (since they are the best source of nutrients) then stash the rest of their kill in a cache feasting on it for a few days.

2) Mountain Lion kittens only have a 60-70% survival rate. Less than half of them make it to adulthood. The odds are not in their favor.

3) Deer are the primary prey for mountain lions in the state of Wyoming. Where there are deer, there are mountain lions.

4) Sometimes mountain lions like to feast on domestic kittens (ewww).

5) Aggressive mountain lion behavior is a lion with flat ears, showing it’s teeth, snarling & hissing. If you’re being attacked, stand your ground, keep the animal in front of you, don’t take your eyes off of the lion and let him know that you’re a threat.

Wolves

6) Wolves can travel, and they travel far. Last year one collared female traveled over 3,000 miles through 3 states. While they technically aren’t in our area (SE Wyoming & Northern Colorado), they really could show up anywhere because of their high dispersal rate.

7) It is extremely rare to be attacked and killed by a wolf but if you are it’s important to act aggressively, look big and fight back (just like with mountain lions).

Bears

8) Grizzly bears in northern Wyoming are doing well, juvenile males on the fringe of their range disperse the furthest.

9) In places where grizzly & black bears co-exist black bears tend to move around more during the day, even though both species are typically more active from dusk/dawn.

10) We know that bears will eat things like garbage, food and even toothpaste and bug spray but they have been known to also sample white gas so it’s important to hang that in the backcountry as well.

11) There’s some concern about the bark beetle killing pines and ruining a good food source for the grizzly. At this seminar the discussion centered around the fact that bears are good at finding new food sources, they’ll eat anything.

12) It’s really hard to identify bears (at least it is for me) but if you’re being charged by a black bear,  yell, scream and fight but give them their space. If you’re being charged by a grizzly lay on your stomach, cover your neck, and leave your pack on. It’s important that a grizzly knows that you aren’t a threat.

13) You can spray your bear spray right from the holster, spray it towards the ground and let it billow up because the bear will put it’s head down as it charges.

The presenters at this seminar recommended the following resources for more information (these are affiliate links).

Have you attended a seminar or workshop on bears, wolves or mountain lions? What did you learn or find interesting about these amazing animals?

 

 

Moose near Deadman Road

While out hiking in October in the area around Deadman Road in the Roosevelt National Forest I came across this guy.

Not the largest bull moose I’ve ever seen but none to shabby either. I’m glad I got to see him after he shed his velvet because I like the way his black coat and white antlers contrast with the fall colors in the creek bottom and the evergreens in the background.

You can find more of our videos and pictures through the links below this post or on our YouTube Channel Page.

My Secret Bias Against Antelope

Not an Antelope

This is so secret I didn’t even know about it.

I’m always on the lookout for wildlife. It’s one of the perks of my job and I like putting together some pictures and video of wildlife to share.

The other day I had just begun my journey home from a trail when I notice some antelope doing antelope things pretty close to me. I had a brief thought that I should take a couple pictures of them but immediately dismissed it. I just wasn’t interested.

Also not an Antelope

A few minutes later I began to wonder if I had ever taken a picture of an antelope and I couldn’t think of a single time where I had. Then I began to wonder if I secretly and subconsciously disliked antelope.

But then I realized that indifference is a better word.

I see them everywhere. They are like ground squirrels, I don’t feel bad about not taking pictures of them. But then I remembered taking pictures of deer. And what large animal is as common as deer? Antelope.

Once more, not an Antelope

It wasn’t long before I came across a few more antelope doing antelope things and I wondered again if I should get a picture. And I just passed them by. I’m just not interested.

I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. I’m not the only one am I?

Moose Cow and Calf on Middle Crow Creek

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon these two in the Pole Mountain area of the Medicine Bow National Forest.

They stared at me for a while then went back to grazing in and out of view along Middle Crow Creek. I kept thinking about how that little bull calf is getting ready for his first winter and probably has no idea what’s in store for him.

I hope you like the video.

Big Horn Sheep along the North Platte River

I had this encounter with big horn sheep earlier this summer.

I had a good laugh when I saw them because I’d just spent all day hiking and hadn’t seen anything larger than a bird only to spot these big horn sheep with lambs on the road as I started to drive home.

I especially liked seeing the little lambs and I wish I had been able to stick around longer to get some better video and pictures.

I Do Carry Bear Spray. Here’s Why.

A few days ago the social media world was buzzing about an article written in the High Country News by Charles Finn entitled ‘I Don’t Carry Bear Spray. Here’s Why’. We found the story in Adventure Journal. It’s fascinating, well worth the read.

In it Finn admits that he is anti-bear spray because he doesn’t want to be responsible for the “agony a bear goes through when it gets a snout full of capsaicin,” and because he wants “to meet the wilderness on its own terms.”

I can’t help but wonder if ‘meeting wilderness on its own terms’ also means that Finn hikes without a backpack, without a water bottle, without a first aid kit, without boots and without clothes. However, it was Finn’s conclusion that really got me thinking.

He speculates that if he is attacked and killed by a bear…”at least I’ll know I died serving a purpose-helping to fatten a bear up for winter. After all, they were here first, and the odds of survival are decidedly not in their favor. If anyone deserves to be pepper-sprayed, it’s us.”

Thanks for the outdoor guilt trip Finn. I hike with bear spray and if I get between a Mama and her cub I fully intend to use it. I think it is the humane and responsible thing to do.

Bear spray is a non-lethal agent, meaning that it only causes temporary discomfort to the bear. Ask any military or law enforcement professional who has been sprayed in the face with pepper spray, it’s not that bad.

In most cases if a bear attacks a human the bear is killed.  Sometimes multiple bears are killed. In 2011, a 72 year old woman was killed by a black bear in British Columbia, and 5 suspected bears were tracked and killed.

Sorry Finn, if you sacrificed your body to a bear you wouldn’t be fattening it up for winter–you’d be killing the bear.

Now I ask would you rather be responsible for the “agony” a bear goes through from pepper spray or the “agony” a bear goes through when he is killed?