Mountain Town News: Wolf sightings less assured for watchers in Yellowstone |

Mountain Town News: Wolf sightings less assured for watchers in Yellowstone

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

COOKE CITY, Mont. — In October 2010, two Coloradans were driving in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, wondering if they would be so lucky as to see a wolf. They were. A full pack, in fact. But wasn’t entirely a matter of luck.

Stopping at a pullout, they talked with a photographer who was scoping distant buffalo. “Just keep driving up the road,” the photographer said, waving toward the narrow ribbon of asphalt. “You can’t miss them.”

He was right. Several miles away, at Pebble Creek, the road was knotted with about 80 people, ages 8 to perhaps 80, with enough optics on tripods among them to stock a good-sized camera store. In the midst of them, wearing an orange jacket, was a figure of authority. Rick McIntyre was his name, and yes, there was a pack of wolves about 150 yards away, loitering in the afternoon heat.

McIntyre was an almost daily wolf-watcher for 24 straight years after wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. He officially retired from his position with the Yellowstone Wolf Project in February 2018. And when he did, Yellowstone made another change, too.

The wolves were affixed with high-frequency tracking collars that cast out signals. McIntyre and his colleagues carried directional antenna-like receivers that zeroed in on the wolves. Find Rick and you found wolves, as the two Coloradans had learned.

After his retirement, the Yellowstone Wolf Project chose to no longer routinely share the whereabouts of wolves, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

“The Park Service does not want to get into the business of tracking wolves so that people can watch them,” said Doug Smith, a senior biologist who leads the Yellowstone Wolf Project. “It’s not even on our list of reasons why we collar wolves, but the perception was that’s what we’re doing.”

Wolf-watchers must now fan out more strategically. There’s more guesswork, too, about the identity of the individual wolves such as the single wolf that the News&Guide’s Mike Koshmrl saw brazenly feeding on a bison carcass with two grizzlies.

Koshmrl says that when wolves are spotted, especially during the busy summer season, the experience can still take a turn toward that of a carnival, with hustling crowds, people jockeying for glimpses through spotting scopes and kids yelling about what they’re supposed to be looking for.

Those occasions have become unusual. The park today has about 80 to 100 wolves, half the number found in the late 1990s when McIntyre spotted at least one wolf for 892 consecutive days.

Jack Rabe, one of McIntyre’s replacements, says the public was seeing wolves around 85% of days before McIntyre retired and the change was made. But the odds are still pretty good. Word of wolf sightings is still spreading on at least three in four days.

Banff expecting to see fewer Chinese visitors

BANFF, Alberta — Banff’s leading tourism organization has been rethinking its marketing strategy in light of geopolitical tensions between the Chinese and Canadian governments.

Leslie Bruce, president of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said her organization intends to diversify its marketing, putting more focus on Australia, South Korea and Mexico. It also plans to target France.

“We’re not giving up on that market, but we’re certainly not as bullish about the growth opportunities there,” Bruce said during a recent meeting covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

In December, the chief financial officer of Huawei, China’s leading telecom company and the world’s third largest manufacturer of smart phones, was arrested in Vancouver on a warrant out of the United States. She is charged with engaging in bank and wire fraud in violation of American sanctions against Iran. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Bruce said the geopolitical fallout has not been felt directly in Banff, but her counterparts in Toronto and Vancouver have told her they’ve noticed an impact.

The Banff organization has been pushing winter and shoulder-season tourism. The average room occupancy in Banff was 71.7% in 2018, a gain of 100,000 room nights from just three years prior. Hotel occupancy in November exceeded 50% for the first time, reports the Outlook.

Holocaust survivor tells his story in town of anti-Semite

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Judah Samet, who survived both the Holocaust and then the 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, told his story in an appearance in Whitefish this week. Whitefish is also the part-time home of Richard Spencer, the anti-Semitic proponent of white nationalism.

The Whitefish Pilot explains that Samet was born in Hungary in 1938. When Germany invaded Hungary, his family was taken to a work camp in Austria and then put on a train headed for a death camp. En route, the Allies bombed the train lines, saving the lives of Samet, members of his family and other prisoners.

After the war, he was first in an immigrant camp in France, then Israel and Canada. He finally landed in Pittsburgh in 1966, which remains his home.

Spencer, the anti-Semite, gained notoriety during the ascendancy of Donald Trump and, according to the Guardian in a 2017 story, he was captured on camera shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” while others gave the Nazi salute. Wikipedia notes that he was a featured speaker at Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, where another self-identified member of the alt-right drove a car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring 19.

Whitefish wants nothing to do with Spencer. The town issued a proclamation denouncing his beliefs.

A year ago, according to a website called Eater, Spencer tried to order a shot of bourbon in Whitefish, but the proprietor of the bar refused to run the $4.25 credit card charge. “The racist spiels, his ethnic cleansing ideas I find repugnant, as do most people that live in this town,” Doug Rommereim, the owner of the Great Northern Bar, told local news station KGVO.

Spencer and Whitefish were also in the national news last November when a federal judge in Montana ruled that the lawsuit against a publisher of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer could not be dismissed on First Amendment grounds. The judge said that the website had targeted a private person, a real estate agent who is Jewish, and that the agent is not a public figure.

The real estate agent had encouraged Spencer’s mother to put up a building for sale. By the spring of 2017, she and her family had received more than 700 vulgar and hateful messages, including threats, many referencing the Holocaust, explained the New York Times in a November article.

Sizing up risk of smoke and wildfire in mountain towns

ASPEN — Across the North American West, mountain towns fret about summer wildfire season even as snow lingers.

Aspen had a scare last year, nearly losing its electricity on the July Fourth weekend, the result of a 12,500-acre wildfire about 20 miles down the valley near Basalt. Two transmission lines had gone down, and flames were licking up the wooden pole of a third transmission line when firefighters arrived. Had they not, Aspen would have participated in candle-light dinners.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo told the Aspen Daily News he wants to discuss a June-to-October fireworks ban this week. The big fireworks show in Aspen has already been altered, although for reasons not to do with fire danger. Instead, it is being replaced by a laser show that relies on drone technology.

Across the Elk Range from Aspen, the Crested Butte-Gunnison communities have kicked off a yearlong wildfire-planning exercise, reports the Crested Butte News.

Molly Mowery, who conducts land-use planning for Wildfire Planning International, has been retained to help the locals create plans with wildfire in mind. Landscaping regulations, watershed management plans and building codes will be examined along with design standards for subdivisions.

Mowery, according to the Crested Butte News, said the pilot program was launched in Colorado’s Summit County. There, she said, the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program “found a real opportunity to look at not just where wildfires could be better inserted into land-use documents, but where land use could be better inserted into wildfire documents.”

Mountain Village, Telluride’s municipal sibling, is offering residents rebates of up to 50% for mitigation work up to $5,000 when property owners create defensible space.

“If a homeowner creates defensible space by utilizing our incentive program in combination with a non-flammable roof, the structure’s chance of survival in a wildfire is 99%. A structure has only a 4% survival rate if the roof is flammable and no defensible action occurs on a property,” said Michelle Haynes, the town’s planning and development services director.

Also in the San Juans, La Plata County had a notable uptick in bad air quality days last year, which the Durango Herald says is likely the result of smoke from the 416 Fire.

In British Columbia, Whistler has had smoke, but not fire. Smoke is bad enough, says Pique Newsmagazine. “We know from recent research that inhaling smoke from a wildfire can be equal to smoking a couple of packs a cigarettes a day, depending upon its thickness,” points out editor Clare Ogilvie.

Last year, the dreadful smoke didn’t keep tourists away, but Ogilvie warns repeat experience could sully the “brand” of the resort.

At Lake Tahoe, a 38-home subdivision has measures in response to wildfire risk that the developer said hopes will serve as a “gold standard model” for other development in mountain communities.

Chris Nelson, the developer, established a forest management and fuel reduction plant that must be carried out before the homes are built, explains the Sierra Sun. In addition, each building will be equipped with advanced communications systems under control of the local fire district, which will send out early warning signals in case of fire.

The 3,000-square-foot homeowners association building will be constructed with materials that will allow it to be a shelter-in-place facility for all residents if evacuation is not possible.

After the snow has gone, there are roofs to repair

JACKSON, Wyo. — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort set another record for winter visitors, this time the numbers emboldened by new Ikon Pass holders. Down in the valley in Jackson, there’s plenty of work for people with skills to repair roofs damaged by the heavy snows of winter.

“There’s definitely a lot of leaky roofs this year,” said Kevin Marshall, owner of Cowboy Plumbing and heating. “More so than normal, I would say.”

Homeowners can take preventative measures, such as using heat tape in vulnerable spots like valleys and eaves to reduce ice buildup, explains the Jackson Hole News&Guide. They can also install crickets, metal triangular frames that prevent snow from knocking pipes over.

“On the newer construction, we put our vent pipes, if possible, within 4 feet of the ridgeline,” Marshall said. “But a lot of the older houses have their pipes close to the bottom of the roof. They’re more likely to get broken off with snow sliding than the ones higher up on the ridgeline.”

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