Posted: Jun 4, 2013 10:20 PM by Angela Douglas - MTN News
Updated: Jun 4, 2013 10:21 PM
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - Yellowstone National Park is home to hundreds of wildlife species including grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, and wolves. For more than 100 years people have been touring and exploring the park hoping for a glimpse of those animals in their natural, rugged habitat.
"That you can get away from the roads by just a short walk and really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere," said park visitor, Don Lewellen, of Wisconsin, about why he enjoyed the park.
"I think it's really great that it's a huge wilderness area, or pseudo-wilderness area, that people can still come to and see huge animals but also lots of other small nature kind of things," added fellow out-of-state visitor, Alex Reich, of Minnesota.
Spring is arguably the best time to visit Yellowstone for a number of reasons.
This really is the time to see wildlife and to begin to see wildflowers," explained YNP Public Affairs Officer Al Nash. "And who doesn't love seeing baby animals? The bison calves are out running around and we're just starting to see elk calves."
Wildlife safari guide with Yellowstone Safari Co., Devina Stebbins, enjoys guiding in the spring for the simple fact that she's able to expose her clients to more animals.
"We've seen three grizzly bears, we had two cross the road in front of us, four moose, a fox, three or four wolves, coyotes that are just behind us in a den with some pups," she listed off. "So yeah, that's definitely something that particular early season provides: a lot more numbers."
All those sightings happened in one morning. It was an experience Lewellen had been planning for years.
"We've been trying to get this trip for a few years," Lewellen stated. "To see some of the young animals when they come out."
To help maximize their number of wildlife sightings, Lewellen, along with his wife and friends signed up for a guided safari.
"On our own we kind of wander around," said Lewellen. "But with a guide, to really help point you to the right spots, has really been helpful."
"It's great to see the wildlife, but I think it's really fun to be able to get an education and understand the importance of the different aspects of wildlife and how they interact with the geology, how they interact with each other, and how all of them play an important role," the guide said.
One very important role this time of year is motherhood.
"Mothers are more protective of their young and can be more dangerous than animals at any other time of the year," explained Nash.
Kerry Gunther is the Bear Management Biologist at Yellowstone National Park. He advises visitors to keep a conservative distance between themselves and wildlife.
"The important thing is to maintain a safe distance and for bears you should maintain at least 100 yards," Gunther said. "Stay near your vehicle so you can get in if the bear approaches and view and photograph with binoculars and spotting scopes and large camera lenses."
It's also important to stay at least 25 yards from bison and elk. In fact, Gunther once had an encounter with a cow elk right outside his office.
"Actually, right here in Mammoth I had a cow elk that had given birth to a calf and had bedded it down right near my office building. I wasn't aware the calf was there and when I stepped out the back door the cow came at me and chased me just far enough to get me away from her calf. Then she ran back to her calf," Gunther recalled. "So you can have encounters with wildlife anywhere in Yellowstone Park, even in the developed areas where you might not think there's much wildlife. You should always be alert and cautious and looking around for wildlife."
"We want people to come and enjoy wildlife and enjoy the park. We just need them to do so safely. Just a little bit of common sense about pulling all the way off to the side of the road and about being a safe distance," stated Nash. "But wildlife jams, heck! If you haven't been in one in Yellowstone you haven't had the full Yellowstone experience!"
If you do end up in wildlife jam, be patient and and enjoy the one-of-a-kind scenery of America's first National Park.