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Whitewater River Paddling in Yellowstone

Expanded Yellowstone Paddling Under Consideration in Congress. The River Paddling Protection Act, a bill that could expand Yellowstone paddling on certain lakes and rivers is under consideration in Congress, where it’s already been passed by one House committee.

Senate Bill 2018, is sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and would end 60-year-old regulations that prohibits paddling on certain lakes and rivers in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. The bill is supported by the nonpartisan American Whitewater group, which works nationally to implement and oversee paddling in an environmentally conscious manner.

The bill, would not force the National Park Service to open huge areas for Yellowstone paddling, but would give them the ability to open areas on their own discretion.



Yellowstone Park Opens

Yellowstone National Park Opens this Friday, April 18th.

The following are tentative opening dates for interior Park roads:

April 18: Mammoth to Old Faithful; Madison to West Entrance; Norris to Canyon.
May 2: Canyon to Lake; Lake to East Entrance (Lake is one mile south of Fishing Bridge).
May 9: Lake to South Entrance; West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass); Tower to Tower Fall.
May 23: Tower Fall to Canyon (Dunraven Pass); Beartooth Highway.

A snowplow blows snow


Winter In Yellowstone

In Yellowstone National Park, one-ton bison bulls plow snow caves. Their massive, woolly heads dig to reach grass that will sustain them till green up comes to this high country months from now. Half-ton cows and calves spend their winter days in the same routine. Their movement is determined by Mother Nature. They go where they can eat grass. The weather is a wild card. If big snowstorms bury the bison winter range, or the snow becomes encrusted with ice that keeps bison from their food, more will migrate and fewer will return in Spring.

There is a wealth of unique and fascinating treasures hidden in the lodgepole pine forests inside Yellowstone National Park. A few steps away from any main trail one can spot numerous animal tracks in the fresh snow including pine marten, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, fox and deer mice tracks. Many small woodland animals don’t hibernate, but thrive under the snow in their own subnivean world. Under the snow is an active world of pocket gophers, mice and voles. There are tunnels connected to the trees, which is why foxes are so prevalent in that area near town. Foxes can pinpoint the critters through the snow.

The lodgepole pine makes up 80 percent of Yellowstone’s tree cover. Lodgepole have no taproot, working well here because the soil is typically only six to 12 inches deep. The tree is also a sun-tolerant tree, so when areas open up after wildfire, the tree has a large areas with a lot of sun to colonize. Other Yellowstone trees such as firs and spruce can’t tolerate the sun nearly as well, making lodgepole the dominant tree in Yellowstone, at least for now. Trees produce different cones due to genetic variability. The one basic, normal pine cone that all trees exhibit on a two-year cycle which you see on trees all the time. The other kind, like found on Yellowstone’s lodgepoles, never open up and stay on the tree indefinitely and won’t open scales unless they experience temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit. These are called serotinous cones.



Yellowstone South Gate Now Open

The South Entrance to Yellowstone National Park opened Friday and now nearly all park roads are open to auto traffic for the season.

Federal budget cuts had threatened to delay the opening by up to two weeks. The budget cuts took effect March 1. Yellowstone officials delayed plowing to save money. The decision worried many business owners, including Geyser Kayak Tours.

Businesses and the towns of Jackson and Cody, Wyoming, raised $171,000 to hire Wyoming Department of Transportation crews to help with plowing. The effort enabled all park entrances to open on time.

Only the route over Dunraven Pass remains to be plowed. That section of road is scheduled to open May 24.


Yellowstone Lake cutthroat decline, bad news for Osprey

Over the past 25 years, invasive lake trout have reproduced rapidly in Yellowstone Lake, preying on the native cutthroat trout. Cutthroat swim into streams and rivers connected to the lake to spawn, and occupy more shallow depths in the lake than lake trout do. Lake trout eat the cutthroats and tend to stick to deeper waters, where osprey and other animals can’t catch them as easily as cutthroats.

The decline in Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake has meant that anglers in Yellowstone National Park must release any of the native fish that are caught. Unfortunately, for the park’s osprey, catch-and-release fishing is not an option.

Osprey are among the 40 species of animals in Yellowstone that rely on cutthroat trout as a food source. But unlike grizzly bears, for instance, or even bald eagles — two species that can adapt their diets somewhat to different food sources depending on available prey — osprey are almost entirely reliant on fish. While osprey in other parts of Yellowstone are holding their own, the plunge in cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake has been bad news for osprey nesting in that area.

That’s probably because bald eagles have a wider diet, with fish making up only about 30 percent of their total prey. Bald eagles around Yellowstone Lake can turn to everything form ducks to carrion to help make up for lost trout.

The good news for osprey is that in other parts of Yellowstone, where other prey fish are more readily available, the birds are doing well, with populations holding steady. In fact, some osprey are probably leaving the lake for other waters inside or outside the park.

With assistance from the Yellowstone Park Foundation, the National Park Service has hired commercial netters to remove as many lake trout from Yellowstone Lake as possible. While lake trout can’t be eradicated from the Yellowstone Lake, the goal is to reduce and hold their numbers at a level low enough that cutthroat can make a significant comeback. More than 1.1 million lake trout have been removed since 1994.

Annual monitoring efforts for osprey, bald eagles and other birds will also continue, as researchers and raptors wait for cutthroat to return.



Budget Cuts Delay Yellowstone Summer Openings

Our season at Geyser Kayak Tours has always been the same as that of Yellowstone National Park. After all, nobody can even drive into the Park during Spring, until Park officials open the roads. Some years we have to delay our opening further because of weather, or more specifically ice on Yellowstone Lake. In 2011, Yellowstone Lake did not thaw until the 3rd week in June!

This year, thanks to across-the-board federal spending cuts that took effect Friday, Yellowstone National Park will not be opening on schedule. This not only effects thousands of visitors from across the country, but also effects locals who depend on those visitors for their jobs.

Staggered opening dates for Yellowstone’s five entrances will be delayed by several weeks, as the costly and complex road-clearing operations that normally begin in early March will wait until more snow has melted before starting.

Superintendent Dan Wenk is expected to formally announce the delays Today in a conference call with reporters. But in a conversation earlier this week with gateway community business leaders, Wenk detailed how federally mandated spending cuts will effect Yellowstone.

The park’s north and west entrances will open April 26, one week behind schedule, according to Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, who was among those included in the call with Wenk. The east, south and northeast entrances will all open two weeks later than scheduled, with the east entrance opening May 17 and the south and northeast entrances opening May 24.



Appetite for Moose

Wolves roaming the north end of Grand Teton National Park and southern Yellowstone National Park have developed an appetite for moose during the wintertime, a study shows.

Some 43 moose, including 25 cows, were found wolf-killed by Grand Teton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers during the winters of 2010 and 2011. Preliminary data shows another 13 were killed during 2012, Grand Teton biologist Steve Cain said. Wildlife officials have been dealing with a Jackson Hole moose herd in decline for years.

The two wolf packs studied were the Phantom Springs and Pacific Creek packs, which each numbered 13 animals in year-end 2011 counts. The packs were chosen because their home ranges are free of elk feedgrounds. In addition to the 43 moose killed during the first two winters of the study, the packs killed 58 elk and four deer. Predation dynamics in the summer differ significantly because of prey availability and risk. The two packs subsisted almost entirely on the smaller species during the summer, eating a diet of 93 percent elk.

Elk occupy the northern reaches of Grand Teton National Park and surrounding national forest in high densities during the warm seasons, but they migrate south when the snow flies. They mostly winter on the National Elk Refuge and on state-run feedgrounds in the Gros Ventre drainage.

The Jackson Hole moose herd is less than a fifth the size it was 20 years ago, Game and Fish “job completion reports” show. The population, estimated at 919 at the last count, is about quarter the department’s objective of 3,600. Reasons for the local decline are a matter of debate, but they are thought to include climate change, wildfire-scarred landscapes, parasites and increased abundance of large predators.

Moose getting hit by vehicles has been one factor in the decline. Nine moose were killed on park roads last year, and Highway 390 has been a hotspot for moose deaths over the past several winters. Herdwide road kill counts are not currently available, but they are being assembled by the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation.

Game and Fish officials in charge of managing the moose herd weren’t dismissive of the effects of wolf predation.

“Any mortality on the reproductive sector [of the moose herd] is something that we have to contend with,” Game and Fish biologist Doug Brimeyer said.

In mild winters, Brimeyer said, the feedground system could be a cause of increased wolf predation on moose.

“Feedgrounds do pull elk down onto localized areas,” he said, “but if they didn’t pull the elk down we’d be dealing with other problems.

“In a more severe winters, those elk would leave those areas also,” Brimeyer said. “Before wolves were there, I witnessed mass movements out of the Buffalo Valley.”


Comment on Yellowstone Cell Tower

Improved cell phone coverage and cellular data services inside Yellowstone National Park is essential for the safety and accessibility of all park visitors. This is especially true in the heavily used Yellowstone Lake Area, Fishing Bridge, and Grant Village Area. The National Park Service has extended the public comment period on a proposal by Verizon Wireless to construct a cellphone tower in Yellowstone National Park until Dec. 17th.

The proposed cell tower would serve the Lake and Fishing Bridge areas of Yellowstone. The 100-foot tall tower and accompanying ground facilities would be erected at an existing utility site, next to existing telephone and electric lines. The Yellowstone Lake area is the only location in the park where construction of a new cell tower is permitted under the park’s management plan.

If the permit is approved, construction would begin in early 2013.

Comment Here


Over 300,000 Lake Trout Destroyed

More than 300,000 lake trout were caught in Yellowstone Lake and killed this year, a record for fisheries managers trying to suppress the invasive trout species. The netting has been going on since 2000 as part of an effort to restore decimated populations of native cutthroat trout in Yellowstone national park’s largest lake.

The big lakers, also known as mackinaw, have outcompeted and eaten the native cutthroats since they were illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake. The culling operation is finally reaching kill levels necessary to effectively suppress the ecologically damaging lake trout population, estimated at about 500,000 adult fish. Approximately 224,000 lakers were netted in 2011, but the total kill for the decade before was just 500,000.

One reason for the increase in netted lake trout is the use of tracking telemetry transmitters to find out where the fish were spawning and where they’re congregating. The kill was also successful this year because fishermen fished as long as they could, netting the 139-square-mile lake from just after the ice melted until last week, Hottle said. In 2011, Yellowstone contractors netted the lake for 17 weeks, but the season spanned just 10 weeks in 2010 and three weeks in 2009.

Cutthroat trout are considered a keystone species in the Yellowstone Lake ecosystem. They historically ran up 60 feeder streams by the thousands each spring to spawn. The spawn made them an easy catch for predators, and cut-throat were once an important food source for grizzly bears, bald eagles, ospreys and river otters.


Expect Lower, Clearer Water

Runoff is over.

After this weekend’s warm weather finishes with the snowpack left above 9,000 feet, anglers should find most of the free-flowing rivers and streams throughout the Big Horn Basin and Yellowstone Park in fine shape the rest of the summer.

Back in the day, when native Yellowstone cutthroat were abundant in the Thorofare River and its many tributaries, it was a real treat to mount up on horseback and trail into the Thorofare Wilderness region for a week or so and target these cutthroat with dry flies.

The ride is long over Deer Creek Pass before one hits Butte Creek and follows it to its confluence with the Thorofare River. The trail is long and arduous and the occasional rodeo when a pack string would blow up made the trip that much more special because one could expect to see thousands upon thousands of trout in the river and its many tributaries.

The opportunity to enjoy that special resource passed in 1998 and was literally down to a few spawning natives in a 30 mile stretch by 2000. Since then, a dry fly expedition was pointless in the Thorofare until it joined the Yellowstone River. There, many cutthroat (compared to the mid-lower Thorofare) can be found swimming around giving the appearance the native fish isn’t in peril from lake trout and whirling disease depredation.

My hope is to see them back in the upper Thorofare region while I can still sit a saddle.

Speaking of native Yellowstone cutthroat, Yellowstone Lake is now open to anglers. All lake trout caught must be consumed, or be killed and then returned to the lake to replace the biomass lost when the cutthroat population nose-dived. To facilitate a quick descent for these despised non-native implants, puncture the air bladder with a knife or disembowel the lake trout before tossing overboard.

The Yellowstone River below Fishing Bridge to the Mud Volcano access areas remains closed until July 15. Anglers can expect to find the fishing slow because the numbers of native cutthroat have been reduced to 95 percent of their former numbers in Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries and outlet. Those cutts that are caught will be of good-size with a few smaller to show trout recruitment is occurring.

The closure on the North Fork of the Shoshone east of Newton Creek to Buffalo Bill State Park remains in effect until July 1. This closure is an annual one and is done to protect spawning Yellowstone cutthroat and rainbows, so we can all enjoy what has been a superb wild trout fishery. I know the river looks good and the fishing would be good, but you will just have to wait, or pay the fine.

The Yellowstone cutthroat is a beautiful fish and we are lucky to have them in many of our waters around the area. It is too bad there isn’t more protection by regulation on a fish that deserves to be released alive, rather than consumed, until it has been determined the native trout can be sustained naturally and in numbers better than today, 2012.

Water conditions have been good on the entire North Fork with some blowing out in late afternoons from snowmelt, but clearing for some good to excellent morning through noon fishing west of the Newton Creek closure.

Once the river opens in entirety July 1, the river should be lower and clearer. Wading and boating will still require much caution over the Fourth of July holiday.

Fishing has been really good in Bighorns and at some of our local irrigation impoundments such as Boysen and Buffalo Bill.

Up high in the Bighorns, the North and South Tongue are fishing well. Those numerous beaver dammed, brookie filled streams draining the crest of the Bighorns are a hoot right now. Beat the heat and give it a go with dry flies or ultra-light spinning gear.

Boysen has a bite going on for numerous species of fish. Trout, walleye and crappie are whacking lures and bait. The lake’s in great shape for the upcoming holiday.

Buffalo Bill has been fishing well, too. There are walleye (no live release allowed), but the action on lake trout and rainbows, browns and cutthroat has been good because the reservoir never did blow out from this spring’s snowmelt. The west arm of Buffalo Bill is closed to angling up to Gibb’s Bridge until July 15.


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