GRIZZLIES, GRIZZLIES, GRIZZLIES:
by Brad Comfret
“It’s like something you’d see on the Nature Channel!” I exclaimed as I watched the scene unfold through a high-powered spotting scope.
About a half mile away, on the opposite side of the lens, a nearly 700-pound grizzly bear took a swipe at a wolf that wanted to share the freshly killed bison.
The bear spread his width and breadth across the carcass. The wolves, members of the Blacktail wolf pack, had killed the bison and weren’t about to give it up.
This interaction -- a privilege to witness -- is not uncommon between Yellowstone’s top two predators – especially in the springtime during the peak of wolf and bear activity.
In March and April, when bears emerge hungry from their dens, they lumber across the countryside in search of winter-killed bison and elk and, sometimes, frozen fish.
This is the prime time for viewing Ursus arctos horribilis in its natural habitat – and Yellowstone is the premier viewing place in the world for both grizzly bears and wolves.
Numbering nearly 150 in Yellowstone, and up to 600 in the surrounding ecosystem, this federally protected species is only one reason to visit Yellowstone when the ground thaws in April:
Elk, bison and pronghorn antelope, as well as moose and bighorn sheep, give birth to their babies in spring and the park is full of life as these youngsters learn to suckle and walk. At the same time winter-weakened animals finally succumb just as green grass peaks from below the final snows of winter.
Spring- the time of life and death in Yellowstone!
Wildflowers blanket mountain passes as months progress, peaking in late June, when Lupine, Paintbrush and Balsamroot explode in shades of purple, red and yellow.
Monkey flowers cling near hot springs, while the delicate Yellowstone Sand Verbena dot the shore of Yellowstone Lake – at nearly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide the largest high mountain lake in North America.
Here, trout congregate at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, which empties out of the lake, in a frenzy, racing against time and predators to spawn and procreate.
The fish draw the Grizzlies, who, in turn, chase osprey, eagles, and other birds of prey from the meat. Evidence of their claw sharpening can be found as deep scratches on mature lodgepole pines in the area.
Further north, the grizzlies’ smaller cousins, American black bears, also hungry after hibernation, eat grass, berries, eggs, insects, carrion, and just about anything else they can get their five-toed feet on.
As for the grizzlies, back at Lamar Valley that morning, predator hierarchy was evident when an intruding female grizzly was promptly chased away from the bison carcass by the silverback male.
In bear land, the big boars get the meat, while sows with cubs are next in line followed by juvenile adults.
Wolves, re-introduced to Yellowstone in 1995-96, have added an interesting twist to the usual feeding frenzy following bears coming out of hibernation; wolves kill elk and bison and the bears now follow the wolf packs to steal the meat.
When I saw a member of the Lamar Canyon pack howl to communicate its catch a mere 100 yards from the vehicle I shouted
“It fulfilled all of my dreams to see wolves where they live. It was a great day for me. One I will never forget!”
For more information on springtime in Yellowstone and how to book a tour with Adventure Yellowstone, Inc. the experts on the natural life of Yellowstone visit www.national-park-tours.com or contact owners Steve and Mayu Braun at SeeGrizzly@aol.com.
Photo Credit: Grizzly bear mother and cub: Yellowstone National Park