Wildlife in the Tetons


Jun 16, 2012
So, when we first moved to Utah seven years ago, we started going to the Tetons in the fall to hear the elk bugling and to see other wildlife. The first three years, we were always treated to huge elk herds with large bulls bugling. We even usually saw a dozen or so moose on those trips.

In the past four years, though, we haven't seen anything. I mean, no joke, we see less than two elk and no moose.

I don't know how to explain that. We hear more bugling elk in the Uintas and see many more moose in the Uintas than we do in the Grand Teton National Park.

Where have they all gone? Does anyone have better luck up there?
I was last there in 2009, and it was rockin'. Saw all sorts of wildlife, especially moose. I was there about this time. However, for wildlife, you can't beat yellowstone, especially for elk and bears.
Yeah, we've bailed to Swan Valley. I had some good luck with wildlife a couple of years ago in the Wyoming Range.
FWIW, I had another very close encounter (20' or less) with a bear in Grand Teton today. This time it was a little cinnamon bear, right at the entrance to the Rockafeller Preserve between Moose and Teton Village. Still no sign of any other wildlife there though. Yellowstone on the other hand....
But where are all those bugling elk? That's what has me so confused.
The weird thing about that is five years ago and the two years before that at the end of September I saw lots and lots of bulls in the Tetons. But I haven't seen anything since then. I guess something changed...and next year I'll hit Yellowstone for my elk fix.
The elk population in Yellowstone has been significantly reduced in the last few years. It may be related to the healthiness of the wolf population. This reduction in population size is good in one respect... The riparian ecosystem, especially in the Lamar Valley, had been very badly overgrazed in the last couple of decades due to overpopulation of elk and other ungulates. There are interesting discussions of this predator/prey interaction in various places. Yellowstone is one of the most heavily studied ecosystems in the world WRT this interaction and it's impact on the environment. One interesting report is the 2011 annual report (and previous year's reports) from the Yellowstone Wolf Project program in the park. If there is interest I would drum up a few more resources for the group. BTW the coyote population is now way down also for the same reason.
Before I offer my on topic two cents here I want to say I'm sorry to you Aldaron for my Unabomber comment a couple of weeks or more ago in Vegan Hikers White Mt. Thread. I have a sometimes combative sense of humor many people do not appreciate so I can offer no excuse and the apology is of course unconditional. My further apologies for taking far too long.

I have family with a nice little Ranch NW of Dubois, WY almost on the edge of the Washakie Wilderness that has been the gateway to my favorite place on earth for 33 years. In the mid to latest 90s and earliest 00s many of the wolves reintroduced in Yellowstone marched right across the Teton Wilderness and into the Dunoir Valley in less than a year, covering immense acreage in a very short time. They promptly began to feed on all the ungulates and my cousin's elk hunting business took a serious hit for a few years. IMO things balanced out pretty quickly for the elk but the moose that were daily visitors disappeared for years. They've since come back but not nearly in the numbers as previously. I believe all the ungulates are adapting quite a bit faster than many folks would like to believe. Although wolf advocates for years dismissed the effect they had on moose studies a couple of years ago in Northern GTNP demonstrate that wolves do indeed effect our most solitary of ungulates significantly. There have of course been other things effecting moose but the suggestion of the "mysterious dietary deficiency" fell on a lot of deaf ears around here because at the same time almost all of the harvested moose were in the pique of health. Climate change also logically effects moose significantly and in addition to the absence of real wolf numbers IMO could be a huge reason why Colorado and the Bighorns now have thriving moose populations. Ever notice how the Bighorns have a tiny fraction of the beetle kill the Absaroka does.

At that same time ungulates were continuing to thrive in Grand Teton. Then perhaps about 2008 or so some wolves moved in and denned up in several places. I noticed a steep decline in my own ungulate sightings. But after a few years now I saw the IMO balancing act we'd seen in the Absaroka. I don't see the 30-70 moose I used to driving the hour and a half from that Ranch to Jackson anymore, but that was arguably unnatural anyway.

Although I disagree on the extent of riparian restoration because the trophic-cascade studies out of Oregon State have been largely discredited for not taking into account among other things an enormous variable, serious swings in amount of /seasonal/annual precipitation, I do in the end agree the wolf is good for the GYE however much I believe in controlling ultimate numbers. With wolves here again the ecosystem is quasi-complete and this greatest mammalian habitat of the Temperate Zone is all that more special.

Ungulates of course have many other controls like disease and winter-kill, and the winter of 2010-2011 was historic, we essentially had no Spring.
Before I offer my on topic two cents here I want to say I'm sorry to you Aldaron for my Unabomber comment a couple of weeks or more ago in Vegan Hikers White Mt. Thread. I have a sometimes combative sense of humor many people do not appreciate so I can offer no excuse and the apology is of course unconditional. My further apologies for taking far too long.

Thanks. It's sometimes hard for people to understand the world of an introvert, but, of course, just because someone is an introvert doesn't mean he or she is a serial killer :)

As for the elk, I suspect you're right. I don't know if the wolves are killing off lots of elk or if the elk have just moved to safer areas to defend themselves against the wolves, or if it's a combination of the two, but I do suspect the wolves have something to do with decreased sightings of elk and moose.
What I have seen and talked to archery hunters around Island Park with the elk. The idea is that the elk are adapting to the increase in predation and staying in cover more and not being vocal so as to telegraph their location to the wolves. The wolves are killing more as well.
Thanks for your graciousness @Aldaron. It's also hard for people to understand the world of an occasional ignoramus like myself.

Elk remain above objectives in GTNP and on the refuge and across the region with the exception of certain drainages. They took a huge hit on the northern end of the ecosystem in Montana but that herd was WAY overpopulated for its amount of range. USFWS and others have suggested cutting back if not ending feeding for a long time but of course my friends and family in the outfitting business are vocal about dismissing that idea.

Bob you're quite right about adaptation. I've noticed elk moving in huge numbers with several more satellite bulls on watch than before the lobos showed up. I was admittedly pretty anti-wolf after they did what they did over by Dubois and because they got three of the ranch's dogs. I am still considered to be on the right of that fence by many because I do believe in hunting them but I have seen the balancing act I've mentioned before come far faster than I possibly could have imagined when the wolves were running with free reign aside from the Frontcountry "shoot, shovel, and shutup culture."

Right now there are of course thousands out there on the refuge, snowing more than predicted today. Folks I have been blessed [not religious, just an expression] to wander the southern half of the ecosystem a long time. When you come back let me know and I'll give you the best update I can on where critters are at the time. Saw a big curl and a quarter ram on Millere Butte the other day.
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But where are all those bugling elk? That's what has me so confused.
They are hanging out on I-15 near Roberts, ID causing all kinds of problems on the freeway. I saw 30+ today. Migration patterns have changed this year (different herds than GTNP of course) but there may be similar change in patterns. Recent news story claims Elk harvest is up so wolves do not seem to be an issue.
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