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.

Dormant Geysers in Yellowstone Active Again

Morning Geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin

Morning Geyser is one of the tallest and prettiest geysers in the Lower Geyser Basin.  The wide eruptions have the potential of reaching 200 feet tall. It is located in the Fountain Paint Pots area, just behind Fountain Geyser.  Morning Geyser last erupted in 1994. The first reported eruption this year occurred on Wed., June 20. A second eruption was reported the following day, with geyser gazers reporting online that Morning Geyser spewed for up to 30 minutes, reaching a height of 200 feet.

For the past few weeks, geyser gazer Maureen Edgerton has watched a change in her favorite geyser, Fountain Geyser, of longer intervals between eruptions than seen in recent years. It may be that there is a connection between Morning Geyser and Fountain Geyser, and a change in Fountain Geyser could result in changes in other thermal features in the area.

Edgerton’s time spent watching the area paid off with the first eruption shortly after noon on Wednesday. She noticed it first from the road, and even though she knows the area well, she remained skeptical, Morning Geyser is often confused with bursts seen from other geysers in the area. But Edgerton became certain that it was Morning Geyser erupting as she turned around, parked and headed to the overlook.

How long will Morning Geyser continue erupting? That’s hard to say, but based on past active cycles, it could be days or weeks. Then again, these two eruptions might be all that’s seen for a while. But we hope it continues to delight us for awhile, and allows more people to check seeing this rare geyser in eruption off their list.

But for those of us not in the Park at the moment, thankfully, we can watch a past eruption.

Fan and Mortar Geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin

To the delight of many, it seems that on the June 9, Fan and Mortar geysers started what is expected to be another cycle of activity. Every couple of years, Fan and Mortar geysers take a break and go silent. Prior to this eruption, they were last known to erupt in October 2011. Sometimes they take longer breaks than this, but no one appeared disappointed by the short nap and their recent reawakening.

When active, they erupt about every 3-5 days, sometimes appearing to “prefer” nighttime eruptions. Let’s hope this cycle sees more daytime eruptions.

Fan and Mortar Geysers are located in the Upper Geyser Basin, not far from Morning Glory Pool. Expect to see geyser gazers waiting there when it seems like an eruption is ‘due’ unless they all head to the more rare, Morning Geyser.

No further eruptions have been seen or noted by knowledgeable geyser enthusiasts, but one promising ‘event cycle’ was observed. It may take a bit longer for Fan and Mortar to fully reactivate.

Echinus Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin

The announcement of a third geyser reactivating came from an email sent to a geyser email list from Yellowstone National Park ranger Denise Herman, who relayed a message from Jacob B. Lowenstern, the scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey’sYellowstone Volcano Observatory. Lowenstern noted that a temperature probe indicated that Echinus erupted at 3:25 a.m. on Mon., June 18, stating that “no one saw it, but it is the first known eruption since January 2011.”

Janet White is the creator of

Morning Geyser Erupts

Yellowstone geyser enthusiasts are reporting that a handful of Yellowstone National Park geysers appear to be active again after periods of dormancy, including one geyser that last erupted almost two decades ago.

Morning Geyser, quiet for 18 years, is now active, and there is news that an electronic monitor on Echinus in Norris Geyser Basin picked up an eruption. North Goggles Geyser has also started erupting more regularly than the lone annual display it has typically shown over the past few years. The last time it was this active was 2004. Joining the list of newly reactivated thermal features are Fan and Mortar geysers, which may be beginning an active cycle.


Morning Geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin

Survive Yellowstone Eruption

While some folk worry about an asteroid strike bringing about the end of the world as we know it, as scientists say it did for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, North America is actually sitting on its own extinction-level event waiting to happen.

“Everything would be wiped out; it would take years for the climate to recover and decades for the rivers to clear up because everything would be choked with volcanic ash for a wide area around the eruption site,” said Kelly Russell, professor of volcanology at the University of British Columbia. “The southern latitudes of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would all see ash cover, how thick it would be depends on the winds and the amount of magma.”

Russell stresses that such super eruptions are extremely rare — the last one happened before human civilization — but that they can and do happen, and Yellowstone, in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, is an active field that has seen three massive eruptions.

He compares Yellowstone to Mount St. Helens in Washington state in 1980.

“It produced one cubic kilometre of magma, and we saw ash fall from it in southern B.C., a small amount, but it was there, and when we look at the very largest eruptions that have taken place at Yellowstone, they can spew out a thousand cubic kilometres, so that’s a thousand times larger than the Mount St. Helens eruption that’s in everybody’s minds.”

Russell points out that two feet of ash from the Crater Lake eruption in Oregon 7,700 years ago can be found in Oliver, B.C., and in the banks of the Bow River in Calgary. He says if Yellowstone cuts loose, the southern Canadian prairies could get covered in many feet of ash, and the American states closest to Yellowstone would be smothered with an even thicker layer of the sterile rock powder, killing off livestock and leaving them unable to grow food.

“The ash is terrible, take a window and grind it into a coarse flour, then breath that in, it does terrible things to the human body. It would be important to have masks and filters, if you were trying to survive it,” Russell said. “The United States would stop being a food-exporting nation and starting being a food-importing nation.”

Yellowstone’s volcano doesn’t have the classic menacing cone shape, so many people don’t know that a magma chamber bigger than New York City lies beneath the steaming surface.

640,000 years ago, animals similar to elephants, rhinoceroses and zebras roamed the plains of the United States when Yellowstone blew — and it took out the animals and every other living thing that couldn’t fly away from the blast.

Scientists estimate Yellowstone’s volcano explodes every 600,000 to 700,000, and some say the time could be coming for another eruption. If it blows, the chances of survival sound bleak, but that’s not stopping some survivalists from preparing.

“Some people who visit there say there are more hot springs popping up there, and there is more of a sulphur smell that’s stronger than ever. You take from it what you want and I just pay attention to it a little more than the average person, just in case,” said Jason Charles, a firefighter in New York City. “I don’t want it to be a curve ball we don’t see coming. I keep it in the back of my head.”

Charles was a paramedic on 9/11 and saw thousands of people struggling to breath through the toxic dust. He has special dust and ash filters for his gas mask in case of another NYC disaster, or if Yellowstone blows.

“I know some people who have bought UV lights, in case they need to grow their own food – but that’s also assuming that the power grid stays up, but then there’s a space issue, how much could you grow?” he said. “It’s better to store food that will last.”

Charles has a one-year supply of food for his family, including his wife and four children. Meal-ready-to-eats (MREs), canned pasta and lots of canned fruit are stuffed into his apartment and his storage locker. He prepares for all sorts of disasters because he says no one should depend on the government to save them.

“The government couldn’t handle (Hurricane) Katrina. Compared to Yellowstone, Katrina was a drop in the bucket,” he said. “I have always heard as a rumour, they would wait for the masses to die and whatever survivors are left, that’s who they’d take care of, because they can’t take care of hundreds of millions of people we have living here in the United States.”

Jake Lowenstern, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is the guy in charge of the Yellowstone volcano observatory.

“Worst-case scenario, a super eruption is a thousand cubic kilometres of material gets sent out of the magma chamber. When that happens it’s going to send out a lot of ash, and it circles the globe and changes the climate for years, drops the temperature for a few years,” Lowenstern said.

He said while a super eruption is highly unlikely, and even if it does happen not many would survive, it doesn’t hurt to prep.

“Things you can do to prepare for one kind of disaster are useful for any kind of disaster: lots of food, water, medical supplies and batteries on hand, and for an eruption, add good masks, air filters and weather stripping to keep the ash out of homes.”

Kayaking past Geysers on Yellowstone Lake

Another beautiful day for our Yellowstone kayak tours. All our day paddles and sunset trips meet at the marina at Grant Village, on the western edge of Yellowstone Lake. Day paddles meet at 9:00am, and after a brief introduction to the area along with kayaking equipment and techniques, your guide will lead you around the shoreline to the West Thumb Geyser Basin where there are many geothermal features on land and under water we will explore from our kayaks. On our full day paddles we continue on to the remote Potts geyser basin where we stop for a picnic lunch which we provide, and then walk around exploring this primitive geyser basin where there are no signs, no boardwalks and most importantly no other people. We then return the way we came arriving back to our vehicles anytime between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, depending on the group. Our sunset paddles are a bit shorter, meeting at 6:00pm and paddling over to the West Thumb Geyser Basin then returning to Grant Village without stopping around 9:00pm. Absolutely no previous experience is required, our guides will teach you everything you need to know. We have both single and double kayaks available. Drive time from West Yellowstone is about an hour and a half, or 2 hours from Jackson Hole, all through Grand Teton National Park.