Living in an ecosystem that includes wide open sagebrush views means that finding wildlife to observe is simple. Where I grew up in Maine, the dense forests hide the majority of wildlife to the casual passerby and make wildlife sightings exceptionally special for they require luck, patience, and respectful silence. Having lived in Jackson Hole for almost a year now, I have realized that the wide open landscape and population of “charismatic megafauna” makes wildlife sightings likelier to occur and easier to take for granted by the general public. Now that the summer tourist season is in full swing, I have been witness to a number of unfortunate wildlife-human interactions, from people approaching black bears and grizzly bears (with and without cubs) to “get a picture,” cornering a bull moose against a wall of cottonwoods, running towards deer, pronghorn, and bison to get a closer look–the list goes on. And it’s not just tourists to blame, I’ve seen locals pass slower, sightseeing drivers with incredible speed and nearly hit coyotes, elk, and other animals. Someone hit and killed a bear just a couple weeks ago in the area. I’ve heard Yellowstone rangers describe some drivers impatiently bump bison with their vehicles to get them off the roads. “Wildlife jams” happen regularly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem due to the numbers of visitors and wildlife sharing the same travel corridors.
A couple months ago, word got out that there was a coyote den in a picturesque spot right off a popular road. For weeks, photographers with lenses as long as my arm were lined up at all hours to snap photos of the coyote puppies when they emerged from their hidden den underneath an old cabin. The park rangers placed obvious signs at a safe distance from the den to keep people from disturbing the young family. Sadly, these signs were only written in English (not representative of many of the summer visitors) and many people disobeyed the official closure. One impatient photographer who was clearly frustrated that the pups hadn’t come out within his preferred time schedule walked right up to the cabin and knocked on the wall above the entrance to the den to encourage them to come out. They did not comply, thankfully.
I also frequented the area in order to potentially glimpse the coyotes and was lucky enough to be there at the right moment to snap a few shots of my own (from outside the official closure–with a telephoto lens).
If you’re ever lucky enough to observe wildlife, I encourage your respectful silence and distance. If others near you are not being respectful, educate them. How would you feel if you were having dinner with your family while strangers were knocking on your windows and staring in at you?