Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Warm weather brings wildlife out

Spring means wildlife is on the move in the Wood River Valley

Express Staff Writer

Amateur herpetologist Alan Rickers of Hailey holds a rattler out Croy Creek west of Hailey in this 2008 photograph. Approaching or handling rattlesnakes can be deadly. Photo by

The greening hillsides and sprouting leaves seen throughout the Wood River Valley mean spring has finally arrived.

Another sure sign that spring has come and summer is not far off are the scads of avian and ground-dwelling wildlife that have begun to fly, walk and slither through the valley unannounced. Their arrival means it's a good time to begin thinking about how we coexist with the critters out our back door.

Down south on the drier side of the valley in places like Croy Canyon, people should expect to start coming across types of wildlife to which they may want to give a wide berth.

The recent warm weather has already begun to draw rattlesnakes from their dens, where they can be found in bunches waiting for warmer weather to disperse. According to amateur Hailey herpetologist Alan Rickers, the snakes leave their dens during the first warm weather around Memorial Day and become increasingly active as temperatures rise.

"Democrat Gulch is the worst place I know of to take a dog right now," he said. "If you are running there you are going to run into snakes."

Rarely, if ever, does a spring go by in the valley without reports of neighborhood wanderings of Ursus americanus trickling in. In recent weeks, black bears have been spotted in many locations throughout the north valley, including in the backyard of at least one Adams Gulch home.

Other bear sightings have occurred in west Ketchum, though residents in that leafy part of town would likely claim that's not too surprising. More startled was the local cyclist who last week had a close encounter with a black bear that raced in front of him as he rode down valley on state Highway 75 near the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters north of Ketchum.

Clearly, it's a good time for residents to keep a sharp eye out as they drive or ride along local roads. It's also important to make sure to be careful how and when you place your trash out for pickup. An untended garbage can is an inviting food source for bears, whose fat reserves diminish during months of hibernation.

Valley homeowners should wait until the morning of trash pickup to place their garbage out at the curb unless they'd prefer to clean up a several-block-long mess of rifled-through kitchen waste. Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game recommend that homeowners keep garbage cans inside garages when not in use, close garage doors to keep wild animals away from trash and bring pet bowls and pet food inside once pets have been fed.

Keeping bears from becoming habituated to human food sources will help keep the bruins alive and out of trouble. Fish and Game officers are sometimes called in to lethally remove a bear when it becomes too accustomed to people.

Elsewhere throughout the valley, small groups of elk and deer have begun their annual uphill migrations to high summer ranges. Good places to spot them include the south-facing hillsides in side drainages to the Big Wood River like Lake and Eagle creeks north of Ketchum. It's important to maintain a proper distance from the herds and keep dogs under control.

Close to the river, many locals have been treated to sightings of the ungainly looking Wyoming moose, or Alces alces shirasi. It's wise to keep a safe distance from these dark-colored ungulates, which can turn on people, especially those with dogs in tow.

The Phantom Hill wolves have been quiet. For now, there's no word of a new litter.

Wolf packs in the northern Rocky Mountains generally give birth to litters sometime around the middle of April. But due to their small size, wolf pups generally do not begin to move far from their dens for at least a few months.

Jason Kauffman:

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