Community Encounter: Ungulates

Community Encounter: Ungulates

By Tiana Wilson

This valley is special for more reasons than anyone can count on one hand. The views, the places, the playgrounds, and the passion all make Jackson Hole what it is. But something that one simply can’t picture this place without is the wildlife. Air, land, and water all hold some of this part of the world’s most magnificent creatures; they truly are the lifeblood of this wild place.

When it was time for me to pack up and move on up here, just a day after my final walk across that stage at CU in Boulder – I was pumped. I was nervous. I was excited. I was ready to see the stars at night again, hear crickets, frogs, coyotes, and the forests breathe. I was leery about not being in a city after having everything close and accessible for so long – but still ready for the change.  

Upon arriving, I had the privilege of finding my own nook in the valley halfway between Jackson and Moose. It isn’t always convenient for those quick little trips to town, we always have more snow and less plows, you can forget getting a package delivered to your door, and there’s always that occasional roar of a plane coming in for a landing or tucking the wheels in after taking off.

But the neighbors? They’re a great time.

My first morning in this new place was in mid-May. The grass was green, trees were just getting their start in terms of growing their new batch of solar panels, birds were singing their spring songs, and I could see a baby something bouncing around what I would assume was its mother within a herd. Wait – a baby? A herd?

I wasn’t in Boulder anymore. Sure, Colorado has its share of furry friends – but not in town, not near the city, and definitely not outside my window. What a wonderful welcome; I was on cloud nine and couldn’t wait to get out there to explore with my camera and start sharing this place with others.

My second morning, I started the same. I checked my window to see if my new neighbors were still outside in the distance, but they had moved on. I made my coffee and pulled another box from the garage to unpack. This time, I had a neighbor in my yard, right behind me. Again – not usually something you get in the city. I didn’t want to turn around too quickly or make it apparent I was startled, it could make things awkward. So I put the box just inside, turned to close to door and non-awkwardly “happen upon” whoever it was.

A bison. Two of them, actually. Mowing my lawn for me just after the morning spring shower we’d just gotten. They were right next to the house. I closed my door, gently, and raced to the window. As most ungulates see in just shapes, he had no idea I was just on the other side of the window, for it was just another square human den with edible flowers growing from the feet. It was a once in a lifetime chance. I was looking into the eye of a bison. They’d always been my favorite animal to watch, photograph, and put plush mini versions of on my bed when I was little. But now, I was face to face with one, in (little to) no danger if I stayed quiet. He didn’t stay long, and neither did his counterpart. But it was really the finish to the welcome into the valley, and a moment that replays in my mind quite often.

I cannot imagine this place without all of its inhabitants. The systems that rely on each piece being present form the greater system of this valley. They need their migration corridors to remain here, to remain healthy, and to remain strong. Migration routes in our community’s ungulates are not instinctual knowledge that just exists within them. Their routes and patterns are passed down from their mothers and then to their offspring, and so on. So when a route ceases to exist, it can take decades to regain that knowledge if it were to return or be altered. Preserving this place we all agree we love so much requires protection of the many working pieces that make it what it is. As a community, we must protect all of our members – even those with more than two legs.

Read about the state of our valley’s ungulates in the State of Wildlife Report here! 

Phone: (307) 733-9417
685 S. Cache St. PO Box 2728
Jackson, Wyoming 83001