Guest article from Jackson Hole Eco-Tour Adventures
Mornings are cold and leaves are starting to change. It begins with fireweed flowers and smaller shrubs, before peaking with aspens and cottonwoods, our two major deciduous trees species. The fall has always been a special time with fond memories of still evenings listening for the bugling of elk beneath golden aspen groves. Summer crowds have long departed right as wildlife activity is picking up, making fall one of the best times to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
What is happening in fall anyway?
With the first day of September we are already seeing signs of fall in Grand Teton National Park. Foliage is beginning to change as plants slow the production of the green pigment chlorophyll which is responsible for photosynthesis. As days shorten plant leaves slow down the production of chlorophyll which allows other pigments, called carotenoids, to become visible, appearing as yellow, red, or orange. Fall is a transitional time, our over 1000 plant species are shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for the long winter. Deciduous plants drop their leaves to save energy in winter when they would be otherwise unable to photosynthesize due to freezing temperatures. Without liquid water the chemical reaction cannot occur. In stark contrast to aspens and cottonwoods, our pine, spruce, and fir trees are known as evergreens, appearing to never lose leaves. (they are constantly dropping needles, just not all at once!) Evergreens produce sturdy needles which can resist winters chill, this allows them to begin photosynthesis as soon as water is once again available in the spring. Two unique strategies for surviving in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Many drop their colored leaves or die back to the ground where insulated snow cover protects the living roots.
A transition time for the animals too
Our rutting mammals complete the mating season and begin migrations out of high elevations to more protected valley floors, often concentrating in huge numbers such as elk on the National Elk Refuge. As two thirds of our bird species leave the valley for warmer climates and bears disappear to hibernate, we welcome new arrivals to winter in Jackson Hole. Raptors like the Rough Legged Hawk will soon arrive from the Arctic Circle, and mighty bighorn sheep will return from the rugged Gros Ventre Mountains, beginning their late fall rut just outside the town of Jackson.
Mule deer bucks like this one found while on a Jackson Hole Ecotour will soon start shedding the velvet on their antlers. Young trees are often used to remove the velvet and will be stripped of bark throughout the forest.
One of North America’s most spectacular wildlife behaviors, bull elk will call back and forth, issuing challenges. If you are lucky the next bugle you hear may be close enough to see the performers meet. They will stand tall, broadside to each other. Breathing heavily, water vapor will form in the frosty air. If one does not retreat the two will bow antlers and then lock them together, wrestling back and forth until one gives up and flees. The victor may often attempt to gore the loser while in pursuit. All of our ungulates, or hoofed mammals, mate in fall so that their offspring will be born in spring. And elk aren’t the only ones to aggressively establish dominance; moose, deer, pronghorn, and bison will also be in rut this fall, a unique spectacle to experience beneath the shadow of the Tetons.
Preparing for hibernation
Animals use three primary strategies to survive in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Adapt, Migrate, or Hibernate. One of our most popular animals to see, bears, are experts at the third. Throughout the summer bears build up fat reserves, preparing for winter. As omnivores, they will eat just about everything, grasses, roots, berries, elk calves, carrion, ants, and even moths roosting in high elevation boulder fields! Towards the end of summer foraging picks up, entering a stage called Hyperphagia or over eating. Foraging constantly, bears will eat upwards of 20,000 calories a day!
The magic of fall in the west is something I was introduced to as a young child growing up near Rocky Mountain National Park. In this centennial year of the National Park Service (read more here!) let the experienced guides at Jackson Hole Ecotour Adventures share this story when you visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks this fall. Join us on a half day, full day, or even multi day trip through fall in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it’s one you wont soon forget. Trips from now until December 20th are 10% off when you mention this blog!
Naturalist Josh Metten has spent his entire life exploring and living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. He is an Ecotour Adventures Naturalist, photographer, conservationist, and outdoor enthusiast. Josh lives in Jackson, WY.
Eco Tour Adventures was created with the idea of helping people connect with the natural world through wildlife observation and natural history interpretation. We believe that when one is more familiar with the intricate workings of the ecosystem, he or she has a deeper appreciation and connection with their environment. Join us on an adventure today!
We think Jackson Hole is one of the best places to gaze at the stars. This week we interviewed Dr. Samuel Singer, founder of Wyoming Stargazing, and asked him all about his passion for astronomy and what makes our night sky so special.
When did you first start stargazing?
I have some really early memories of my dad taking me out to watch meteor showers and lunar eclipses. When I really started getting interested in astronomy was in high school. I took an astronomy class; one day we watched a video with John Dopson, something to do with telescope making. Unfortunately he’s just passed away at the age of 99, but for fifty years of his life he traveled around the US teaching people about astronomy. He invented a very efficient telescope mount called the Dobson mount and he’s probably responsible for inspiring a lot of amateur astronomers. He was certainly my inspiration; I even built a few telescopes based on his design. I started building my first telescope in freshmen year and from then on I was hooked. I would take my telescope out on to the campus and share it with people and show them what I could see, that’s when I fell in love with the night sky.
When did you come to Jackson?
I first came out here in 2005 to do the graduate program in the Teton Science School. When I arrived they only had a few old telescopes that weren’t being used and they weren’t suitable for what I wanted to achieve. I convinced one of the heads to let me sell the old telescopes to buy a nice new telescope that we could use. We bought this telescope and I built an observatory for it. The night sky really blew me away here; it reminded me of my childhood in northern Nevada. That was when I got the idea of building a large public observatory in the valley here and that’s what led me to start Wyoming Stargazing.
What's special about the stars in Jackson?
We are at a high elevation here so we’re looking through less atmosphere than at sea level, that makes a lot of difference to the clarity. We’re also living in a valley where most of the land is undeveloped so there is not a lot of ambient light. As you get into Grand Teton National Park there’s almost no artificial light at all, which means you can see more stars. On a good night in Jackson you can see five to six thousand stars whereas in a large city you could see only a few hundred. Stargazing here is really spectacular, especially in winter. When we get the colder temperatures it makes the atmosphere more stable. This is because of the reduced amount of water vapor in the sky, water vapor bends light and without that vapor you get much clearer skies.
Can you explain what light pollution is and what effects it can have?
Light pollution is when artificial light goes up into the sky as opposed to going down to the ground where it’s needed. It causes sky glow, which means it makes the sky brighter than it would be otherwise. Once that starts you immediately lose the ability to see the faintest stars. In big cities such as in New York or London there’s so much artificial light you can see maybe one or two of the brightest stars. Everything else is washed out and you lose the beauty of the night sky. Light pollution also affects the health of humans and animals and plants. It begins to disrupt what are called the circadian rhythms or “body clocks” of living beings. Essentially this is a cycle which affects our bodies and when we feel the need to sleep or wake up. The excess light disrupts these processes; it can lead to increase in cancer risk, diabetes depression and insomnia. It has a similar effect on animals, particularly nocturnal animals. So environmentally there’s some potentially negative issues surrounding light pollution.
How can we work to reduce the impact of light pollution here in Jackson?
The most important thing is to have proper light shielding over exterior lights. For a relatively cheap cost you can have a shield that goes over the light and directs it downwards. Another problem is glare; where the light is dazzling and you cant see where the light is coming from. Thoughtful, well-placed outdoor lights make things safer but most of the time outdoor lights aren’t installed effectively to provide that safety. So just by shielding light we can do a huge amount to preserve the beauty and character of this town.
Where is your favorite place to look at the stars?
My favorite place in Jackson Hole is out on Antelope Flats by Kelly warm springs. From stargazing out there you get an amazing view of the Tetons silhouetted and the sky out there is so dark, there’s few cars out there and you can just pull up by the side of the road. It's really spectacular.
What events have you got planned for the summer?
This summer we have a couple different weekly events. We do a free public stargazing event every clear Friday night at R-Park from 9:30pm to 11:30pm. We also do a free public solar astronomy program at the people’s market from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at the base of Snow King. We can show sunspots and the occasional flare and lots of really incredible features on the surface of the sun.
There’s an Observatory and Planetarium being planned for Snow King, what can people expect?
Right now we’ve submitted the plans and the forest service are doing an environmental impact assessment which will take around 1 year. It’s going to be a totally unique facility; the telescope we are putting up there will be the largest telescope dedicated to public outreach in the world. It has a mirror of about one meter in diameter. We will be able to see galaxies on the other side of the known universe. The views of the planets will knock peoples socks off and the galaxies are going to blow people’s minds!
The dome theater/planetarium will show a multitude of films and have some 360’ projections.
There’s a Solar eclipse happening next year, what can you tell us about it?
The solar eclipse is going to be the single biggest tourism day in Jackson Hole history. Somewhere between ten and thirty thousand people are going to be here. It's going to be a madhouse. We already get ten thousand people per day that time of year.
The eclipse is going to begin about 10:17am in the morning with a partial eclipse, part of the moon will pass in front of the sun, then it will pass completely in front of the sun blocking all of its light. Before that happens the shadow column of the moon will pass across the land about a thousand miles per hour so I you have a high vantage point you’ll actually be able to see it travel over the landscape.
You’ll need special eye protection to watch the eclipse as it’s taking place. At the point of totality the outer atmosphere of the sun will become visible and you can look at it without eye protection for about two minutes. At this point we will see the ghostly halo of the corona that extends outwards from the sun. Even though it’s farther away form the center it is actually hotter than the surface. I’ve never actually seen it myself so I’m pretty excited about it!
Anything else you’d like people to know?
In terms of the event next summer what we’re hoping to do is partner with Jackson Hole WILD to put on a huge celebration at the Center for the Arts!
Wyoming Stargazing is a not-for-profit organization and is always on the lookout for passionate individuals to volunteer!
Dr. Samuel Singer grew up exploring the high desert in Yerington, Nevada. Study for a B.A. in Physics and Astronomy took him to Hampshire College and the deciduous forests of the east coast, where he discovered his love for outdoor science education. He earned a Masters in Science Education – Environment & Natural Resources by way of the Teton Science Schools of the University of Wyoming. Over the past decade Samuel has worked as an outdoor educator and wilderness guide in Wyoming and across the country. Samuel is also an accomplished astronomy educator and amateur astronomer. After he completed his doctorate degree in Science Education from the University of Wyoming he founded the Jackson based nonprofit organization, Wyoming Stargazing. On his time off, he enjoys meditation, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, and trail running.
By: Gianna Savoie, Executive Director, Ocean Media Institute
They say there are ocean people and mountain people. As a filmmaker and storyteller, I have chosen to perch myself on the intersection of both.
Six years ago, I found myself sitting in an edit room in New York City, finishing a film about wolverines for NATURE and National Geographic when I was invited to Montana State University to teach in their MFA program for Science and Natural History Filmmaking. Just as I was planning my move to the mountain-ringed town of Bozeman, I was offered a job to write and story produce a feature-length documentary about the ocean. The project sounded incredible -- we would be joining a group of 120 South Pacific Islanders who were to sail (and celestially navigate) a fleet of Polynesian voyaging canoes on a two-year, twenty-thousand mile journey across the Pacific in order to carry a message about the ocean’s health to the world. There was absolutely no hesitation in my response. I was on board.
Having grown up in the "Ocean State" of Rhode Island, if there was one language I thought I understood well, it was that of the sea. I was excited by her rant through a storm, and soothed by her easy lullaby on a quiet summer night. When I moved to New York, I sought out that familiar voice to cut through the noise. Whether taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, strolling the Boardwalk on Coney Island, or dipping my toes in the Atlantic at Rockaway Beach, the voice of the ocean was a constant companion, one that anchored me.
With a move to Montana, I had expected that voice to be hushed. The nearest coastline would now be a thousand miles away. But, at least I would have my film to get my occasional dose of "blue noise."
Over the course of the next few years, I kept one foot planted on mountain and the other dipped in ocean, toggling between teaching natural history production in the heart of the Rockies and sailing with the Pacific Voyagers (as they would come to be known) across that great blue universe of water, learning all I could from them. As we made our way across the Pacific from New Zealand to Tahiti, Hawaii to California, Cocos to the Solomon Islands, a story of connection began to emerge, as ancient as it is modern, as sacred as it is scientific.
I soon met Tua Pittman, the Master Navigator from the Cook Islands, who would become a main character in our film and one of my dearest friends. He explained what it meant to him to be a citizen – and steward — of the ocean. He taught me about the importance of the canoe in South Pacific culture. “We have a saying: 'He va'a he moku, he moku he va'a,' which means, ‘The canoe is our island, and the island is our canoe.'" He then showed me a large stone set at the base of the mast and explained that it was a mauri stone -- a rock from his home that would accompany them on the entire journey and remind them of the connection between land and sea. As he spoke, I began to understand. The canoe was not simply a vessel that moves people from place to place, but a microcosm of the planet -- a place of limited resources where people must work together and live sustainably in order to survive. And with that, we had our film's title: Our Blue Canoe. Watch the trailer here.
Through the film (which has just been released in the Pacific and with US distribution on its way), we come to relate to the ocean in all its power and fragility via the experience of these intrepid sailors. Together, we revel in the company of Blue whales, and curse the raft of plastic beneath the swells. We brace ourselves through feral storms, and celebrate safe arrivals on remote and wild shores. As our Pacific crewmates open their lives and their culture to us with humor and grace, heartbreak and hope, we discover their journey becomes our journey; their dreams become our dreams – their story becomes woven into ours. And at the heart of their message rests the notion that this ocean is not a barrier that separates our islands, our nations, and continents, but rather the bridge that links us all.
And that, perhaps was the most important lesson that I carried back to Bozeman. The ocean is not confined to that blue expanse beyond the land's edge. Even here in my land-locked state, the language of the ocean is communicated in rich, full verse. Though not heard through the pounding of surf or lapping of waves, here in the mountains, the ocean sings in a different register. It pings across the ice of a blue-white glacier and rasps in the whirling diamond dust on a sub-zero morning. The ocean is, in fact, as close as the clouds that fringe the peaks, as common as fresh snowfall on the towering spruce, as much a part of us as our every second breath.
In order to pay forward my experience with the Voyagers, I have since established the non-profit organization, Ocean Media Institute right here in Bozeman, Montana. Bringing together scientists and students, media makers and policy makers, OMI expands the public's understanding of ocean science and conservation through the collaborative creation and distribution of innovative visual media. At the core of OMI's mission is the truth that Ocean in EVERYWHERE.
We often think in terms of what separates us: our religion, our color, our land, our language. We tend to frame our lives in the context of “boundaries.” But if there is one thing that I have learned since moving from sea-level to five-thousand feet, it’s that nothing is truly isolated. Everything is interconnected, interdependent. Mountain needs Ocean as bone needs blood. As modern society needs ancient wisdom. As stories need hearts to be heard.
So, in that spirit of connection, I invite you on this World Oceans Day to think deeply about YOUR relationship to our blue planet and celebrate it, no matter where you find yourself -- from coastline to ridgeline. You are Ocean. oceanmediainstitute.org
We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
Trailer for Jago: A Life Underwater
What inspired you to make this film?
James Reed: “A life long love for the ocean, diving and the Bajau people. But most significantly meeting James Morgan and Johnny Langenheim whose experience and access helped make a film, on a very unique Bajau man, a reality.”
James Morgan: “I've been photographing the Bajau and other marine nomads since 2009. When James R. suggested collaborating on Jago, I jumped at the opportunity. Spearfishing and free diving are innately cinematic, but there's also a bigger, more important story: the use of marine resources and the effect of wider changes on indigenous communities.”
Were there any particularly meaningful moments or experiences in the process?
James Reed: “Finding Rohani (the star of Jago) for the second time in Sulawesi. We discovered him two years earlier but we had no idea whether we'd find him again when we came back to make the film. He has no phone and travels in his little sailboat a lot. We were so excited to find him but he was pretty calm and said he'd been expecting us. Aside from that, winning the Grand Teton at Jackson Hole was genuinely the most moving and meaningful experience of the whole thing.”
James Morgan: “Listening to Pak Rohani's life story slowly emerge over the course of a series of interviews was particularly satisfying. It's always an honour when someone entrusts you with their story in that way. Especially when you're dramatising reenactments.”
Describe some of the challenges?
James Reed: “Shooting the whole film in 19 days, nobody getting paid and all expenses going on my credit card! These things cause a bit of stress but the team was exceptional and somehow the fact that none of us were earning from it made us focus on doing the absolute best we could. We had nothing to gain from it other than to do something we were proud of.”
James Morgan: “Shooting at sea and in boats is always complicated, lots of hanging over the side of boats and coordinating boat movements. There is one sequence that involved standing on the front of a boat with a gimbal as it approaches Rohani's hut and then jumping off through his doorway, whilst trying to keep the shot smooth.”
What are you working on now?
James Reed: “I'm working at Keo Films in Bristol. It's a smaller branch of a big London based company. They do some fantastic films, of all different kinds, and I'm really enjoying it.”
James Morgan: “I'm making a new drama set in the Arctic circle with the support of the BFI. It looks at some complicated issues, has some incredible landscapes and should be released later this year.”
Anything else you would like people to know?
James Reed: “Jago was a genuinely independent project. It had no financing from anywhere when we went to Indonesia to shoot. Being independent was a massive team effort and it would've been nothing without every person (in every role) falling in love with it, going the extra mile and making it the best it could be. Jago has faults, of course, but I still look at it today and think we did the best we could. I'm very proud of it and everyone involved.”
James Morgan: “You can find more information about what I’m up to on my website! www.jamesmorgan.co.uk”
James Morgan (b.1986) is a multi award-winning film director and photojournalist. His in-depth photographic features have appeared in National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC, Sunday Times and many others. His images regularly lead campaigns for the World Wildlife Fund and USAID and are published and exhibited around the world. James’ film work spans features, documentaries, commercials and music videos with clients ranging from Sony and Adidas to Vice and Mercedes Benz. Having worked in over 60 countries, James is comfortable in any environment and can speak English, Malaysian, Spanish, Indonesian and Icelandic. James is represented by both Panos Pictures and Getty Images in London and is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
James Reed has taken audiences on breathtaking journeys with films such as Disneynature’s Chimpanzees, Bears and Monkey Kingdom, as well as programs Nature Shock and Shark. Reed’s impressive portfolio of series and films, which span topics such as nature, wildlife and natural history, have aired internationally on BBC, Discovery and National Geographic.
By Kathryn Jeffords & Samuel Lewis
Springtime in Jackson is a strange time. The snow thaws, winter sports are out and there's a palpable excitement in the air for summer activities that aren't quite here yet. If you find yourself staring out the window wondering if the conditions are right for some mountain biking, or you're having second thoughts about going on that camping trip; you're not alone. Here at Jackson Hole Wild we have a range of interests and hobbies, and everyone has their own idea of the perfect summer. Luckily, Spring doesn't hold the same sense of waiting around it used to thanks to our combined experience of living in Jackson. We've compiled our definitive list of Springtime fun so you too can have a Wild Spring. Enjoy!
1. Old West Brew Fest: This weekend, 5/28, try a sampling of an age-old craft. Enjoy a variety of new craft beers from regional breweries. This event has a 14 year vintage and is a great way to kick off the start of summer with some seasonal beverages. Entrance is free and beers may be traded for wooden nickels purchased at the entrance. Each token is $1.
11:00am-5:00pm Town Square.
2. World Oceans Day: Join Jackson Hole Wild at the Teton Library on June 8th for a World Ocean’s Day celebration. Jackson may not be known for its sandy beaches and dramatic coastlines but we'll be bringing the ocean to you with a double feature screening of two amazing ocean tales: Jago: A Life Underwater & Sonic Seas. 5:30pm. Take a plunge into the ocean (figuratively!) to take your mind off that spring drizzle!
3. Consign your Items – Stores like Headwall Sports will take your lightly used gear and help you make some $$$. A perfect excuse for some Spring cleaning, clear out that garage and make some extra cash this weekend (just don't spend it all at the Brew Fest!).
4. Take a Class at the Center for the Arts – The Art Association offers art classes in Drawing, Watercolor, Relief, Throwing, Digital Photography and MORE! Right now they are running a special: if you sign up for a $35 membership, you get 50% off an adult class. Thaw out your creative juices and get them flowing with these great opportunities!
5. Free Stargazing with Wyoming Stargazing – Free public stargazing every clear Friday night from June-September. Local astronomers will use a gigantic Dobsonian telescope to show you planets, stars, planetary nebulae, galaxies, and more! 9:30-11:30pm at Rendevous Park. Wyoming Stargazing also offers private tours for a special occasion.
6. Tuesday Cruiseday – Join up with this bike crew on Tuesdays at 7pm at Thai Me Up. Cruise into town and meet up with a bunch of locals for a rompin’ good time. Happy hour pricing is granted to everyone in proper Tuesday Cruiseday theme attire. See the full theme schedule here
7. Trivia at the Tavern: The Town Square Tavern hosts weekly trivia nights with prizes starting at 7pm. Starring Host Crazy Tom. Don’t forget to bring your drinking cap, ahem… thinking cap.
8. Go for a Whiskey Tasting: Vom Fass hosts free whiskey tastings on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Explore Whiskeys from around the world. Lean a little and taste a lot.
So there you have it, no more excuses for sitting around in your PJ's watching Netflix (although on reflection, that almost made the list!) get out there and enjoy everything that Spring in Jackson has to offer!
On Saturday May 14, Jackson held its 13th annual Eco-Fair, a celebration of everything earth-friendly open to members of the public. The event was a great success with a range of people turning up to soak up the sun, music and booths. The event took place nestled at the base of Snow King in the ball field and began at noon. Over 50 non-profit businesses and government agencies came together each showcasing their own booths, sustainability efforts and eco-wares.
We had our very own booth and staffed it under the guise of a pair of Wild Scientists. Along with us were a pair of frogs and some deadly Cyanobacteria. The frogs in question are whites tree frogs and belong to our Community Programs Coordinator Sarika Khanwilkar. ‘Albero’ and ‘Burrito’ were largely decorative on the day, preferring to snooze in their triennium rather than join in the festivities.
With their helpful presence we were able to explain some of the differences between frog and human hands and invited people to experience ‘frog fingers’ using sticky tape to pick up pennies. This sparked off some friendly competition as to who could pick up the most, particularly between young siblings. However some seemed slightly disappointed they weren’t able to keep the pennies they picked up!
Our other more dangerous guests the Cyanobacteria were provided to us by our friends at The Institute for EthnoMedicine. Those who attended our stall were able to get up close and look at the bacteria under a microscope. Cyanobacteria are an ancient and ubiquitous form of bacteria, also known as blue-green algae and form huge blooms in bodies of water across the world. They are a key part of the institute for EthnoMedicines research, it is believed that there is a link between some types of Cyanobacteria and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. Their upcoming documentary feature film “The Hunt for the Hidden Killer” chronicles Paul Cox's journeys across the world and pioneering research in this critical area of study. If you want to see the film and a talk by Paul Cox we are hosting a free screening at the Center for the arts on June 28!
A full list of our upcoming events can be found on our Facebook!
By Dana Grant
On March 6th the best dogsled mushers in the world gathered on a frozen lake in Willow, Alaska for the start of the 2016 Iditarod, “The Last Great Race on Earth.” I was there to support musher #80, Billy Snodgrass, my good friend and boss from my previous winters as a dogsled guide. After years of breeding and training, a six day road trip and a few hectic moments of helping to hold back a very strong dog team, it all boiled down to a few memorable seconds as I watched Billy fly over the start line in pursuit of his 5th Iditarod finish. Nearly 1,000 miles through the remote, rugged and beautiful terrain of Alaska, the finish line awaited.
Now that Billy was safely underway I took a deep breath and looked around. The spirit of the race was in the air. Spectators on foot or with snowmobiles had gathered for miles along the icy trail to wish the mushers well. All the legendary champion mushers were there, Jeff King, DeeDee Jonrowe, Lance Mackey… Yet something felt off. Was it the glaring sun and warm temperature? Here at the start of a race known for devastatingly cold conditions and adverse winter weather, even my light sweater felt unnecessary. As I packed the truck and trailer, an ominous warping sound rose up from beneath my feet. The weight of the vehicle was stressing and cracking a weakened layer of lake ice below the surface; yet another sign that this year's winter in Alaska hadn’t been much of a winter at all.
Dick Wilmarth won the first Iditarod in 1973 with a time of 20 days, 49 minutes and 41 seconds. This year Dallas Seavey won the Iditarod for the 3rd time with a time of 8 days, 11 hours, 30 minutes and 16 seconds. Even the final musher to cross the finish line this year beat Wilmarth’s time by more than 6 full days. A lot has improved in dogsled racing that accounts for this speed. The selective breeding of the dogs, better harness and sled design, a better understanding of canine nutrition and supplement are all factors. But I suspect there’s another simple factor involving our changing climate: an absence of fresh, deep snow to push through.
The Iditarod kicks off with a lively Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage. Mushers parade their teams down 4th Ave., then they take off on a fun run through the city streets specially covered with snow reserved from the winter street plowing. Race sponsors and guests of honor ride along in the sled and high fives are generously distributed to the children and fans lined up along the route. It’s a fantastic celebration of this traditional and truly Alaskan event. This year however, the snow reserves were lower then ever before. Alaska Railroad stepped up to save the day by volunteering to haul in train cars full of snow from Fairbanks. Unfortunately the condition of this imported snow, littered with rocks and debris, made the majority unusable. Ultimately the route for the ceremonial start was shortened from 11 miles to a mere three.
The start in Willow was also a compromise planned by the race committee, as the lack of snow made the traditional trail out of Anchorage impassible. Warming weather has plagued other recent Iditarod races. In 2014 bare trails along the route caused injuries and broken sleds. In 2015 the race was forced to move the starting line 225 miles north to Fairbanks. Mushers and sled dogs are notoriously tough and adaptable and the Iditarod is a race that thrives on challenge. The difficulty of frigid temperatures and blinding blizzards are rapidly being replaced with the struggle of too little snow on the trail, unusually high temperatures that cause the dogs to dehydrate and open water spanning a trail that should be solid ice.
Germs also seemed to thrive in the warm conditions along the trail this year. Many dogs and mushers suffered from viruses and illnesses contracted on their journey. Unfortunately, Billy and his team had to scratch and resign from the race in Unalakleet after running more than 700 miles. His dogs caught an intestinal bug that made them too weak to continue. This is always a risk when dog teams travel from various locations to share a race trail. No doubt the Alaskan teams benefited from immunity to local maladies that our Wyoming dogs lacked. But it does make me wonder how the health of plants, animals and people will be affected as more and more parts of the world begin to loose the frigid, pathogen-killing temperatures that have existed for ages. 2016 marked the first time in at least 100 years that no place in Alaska recorded a temperature of -50 degrees or lower.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the changes occurring came from my conversations with the local people I met along the way. My taxi driver in Nome, a tiny village along the Bering Sea where the finish line lies, told me how his father had hoped one of his sons would inherit his line of sled dogs. But they had no interest. They all turned to snowmobiles and became mechanics instead. This trend has taken hold in all the villages and is reflected in the growing popularity of another Alaskan race; The Iron Dog. This is a 2,000 mile race run on snowmobiles powered by fossil fuels, not dogs.
When I arrived in Anchorage to collect the dog truck, I rode with a shuttle driver who told stories from her childhood in a remote village. We smiled and laughed as she told me about her adventures trapping and racing with her father and his dog team. “It sure was fun. But that was before, back when it really used to snow. We never had TV and things in the village, we didn’t need them. Now things are different, everyone needs cars and phones and things. Even me, I’m one of those people now, I wonder what my father would think if he could see me now?”
We’re all a part of the change, reliance on modern technology and fossil fuels has made most everyone an accomplice in the compounding forces of climate change. I was acutely aware of my own contribution to the problem as Billy, the dogs and I loaded up and began to travel thousands of miles back to Wyoming in a big diesel truck.
On our journey south I gazed out on the black spruce and pine wilderness of the Yukon and Kluane National Park. The area is populated with vulnerable species like moose, elk, wolves, caribou, lynx and wolverine. Seeing such a huge swath of wilderness relatively untouched by man and machine was inspiring but the concern for our climate was heavy on my mind. In my role as competition coordinator here at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, I am constantly reminded of the peril facing our planet and its wildlife. Even on my adventure away from the office I couldn’t escape this concern. We are at a crux; the signs are all around us. All that we stand to lose is obvious, but the solution is more evasive. How do we remain aware, yet optimistic, and continue to work towards the preservation of the natural world? It’s a choice we must make everyday. I can only hope that as our impact and its repercussions become more and more apparent, that more and more people will wake up and make that choice.
Iditarod and Iditarod-The Last Great Race on Earth are registered trademarks of Iditarod Trail Committee, Inc.
We reached out to filmmakers from our International Elephant Film Festival and asked them five questions about the experience of creating their films.
What inspired you to make this film?
Praveen Singh: "As a wildlife filmmaker and person interested in wildlife conservation in India, I had read about Manas. For many years, Indian naturalists, writers and conservationists deemed this place to be one of India’s finest national parks, in terms of its beauty and unparalleled bio-diversity. I wished to visit this place but two decades of ethnic conflict had resulted in Manas becoming a virtual no go zone for even forest department officials, let alone tourists. When finally, in the mid 2000’s Manas began to return to normalcy and effective steps were taken to protect and conserve what remained of Manas, I visited Manas for the first time in 2011. Manas drew me in, inspired me. Seeing the ongoing conservation efforts of the forest department, wildlife conservationists and the Bodoland Territorial Council motivated us to tell the story of revival of this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site."
"Kosmik Global Media Pvt. Ltd, an Indian production company focused on wildlife documentary production, with whom I am a Director and Cinematographer, teamed up with Ammonite, UK to bring this story of Manas to viewers. With Ammonite's expertise in use of thermal, infrared and starlight camera technologies for unobtrusive night filming and our knowledge of the place, access to conservation organizations and ability to liaison with the forest department, we worked as a team in unison to tell a story. We hope to enthuse people in India and around the world to work together to safeguard this wild wonderland."
Were there any particularly meaningful moments or experiences in the process?
Praveen Singh: "Everyday spent in this beautiful forest was meaningful. From watching the hornbills, the flowering of Semul, conversations with forest guards or the drives in pitch darkness only aided by a thermal camera hoping to catch sight of a clouded leopard – were experiences that can’t be described in words. It was a privilege to be able to spend time in this wilderness. However, for me personally, one particular moment will remain etched in memory forever. Seeing a tiger here is a matter of sheer luck."
"One day, in the afternoon while filming jungle fowl on the road, suddenly with no forewarning of alarm calls, a tiger just appeared out of nowhere and sat behind a tree watching us film. He sat there for a minute or so, quite curious and then just bolted and vanished into the thick jungle…It was one of the most memorable tiger sightings I have ever had in any Indian forest. It was magical, had all the elements of surprise and drama, inherently characteristics of the natural world."
Describe some of the challenges?
Praveen Singh: "Filming at night is always a challenge and more so when one is using unobtrusive, specially customized technology like we were - thermal, infrared and starlight cameras for capturing animal behavior. In Manas, thick jungles, tall grasses and low animal densities on account of decades of conflict, made our task very challenging and difficult. There were some jungle tracks – narrow, rocky paths bounded by thick forest, that we would avoid because of potential danger from elephants, as we were in low, open jeeps and in case of a sudden encounter with an elephant herd, it could spell trouble. This was a track where clouded leopards had been camera trapped, so perhaps we missed out on filming the elusive clouded leopard as a result, but safety is paramount."
"We wanted to spend more time filming from the river, but didn’t have access to a silent motorboat. Low water levels in the river meant, we could only go upstream up to a point and that in a noisy country boat fitted with a noisy motor, scaring away animals before we got anywhere close to them. The only other option was to float down the river in a raft with a soft rubber bottom, again unsuitable for filming."
What are you working on now?
Praveen Singh: "There are a couple of projects in the pipeline. Essentially, we want to tell positive stories – stories that can inspire and motivate people to conserve our precious wilderness areas. We want to shine the spotlight on lesser known, but no less important wildlife areas in India."
Anything else you would like people to know?
Praveen Singh: "In India, as people aspire for better standards of living, given our population, we are faced with a tremendous challenge to protect and conserve our natural heritage. The only way we might be able to do this is if people get actively involved in conservation; if people realize that all the wealth in the world can not bring back the natural world once it’s lost and if people work consciously to reduce their consumption, which directly impacts the natural world in mostly negative ways."
"As a wildlife filmmaker it is my endeavor to bring to viewers the awe, the wonder and the magic of the natural world through powerful, compelling and visually engaging storytelling."
Praveen Singh is an India based wildlife filmmaker and cameraman. Since completing a Masters in ‘Mass Communication’ from New Delhi in 1998, Praveen has been working in wildlife/conservation related television programming. He was a faculty member at the Wildlife Institute of India: the country’s premier wildlife research and training centre. Apart from his wildlife documentaries he has twice won the Asian Pitch in Singapore for social documentaries. Praveen currently works for Kosmik Global Media Pvt. Ltd. Kosmik Global Media Pvt. Ltd. is a Mumbai, India, based Production Company specializing in wildlife documentaries. With Uday Sinh Wala as its CEO, Kosmik has embarked on an ambitious journey to become a leading content producer of wildlife documentaries from India.
By: Samuel Lewis
Earth Day is nearly upon us! On April 22nd we will be hosting an evening of food, drink and conversation to celebrate this planetary event at the Center for the Arts right here in Jackson Hole. On the theme of connecting to our planet and fighting for its future, we are screening two films absolutely free as well as plenty of good vibes and Earth friendly folk!
Each film is uniquely suited to the themes of Earth Day, and we're very excited to share them with you. The films explore the need for a connection between human life and the natural world. We are all part of a complex system of exchanges that create the circumstances necessary for life to exist. Both films host these ideas of connection in different ways, underpinning the ideals of Earth Day in the stories they weave.
We couldn't wait, so we've previewed them and even prepared some tantalizing reviews to get you in the mood for earthy film goodness!
Our Local Epic
Waterways are the arteries of the natural world. They deliver nutrients, connect disparate lands and cut swathes through the face of our planet. They transmit energy and create pathways for life to take hold in even the most unlikely of places. Each river has a journey and a story to tell, carved out over immeasurable time and through chaotic entropy. Constant, beautiful and wild, rivers are enchanting features of our world. They draw in our imaginations, our sense of adventure and our desire to feel connected to the power of nature. At times this is inspirational, at others, unpredictable and terrifying. Our relationship with the waterways of the land defines how we function as caretakers of our own environment. Our Local Epic is the incredible and multi-faceted story of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. This film ambitiously draws together the narratives of kayak enthusiasts, Native Americans and government into a stunning love letter to the Clarks Fork.
Within this harsh and thrashing channel, some have lost their lives, yet others have found something they believe is worth fighting for. Once believed untraversable, this river has become the benchmark which seasoned kayakers have come to measure themselves against. In an area of remarkable natural beauty, the Clarks Fork twists and churns down 150 miles of unspoiled Wyoming landscape. The river's story is told through the lives of those it has shaped. From the tale of Chief Joseph who led his tribe to escape hostile military across the treacherous gorge, to a young group of kayakers and their hazardous, yet life affirming experiences on the river. Told retrospectively in interviews through the filter of gained wisdom and age, their story reveals the captivating charm of the river and what makes them risk their lives to be a part of its course. When the river is threatened by the proposed building of a new dam, adventurers become activists. With the help of committed lifelong residents, they must hope that the undeniable character of landscape can convince developers of its intrinsic value. The rivers catalogue of unique human stories has inspired efforts to conserve waterways nationally. Our Local Epic continues that tale. The preservation of this tributary will pass on an invaluable gift to future generations that can only be described by one word: epic.
Wildways: Corridors of Life
For wildlife, isolation can be a death sentence. When barriers block free movement of animals, biodiversity falters and the number of species that can survive decreases dramatically. Our planets current state is one of decline. There are fewer and fewer species that can eke out an existence within the isolated pockets we have designated as protected areas. For life to flourish, diversity is essential. In creating national parks and areas of wildlife conservation, we have managed to save many important species. However, this is not a permanent solution. Animals, like humans, need the ability to move freely and breed with individuals outside their family groups in order to achieve a healthy population. This is the urgent message of Wildways: Corridors of Life. To solve the biodiversity problem we must stitch together the remaining pockets of wild areas to form a network of interconnected areas.
Wildways: Corridors of Life follows the fates of keystone species such as Grizzly bears, lions and elephants whose success or failure indicate the overall health of an ecosystem. The scientists, park rangers and conservationists who track and record these animal's movements are at the forefront of the story. Each individual they capture, collar and release recites a unique life journey revealing the avenues that make up the diverse tapestry of an ecosystem. Using the information they gather, they catalog the ways in which wildlife can be supported and how to create safe pathways between the areas in which they live. Genetic barriers such as roads, fences, and private farms can be overcome with modern methods of compromise between human infrastructure and wildlife migration. Drawing on the knowledge gained by generations of pioneering scientists, this film focuses on exploring the ways in which parks can be linked to create havens in our increasingly overcrowded world. Wildways: Corridors of Life is an insight into the developing world of connectivity conservation that offers hope to a planet increasingly divided both in nature and in humanity. Without these life giving passages of connection spread across the globe, our very existence is unsustainable.
We hope that you're as excited as we are after seeing these fantastic trailers and reading our reviews! Earth Day is all about unity and making an individual effort to contribute to a larger whole. Everyone has a different way to connect to conservation. If we are all willing to contribute in our own way, we can achieve harmony between humankind and the land we inhabit. Conservation is a demanding task, which requires our dedication and passion. Join us on Friday April 22nd for Earth Day at the Center for the Arts right here in Jackson Hole!
We reached out to the winning filmmakers from our Elephant International Film Festival and asked them five questions about the experience of creating their films.
What inspired you to make this film?
Kristin: "I sent Village Beat to visit the elephant nursery at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with the goal of making a short film about the elephant poaching crisis. The two directors who make up Village Beat, Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg, made the short film WILD as a result of their first visit to see the work of the DSWT. They came back to the US completely obsessed with doing more to help the orphaned elephants and to raise awareness of the brutality of poaching and toll it was taking on the elephant population. They asked me if I would finance and produce a full length feature, and that turned into Gardeners of Eden. I wanted to show people the amazing work the people on the ground in Kenya were doing to protect the baby elephants and stop the poachers."
Were there any particularly meaningful moments or experiences in the process?
Kristin: "There are so many amazing and meaningful moments when you are able to witness the work that goes into saving the orphaned baby elephants left behind after the poachers kill a herd or a mother elephant. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has committed her entire life to learning how to raise an orphaned baby elephant, and to reintroduce it into the wild. She is my inspiration in all of the work I do in conservation. And it was amazing to be given full access to the many different aspects of what the DSWT does- from the nursery where baby elephants fight for their lives with the loving care of the Keepers, to the Vet Unit calls to treat wild bulls injured by poachers, to the Anti-poaching units, who go out every day and risk their lives to save the elephants. I feel so blessed that my directors were able to capture what it is like to be fighting for elephants everyday on the ground in Kenya."
Describe some of the challenges?
Kristin: "The logistics of filming these events which happen all over Kenya was challenging. Austin and Anneliese slept in a tiny tent near the Keepers out in the bush in Tsavo National Park for days. I would not have a fraction of the beautiful footage that is in the two films if it weren’t for their toughness and ingenuity. They were able to capture the beauty and pain of the elephants by being in such intimate contact with them and gaining their trust."
What are you working on now?
Kristin: "I am continuing my work as official “Patron” to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, using the two films to help to spread awareness and raise funds to continue expanding the work of the Trust. I am working on getting the film shown all over the world so everyone can witness what the Trust does and how incredible these creatures truly are. I am very proud that it is now on Netflix and iTunes in the US. Austin Peck has moved to Nairobi and is continuing to make original content for the Trust, recently he filmed the new babies that have been born in the wild to 3 of our ex-orphans."
Anything else you would like people to know?
Kristin: "I would like people to know that there IS hope for the elephants! Through the fostering program at DSWT (thedswt.org/fostering) everyone can “adopt” an orphaned elephant and become a part of their healing. Throughout the years I have worked with the Trust, it has been so gratifying to hear from people all over the world about “their” elephant baby. As an adoptive parent you receive detailed updates on your chosen elephant, and through those updates you learn so much about what is happening to elephants and what they are actually like. It is truly through this global, caring family of people that the David Sheldrick Trust has successfully raised over 200 orphaned elephants who are now living back in the wild. They have also treated 2,000 wild elephants who otherwise would have lost their lives to poachers. They also fund aerial teams who work with the ground teams of anti-poachers, and together they have successfully caught hundreds of poachers together with the Kenyan Wildlife Service."
Kristin Davis, left, is an activist, actress and producer known for her work in television and film. Kristin was the executive producer for 'Gardeners of Eden'.
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