For Everything There Was a Season

By Trevor Bloom

Beyond leading trips for Guides of Jackson Hole, I am fortunate to work as a research scientist for the Nature Conservancy in Wyoming. For our research, we are interested in the seasonal timing of events known as “phenology”. Phenology includes the blooming of wildflowers, the migration of animals, and when bears enter and exit hibernation. We are interested in how these events respond to climate and how they are shifting over time.  Each season in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem brings new and exciting opportunities to witness ecological events and view extraordinary wildlife.

Spring– Spring is alive in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In spring our researchers go out into the field every other day to record the seasonal timing of events on plants and wildlife. We are particularly interested in  topics such as when wildflowers begin to bloom, bears emerge from hibernation and what foods they are targeting, and spring migrations. We look for wildlife in person, and have also deployed game cameras throughout the national parks and forests.

Grizzly bear #399 and her second year cubs freshly emerged from a long winter of hibernation in June 2018 (c) Trevor Bloom

Summer –  In the summer we monitor the progression of the flowering season for over 100 species of wildflowers. In collaboration with the University of Wyoming/AMK Ranch we setup pollinator collections throughout the national park in order to better understand the bees and butterflies that call this place home. In the summer we lead Wildflower Watch – a citizen science project aimed to engage people of all ages in collecting scientific research. Last year we deputized 271 volunteers to collect 4700 scientific observations, which contribute to our research and inform management decisions in the region. Summer is buzzing!

Snow persists in the Tetons well into the summer, affording us amazing views like this one of Mt. Moran across Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park (c) Trevor Bloom

Fall– The fall may be the most beautiful season in the GYE – as the aspens turn gold, and the elk rub the velvet from their fresh antlers in preparation to spar for mates –we continue to venture deep into the national parks to record the seasonal timing of events.

Two bull elk spar over females during the fall mating season known as “the Rut”
(c) Trevor Bloom

Winter – The winter is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is dominated by one element – SNOW. In the winter we study the snow, its onset in the fall, its depth through the winter, and the date of snowmelt in the spring. We also deploy game cameras throughout the region to capture wildlife and their behavior in the winter. We do much of our research on skis. Winter is an incredible time to view wildlife in the region – the wolves rein supreme able to capture large prey species like elk that struggle in the deep snow, the bighorn sheep come down from the mountains into the Jackson Hole valley, and the moose congregate in great numbers where their food, the bitterbrush, is available.  Not to mention, the skiing and snowboarding is awesome!

Bison use their large head as a snowplow in the winter to move the snow away and access the grass and shrubs even in the harshest of conditions. (c) Trevor Bloom