Hailing from 14 states and three other countries, 143 people registered for festival outings.
“We’re really excited about that,” said Barbara Cozzens on Monday morning. Cozzens, a Greater Yellowstone Coalition northwest Wyoming director, helped organize the event.
Before it concluded, folks were asking when next year’s fest was scheduled, Cozzens said.
Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, said it would be May 14-18, 2014.
One segment of the spring was “Grizzly Bears of the Shoshone National Forest,” and the Shoshone delivered first thing Thursday morning.
Andy Pils and Joe Harper, Shoshone National Forest wildlife biologists, led the two-van convoy up the North Fork of the Shoshone River before sunrise.
“In the spring, the area gets a lot of (bear) activity,” Pils said to his van load.
The week before, a grizzly discovered an elk carcass on the river just upstream of Eagle Creek, Pils said.
The bear dined and dashed.
“He cleaned up the elk and moved on,” Pils said.
There are around 600 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But that is a conservative estimate; a new counting method is being developed.
“The true population is probably 800 plus,” Pils said.
Although the black bear population is “robust,” there are more grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Pils said.
Tom Cracraft said there are black bears around his town, but no grizzlies so far. “They haven’t reached Bozeman, (Mont.) yet,” where he and his wife, Kathy, live, he said.
The vans cruise up the Wapiti Valley. Passengers, eager to view wildlife, rub the condensation from the vehicle’s windows with their shirt sleeves. It is warm and a bit humid.
It isn’t supposed to be 55 degrees this time of year, Tom Cracraft said.
Mule deer dot the hay fields like little haystacks with floppy ears. Three deer dash across a stretch of sagebrush and grass reminiscent of African springboks on a “National Geographic” TV special.
The vans enter the Shoshone National Forest.
“Elk on the right,” reports a passenger.
The cow elk strides up a gradual slope with alluring dignity.
“In a couple weeks they’ll (elk) drop calves,” Pils said.
Mary Bole of Powell said she has visited the North Fork on previous occasions, but this particular trip has a sightseer’s bonus: “I didn’t have to drive.”
Pils spots a sow and cub on a slope above Pahaska Tepee.
Everyone hops out of the vans and spotting scopes are attached to tripods with practiced precision.
With binoculars, momma and junior are recognizable, but the scope provides a close-up if they’ll cooperate. The bears seem agitated, appearing and then disappearing in clumps of pine on the slope.
“There they are!” someone exclaims.
Harper swiftly readjusts his scope so folks can catch a glimpse of the sow and her cub that was born last year. “Hurry,” he says.
The scope draws the sow to the eye with hair-raising clarity. She is dusty brown with patches of blonde.
“She’s so pretty,” said Sarah Schimpp of Phoenix.
In the spring, grizzlies unearth roots on south-facing slopes. Their long claws are designed for digging. Black bears have shorter claws for climbing trees, Pils said.
In the summer, bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem visit high mountains to gorge on high calorie army cutworm (or miller) moths hiding beneath rocks. There will be 30 to 35 bears on one talus slope eating practically shoulder to shoulder like bears fishing Alaskan salmon runs.
“It’s really cool to see,” Pils said. “They’re just rolling rocks and slurping up moths.”
Nineteen people took the bear tour Thursday and 40 on Saturday. The same sow and cub were available for viewing on the Saturday bear tour, too.
“Lots of bighorn sheep and one moose on Saturday,” Harper reported Monday.
At the final stop next to Buffalo Bill Reservoir, the group, oblivious to a rain shower, observe white pelicans. On the sand bar, the birds resemble little boats with bright white sails. More pelicans join them, touching down on the water smoothly.
Schimpp is a conservation biology major at Arizona State in Phoenix.
Cozzens spoke at Schimpp’s biology club meeting to invite Schimpp’s college colleagues to join the festival.
Schimpp volunteered to help with the programs. “Of course I would (go),” she said.
“This is exactly the kind of experience I’ve been looking for,” Schimpp said with an enthusiastic smile.
Renowned birder Luke Seitz said he enjoyed the festival.
“The incredible array of bird life and wildlife on the Absaroka-Beartooth Front absolutely amazes me,” Seitz said Monday. “There really is no place like it, and it was a thrill to share this experience with so many passionate people from around the country.”
Partners in “Spring into Yellowstone” included the Cody Chamber of Commerce, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Yellowstone National Park and Friends of a Legacy.
“The Spring into Yellowstone event is a prime example of the public and non-governmental organizations working collaboratively with local, state and federal agencies to showcase this unique and important part of Wyoming and the Greater Yellowstone Area,” said Mike Stewart, Cody field manager for the Bureau of Land Management.
Federal sequestration would have caused plowing delays in Yellowstone National Park. But, thanks to teamwork by Park County government and citizens, the state of Wyoming and National Park Service, the East Entrance of Yellowstone was opened on time rather than late.
Spring is a special time in Yellowstone.
Gov. Matt Mead said he was pleased that festival was a successful event.
“Wyoming has so much to offer and this event is another way for visitors to enjoy our state,” Mead said. “The festival also exemplifies the collaboration we strive for in Wyoming — that is, local businesses teaming with local, state, federal and non-profit partners. This is the same kind of collaboration that helped open Yellowstone on time benefiting participants in this festival and other visitors from around the globe.”