Moose in Grand Teton National Park
We are privileged to live in Jackson Hole with Grand Teton National Park on our doorstep, and we do our best to be thoughtful stewards of our surroundings. But I admit that in my youth I have walked too close to a moose, approached a bear for a photo op, and skied close enough to a badger to make it lunge towards me. (I found this so amusing that I may have skied past this particular badger more than once. Perhaps as many as four times.) But it’s important for us all to be reminded that the creatures with whom we share this valley are wild and undomesticated.
One of the most charismatic wild creatures in these parts is the moose. Moose originated in northern Eurasia. They arrived in North America during the last ice age and have since evolved in step with the changing environment. The moose that we have in Jackson Hole and north through Yellowstone to Glacier National Park are named for George Shiras, who photographed moose in Yellowstone during the summers of 1908 to 1910. The Shiras moose is the smallest and lightest colored of the four North American subspecies – and this is thought to be an adaptation to the direct sunlight and long summers of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. (The larger, darker Alaskan moose would overheat in our part of the world.)
Moose favor wet areas along the Snake River – oxbows, beaver ponds, lakes and shaded alpine canyons – and we often see these majestic animals as we navigate our rafts from Dead Man’s Bar to Moose. During the winter, moose take to denser forests and the high country. Moose have long legs and can make their way through deep snow with ease. Their long stride spreads their scent over a wide area, making it harder for olfactory predators to locate them. Dense groves of subalpine fir provide shelter from the weather and a food source.
Why is this large beast so hard to spot? It turns out that the lowest branches of subalpine fir will sometimes take root and self-plant. This process is called tillering and it provides habitat for many forest animals. (I read about “tillering” in Large Mammal Ecology by Harold Picton of Montana State University.) Take a look around on your next hike up Cascade Canyon: you may see an older tree in a central clump surrounded by an array of younger trees. This dense shelter makes it hard to spot moose from the trail, despite their size.
Barbara and Leith have been participating in the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s annual moose count for many years, and have become experts at spotting these elusive giants. Good news: this year’s count estimated a local population of 240 moose, along with a healthy ratio of cows to calves. With any luck, we’ll see them on the river this summer!
Random Moose Facts:
- The word “moose” comes from the Algonquin Indians of the Northeastern woodlands. The word means…wait for it…moose! Well actually, it translates as “twig eater,” a reference to the high-quality vegetation moose love.
- The plural of moose is moose. (This holds true for many words and names from the Indian Nations.)
- In Europe, moose are called elk.
- The moose is the largest member of the deer family.
- Moose hair is hollow, providing insulation in the cold months.
- A moose can dive up to 18 feet deep to grab underwater vegetation.
- A moose can run 35 mph. So no, you cannot outrun one.
- And here’s a moose fable from the Abenaki Indians of southeast Canada:
“The creator made the moose the largest of the animals, but it was too large to hunt. We asked for help and the creator decided to make the moose smaller by squeezing it. Unfortunately for the moose, the squeezing process proceeded unevenly, and the moose was left with a long body, a humped back, and a large nose. But now it was possible to hunt it.” (Paraphrased from The Moose by Annie Hemstock.)