Monday, December 20, 2010

The Bison Equation

Whenever Yellowstone Wolf Biologist, Doug Smith speaks about the "Mollies" Wolf Pack he always mentions the "Bison Equation". Wolves,which were restored to the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995, thrive on a healthy diet of  mostly Elk. However the Mollies Pack, which live in Pelican and Hayden Valley consume mostly Bison. Through trial and error they have figured out and mastered the art of taking down a massive powerful beast weighing in at up to 2000 lbs! Now this mastered art does not come without peril, in fact members of the Mollies pack have been kicked, butted, bruised and it some cases killed while trying to take down a Bison. However, by solving the "Bison Equation" they are able to survive in Pelican and Hayden Valley year round- even during the worst of winters. 

While staffing the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut, one of my duties is to check out the near by valleys for wildlife which I can then inform the guides and visitors about. On Sunday morning while heading out to Fishing Bridge I was informed by a co-worker that the Mollies had once again solved the Bison Equation and were presently out in Pelican Valley feeding on the carcass. Shane decided to accompany me for the day with the anticipation of seeing Wolves. As we headed out that morning, the 17 mile journey was fairly quiet- that is until we approached Fishing Bridge Junction.  As we rounded the bend and drove toward the junction I suddenly noticed a large brown blob in the distance. Within seconds I deduced that the blob was a herd of Bison. "No worries", I thought, "they are on the other side of the junction". But suddenly, while driving 35 MPH I realized that I was approaching the Bison quicker than the speed I was going, therefore meaning one thing- The Bison were on the move. The Bison were, in fact, charging down the hill towards the junction that I was charging towards in the opposite direction. Suddenly, both the Bison and I came to slamming halt as we both seemed to notice the impeding head on collision we were about to have! Frustated and aggitated, the Bison sat at the junction staring at us as if to say " I'm bigger, YOU MOVE!"

Assessing the situation, Shane found a small pullout that the groomers had created behind us. We backed up into the pullout and the herd of fifty slowly and menacingly walked by us. With only a snowmobile distance between us and the bison, we sat motionless for fear of angering the herd. As each one passed us by they seemingly glared at us, making my stomach churn. As I sat in the shadow of the last Bison which passed us, I was reminded of how man is nothing against beast without his tools and technology. 

We resumed our course and headed to Fishing Bridge where we started the fire and then headed out to look for wolves. As we passed over Pelican Creek I instantly saw three black figures standing out perfectly against the white snow. WOLVES! For the next 20 minutes we watched a total of six wolves move back and forth across the snowy white landscape as they dined on their Bison breakfast. With sheer strength, resilience and team work the Mollies Pack had taken down the same animal which I could only cower next to on my snowmobile; a true testament to the powers and wonders of nature. The wolf has indeed solved the Bison equation but I myself am still doing the math! 

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