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Episode 5: Why Is Wyoming Special To ME?

Kids Ask Why?
Kids Ask Why?
Episode 5: Why Is Wyoming Special To ME?

Charlotte Quick and David Buckles learn about one of Wyoming’s iconic animals–bears and later in the episode they explore a special place in Wyoming called Heart Mountain. Charlotte Quick interviews her uncle Phil, who is a Wyoming Fish and Game Large Carnivore Biologist, all about bears. Phil tells us some fascinating bear biology facts and discusses how and why bears are sometimes captured and moved around the state. David Buckles interviews Carrie and Brian Peters who are the ranch managers at The Nature Conservancy’s Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve.  During the interview we hear about the wildlife, geology, and the history of this unique spot in Wyoming.

Charlotte Quick

Charlotte is nine years old and lives in Cody, Wyoming, near the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. She is in the 3rd grade and two of her favorite subjects are reading and science. She dreams of being a mammologist and a singer when she grows up. She enjoys living in northwest Wyoming because of all the amazing mountains and wildlife. She likes to spend her time with family and friends rafting, paddle boarding, biking, skiing, and exploring rocks and caves. She also is really interested in learning how to cook and loves animals.

Phil Quick

Phil Quick is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He spends lots of time in the field studying bears, wolves and other animals. He lives in Cody, WY with his wife and two children.

David Buckles

David is eight years old and lives in Cody, Wyoming. He likes to swim, raft, and kayak when it is hot, and when it is cold, he likes big snowballs, and skiing. He also likes fishing in all weather. David lives with his mom, dad, sister, dog, turtle, and 2 lizards. He helps care for 4 hens and 1 rooster, who is not very nice.

Brian and Carrie Peters

Brian and Carrie Peters have been working on The Nature Conservancy’s Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve since 2006.  Both grew up in local family farming and ranching operations–Brian along the Clark’s Fork River in Belfry, MT and Carrie at the base of Heart Mountain in Powell, WY.  They are both passionate about Wyoming’s wild spaces and working places.  Brian and Carrie have 2 children, a daughter Taylor, and a son, Hayden, who also help work on Heart Mountain Ranch.

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NARRATOR: Welcome to the Kids Ask Why podcast, where kids ask the questions. This is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

CHARLOTTE: Today we are going to be learning about some things that make Wyoming special. Hi, my name is Charlotte Quick. I live in Cody, Wyoming. I’m eight years old. I just finished the second grade at Sunset Elementary School. Two of my favorite subjects are reading and science. I love living in Wyoming because we are surrounded by mountains and wildlife. Some of my favorite things to do in my area of Wyoming are going rafting, paddle boarding, biking, skiing, and exploring rocks and caves with my friends.

I chose to interview my uncle, Phil Quick, who is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish. I wanted to visit with him because even though he’s my uncle, I wanted to learn more about his job. One time, Uncle Phil came to our house after trapping a black bear. The bear was asleep, though, so I got to see it in the big trap. I thought that was really neat. And I want to learn more and share it with you.

OK, why do you have to trap bears and wolves?

PHIL QUICK: Well, sometimes we trap bears for conflict reasons that’s like if they’re around somebody’s house, or digging into their, you know, sheds, breaking stuff, or sometimes killing livestock. Other times we trap bears as research, just to get some information on them. And we can find out a lot of interesting things about bears just by catching a small sample size of the population. So we compare how many males and females we catch, how old they are. When we capture a bear, even if it’s for a conflict or for research, we do a full workup on them. So we pull a tooth, and we can age the bear from the marks in its tooth. So they’re almost like the rings of a tree. We can use protein isotopes to find out what its diet mainly has been. And you can also look in there on its diet and find out if it has been eating human-based food because almost any human based food has some sort of corn in it eventually or livestock food. So it’s a pretty extensive workup. But all that data is very useful in monitoring our bear numbers and the overall condition of our bears.

CHARLOTTE: Where do we usually find the bears and wolves?

PHIL: Well, mostly in the mountains, although sometimes lately that’s been changing a little bit. Sometimes the plains, and to a degree in the foothills. But the wolves really look to have places where they can den and then they fan out from there. So they like to have a den that’s close to a water source and somewhat shaded. And sometimes there will be three or four holes in a similar place– within a 300 yard area. And they have those holes that are just kind of like extras for the pups to dive into. There will be one main den where the mama nurses the babies when they’re little, and as the babies make a mess in that first den, she’ll move them up to the next den. Sometimes she won’t get in the next den with them, she’ll just wait around outside. As they get bigger, they move to what’s called a “rendezvous site”, which is usually a place that has some shade and some wet grass and some places that the babies can lay around and stay cool while the adults are out hunting. The fourth part about the wolves is they also want to strategically dig in or place their rendezvous sites where they can follow game as it migrates back into the mountains. As far as the bears, we see bears everywhere from the highest mountain peaks doing moth sites, where they dig and turn over talus rocks and eat army cutworm moths off the other side, which is a big food source for bears– grizzly bears that is. You see a black bear up there once in a while but not real often. And then we see him all the way down and out to Chapman’s Bench near Heart Mountain, on the outskirts of Cody. And a lot of times mamas that are in the ecosystem, which has a lot of bears in it, will move out into those places to raise a cub where there’s less chance of it getting injured by a big bear.

Photo: Mack H. Frost

CHARLOTTE: And what do you do with them, when you find them?

PHIL: Sometimes we’re trying to capture it and give it a ride back to the mountains to get it away from people, and make not only the bear safer, but the people safer as well. Or perhaps the situation that it’s in, it could be livestock related or human interface related. But sometimes we just watch the bear and observe who they are. We can find out if it’s a male or female, if they have young with them, how old that we think they are. And there’s some things you start to pick up on over time, that you notice and just take all that into account. So, basically we just gather as much information as we can about who the bear is and what they’re doing out there.

CHARLOTTE: And the very last question, what is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you as a wildlife biologist?

PHIL: Well, there’s a lot of good stories that are pretty fun. We were actually helping South Dakota Fish, Wildlife and Parks or Fish and Game, everybody’s got a different nomenclature for it but it’s basically the South Dakota Game and Fish. And we were helping them with a mountain lion survey. So we would “tree” the mountain lions with dogs and then we shoot a biopsy dart into their butt or their shoulder and it takes a little piece of flesh and comes down. And you can compare all that with a genetic analysis, all the little samples we take, and we just let the lion go. But one time with our dogs,  we were following a lion and it went into a cave. And we had to crawl into the cave. And Luke, the guy that owns the dogs, was up in the front of the cave. And I was in the back. And he said “Look out, he’s coming out!” And so I had one hound dog in my hands, and I just rolled over on it. And that lion shot right past me at about, well, I could have reached out and touched it. So sometimes you get wild things that happen like that.

CHARLOTTE: Cool! Wow, that is pretty awesome. And I saw on a show one time that there are white grizzlies and white black bears and the rest of their family is black and or brown.

PHIL: You can get different color cubs from the same litter. And sometimes those cubs will have different fathers. So bears have a thing called delayed implantation, where there can be a baby egg inside of them, but it doesn’t actually start growing as a baby until they go to sleep in hibernation. She has to be about 23 to 25 percent body fat minimum to actually have an egg attach to her uterine wall. So that baby can roll around inside her for a while, and if she’s not in good condition, she doesn’t have it. So that’s why sometimes you have a couple different colored babies that can come from one sow, one female. Usually the different colors come more in black bears, but you can get different shades in the grizzlies as well.

CHARLOTTE: Well, um I don’t have any more questions.

After talking to my expert, I would describe the animals of Wyoming as unique and amazing. Wildlife biologists need to study the bears and wolves of Wyoming because they are important creatures to our ecosystem. They are predators and an important part of the food chain. They also need to study them because sometimes they can be dangerous, especially when they come into areas where people live and like to recreate. We also want to protect them so they can continue to be part of our ecosystem in the future.

DAVID: Hi, my name is David Buckles. I’m eight years old and I live in Cody, Wyoming. One of the things that makes Wyoming special to me is Heart Mountain. I can see it from my backyard. When I was six I hiked to the top of Heart Mountain and I thought it was really awesome. Heart Mountain is an important landmark for people that live in my community in northwest Wyoming. It has been seen and used by people for thousands of years, especially for Native Americans. To learn more about Heart Mountain, I decided to talk to Carrie and Brian Peters. They are the ranch managers of the Heart Mountain Preserve. 

What’s your job at Heart Mountain?

CARRIE PETERS: So Heart Mountain is actually owned by an organization called The Nature Conservancy. And we both work for The Nature Conservancy on Heart Mountain Ranch. I’m a Conservation Practitioner, and Brian is the Ranch Manager. And we’ve been there for about 14 years now. So we do all things related to taking care of the ranch.

DAVID: When I hiked to the top of Heart Mountain, I didn’t see any animals, why not?

BRIAN PETERS: There are a lot of animals up there, very regularly. And depending on when you hiked, could have been the time the day, could have been when things possibly migrated off the property, but that’s a very good question. Sometimes the animals are very sensitive to the sounds of other people up there. So they could have just moved away. And then it’s just very, variable, why unfortunately, you didn’t see animals up there. I bet that that was kind of a bummer for you.

DAVID: And when I look at Heart Mountain, it looks like a person sleeping on his back. Why is that? 

Heart Mountain Photo by Mack H. Frost

CARRIE: We agree with you 100 percent, that it does look like that. And a lot of people also think that. So that’s really perceptive that you picked up on that. Heart Mountain has a very unique shape to it, both because of how it was formed, and also because of erosion– years and years, many, many, many years of erosion. The upper part of Heart Mountain actually came from an area over by Cooke City, Montana, which is about 60 miles from here. There was an area that had volcanic activity over there. And there was a mountainous area that actually experienced a collapse because of that volcanic activity. And when that collapsed, it sent pieces of that mountain over here. So there’s actually a chunk of mountain that was over at Cooke City that is now the top of Heart Mountain. So that’s part of why it has that very unique look to it. So the fact that a lot of people see a sleeping person is just by chance. I mean, it’s because it has that unique shape to it. I just think it’s really cool that people have used their imaginations to see that sleeping person in the mountain. 

DAVID: Did the Native Americans think it looked like a heart?

BRIAN: That is true, we’ve heard that from multiple different people. And we know for sure the Crow Tribe thought it looked like a buffalo heart. So that’s a very good question. And we’ve heard that a lot.

DAVID: Do you know how many different kinds of animals are on Heart Mountain?

BRIAN: That’s a very tough question. So there are hundreds and hundreds of animals that live up on Heart Mountain, from very small ones, like those little mountain snails up there, clear to where we have big old grizzly bears up on the property. So yeah, there are a lot of different animals and birds. We have lots and lots of various birds that come through. It’s really exciting. There’s a lot of different critters that call that mountain home during various parts of the year.

CARRIE: It’s a lot and we do have some lists, you know, that have been put together by various research groups or interested folks. But it’s not all encompassing. It doesn’t include everything that that is there, but it’s hundreds and it’s a lot.

DAVID: Is there a bear den on Heart Mountain? Have you seen one?

CARRIE: Yes, there there is a bear den on Heart Mountain and we have seen it. And the last we knew about it, there was a black bear that was utilizing it for a den but it could be a different bear now, you know, it could be a grizz possibly. But yes, we do have at least one bear den up there.

DAVID: Have you seen wolves on Heart Mountain?

BRIAN: So, we both have seen very faint glimpses. So we were discussing that even earlier this year, if we could actually say we saw one. We’re like 99 percent sure, but we see their tracks a lot up there. And we do have a lot of wolves that from time to time have come through and a lot of times they come from the mountain ranges there just to the west. They’re coming from the Absarokas and they just kind of make loops around the mountain and travel back and forth with other species. And so they’re definitely present up there for sure.

DAVID: Do you know if there are any Long-billed Curlews on Heart Mountain?

Long-billed Curlew

CARRIE: Yeah, we see curlews on Heart Mountain Ranch quite often. They really like the lower part of the ranch out on that flat area with all the sagebrush, and we call it but Buck Creek flats. They really like to hang out in that area and nest out there and everything. And we’ve actually hosted curlew researchers on the ranch numerous times over the last eight to ten years. And they’ve actually captured some of the curlews that have been spending time on Heart Mountain and put radio transmitters on them. And so we can track their movement all year round. And the curlews that spend the spring and early summer on Heart Mountain, they actually travel all the way down to Mexico to spend the winter down there. Then they hangout down there, and then they turn around and fly right back to Heart Mountain and this area. So we get to see maps and stuff of where exactly they traveled during the year. And that’s a pretty long way to travel all the way down to Mexico and back in a year. So yeah, there are a lot of them on Heart Mountain.

DAVID: Is it hard working at Heart Mountain?

CARRIE: You know, it’s a really fun job. And we both really like it. But there are challenges. So there are things that come up in our jobs that make it hard at times– to try to think through how we’re going to proceed with something or how to handle a certain situation that has come up. So there are times that it’s hard. But overall, it’s a really fun place to work. And we feel very blessed to be able to do that. So you have anything to add to that? 

BRIAN: No, you said it very well. We both enjoy working up there. And we enjoy the challenges of it. And it’s a very, very unique place. And so we both really love it.

CARRIE: It’s so neat for us to get to talk to kids like you who are so smart and so interested in Heart Mountain, and just want to learn more and more and more. And so that’s really special. So thanks a lot for being interested in Heart Mountain.

DAVID: Before I spoke with Carrie and Brian, I thought Heart Mountain was a cool place. Now I think Heart Mountain is even more amazing. If it wasn’t protected, the habitats would be destroyed, and we wouldn’t be able to hike there and enjoy it. Our mountain should be protected because there’s a lot of animals like bears and curlews and maybe even wolves that live there. If I was an animal, I think I would love to live on Heart Mountain.

DAVID and CHARLOTTE: And that’s why we asked why.

NARRATOR: Charlotte and David spoke to people that have different careers that help wildlife. So what career would you choose that would help wildlife stay wild? And how would it help? Share your answers with us on Facebook at the Kids Ask Why podcast page or Twitter at Center of the West. Thanks for listening to this episode of Kids Ask Why. If you want to learn more about Heart Mountain, grizzly bears, wolves or any of the other wildlife that was mentioned today, you can check out our website, where we have lots of different resources. Tune in next week.

NARRATOR: This podcast is produced by Emily Buckles, Gretchen Henrich, Megan Smith, and Kirsten Arnold. Our executive producer is Kamila Kudelska. Levi Meyer and Anna Rader are our digital consultants. Kids Ask WhY is a production of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Wyoming Public Media.

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