Circle of Life

A fox cautiously approaches the bison carcass as a coyote feeds. Wolves had eaten their fill and bedded down on the opposite side of the ridge.

No one seemed to know how the bison died. Winter wasn’t over in Northern Yellowstone and it could have just been too much for an aging animal. Wolves could have hurried that process or they could have been the instigators of death for an otherwise healthy bison. Regardless, last week, across from the entrance to Petrified Tree, the animal lay dead about 150 yards from the road.

Such a treasure doesn’t go undiscovered for long. Wolves were on the carcass quickly and that, of course, attracted the human element. The roadside was quickly filled with people sporting long lenses and scopes mounted on tripods. Parking was limited and that was the only thing that kept the number of people in check. Park Rangers roved up and down the road ensuring that everyone stood outside the white line of the road and didn’t venture any closer to the bison and to motion curious drivers on—“No stopping in the road!” was the constant cry.

There were seven wolves—three with radio-collars—one almost black, four grays and three more of a brown color. Although they were as large as the adults, it was easy to see that two of them were pups from the previous season as they tussled playfully with each other. Their feeding was at times leisurely. Several would wander off, maybe chase hopeful coyotes, bed down for a time or check out the other side of the ridge. At times all of them would worry the carcass, pulling at the hide with tremendous jerks that moved the whole thing.

The entire carcass was disappearing from the ribcage back. The front end of the animal was a different story. Even the wolves were having a hard time penetrating the armor-like hide protecting the front shoulders and other than remove some of the hair there, that muscle was all still intact. Perhaps it would take a hungry bear, just up from hibernation to finish the job.

Ironically, as the wolves fed, two bison grazed not 200 yards away. Apparently, they felt secure in the knowledge that the sacrifice of their comrade would protect them, at least in the short-term, from the wolves.

When the wolves finally tired of the meal, they slowly moved off, bedding for the day on the other side of the ridge several hundred yards away. They might make an afternoon foray over for a quick bite to eat, but for now, it was time for a sound sleep.

Wolves weren’t the only animals interested in this great gift of protein and this was the break they had been waiting for. Literally within seconds, ravens and magpies swarmed the carcass. A golden eagle soared in from above to share in the bounty as well.

Coyotes slinked in from both sides. At one time, there were six of them, all tugging, feet braced and teeth set, in different directions, trying to render the carcass into small pieces to get at what was left. The coyotes were a nervous lot though, constantly vigilant for the return of a wolf or, heaven forbid, the entire pack. To be caught unaware was a death sentence.

Two red foxes came in to share the bounty as well. They were just as anxious as the coyotes, but they had to fear the coyotes as well as the wolves and even the eagle was a threat. They were determined though and filled up on bison.

All in all, this one carcass fed many animals for a week. A bear will eventually claim what is left and continue to benefit from it. Nature is seldom wasteful, and in death, this bison continued the circle of life for others.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho