Yellow-bellied Marmots

A marmot occupies a prime location on the rock wall just feet from my deck. Should I let him live or send him to his ancestors? I can’t decide.

I am torn between donning my warrior’s armor or slipping on the robes of peace. We could become friends or foes, allowing give and take, although my fear is that I would do all the giving and they all the taking.

A family of marmots has occupied the rock wall just feet from my new home in Island Park, something the previous owner warned me about. His position was clear and he used a .22 rifle to combat the situation.

I am of two minds here because I like to watch and photograph marmots. I have never killed one for sport or out of necessity and I am not sure I want to start now. They are reported to be good eating but I doubt that we would be able to cook one. On the other hand, my home defense instinct is strong and according to the former owner, marmots can damage the hill with their tunneling, and who knows what other mischief they might cause.

Yellow-bellied marmots, Marmota flaviventris, are common mammals throughout much of the western part of the United States and Southern British Columbia (Lewis and Clark first noted sighting them on April 24, 1806 on the Columbia River in the state of Washington).

Marmots love rocky terrain as those living on my property demonstrate. They stay close to the huge boulders that make up the retaining wall and dive into their holes at the hint of danger.

Although yellow-bellied marmots can be found up to 11,000 feet, right now they are easy to see, even in the lower elevations of Idaho. They find many of the roadways and adjacent rocky areas to be to their liking and you can see them along highways and in open fields in many places. Perhaps the easiest is the Hell’s Half Acre rest area just north of Blackfoot on Interstate 15. Marmots are common there on both north and south bound lanes where they are frenetically gathering green food, raising families and preparing for spending another eight months asleep.

It should go without saying that the yellow-bellied marmot has a yellowish belly, but they are yellow-brown-black on top.  A conspicuous whitish muzzle is prominent and a light patch bounded by a black saddle below sits almost between the eyes. Buff patches are behind the ears. Shoulders and feet may be brown or yellow, but never black.  They can be a heavy bodied animal weighing up to 10 pounds and 28 inches long including the bushy tail.

There are 11 species of marmots, five of which occur in the United States. I have only seen one other species, the hoary marmot, on a mountain trail above Juneau, Alaska, so I still have three species to go.

Marmots may not be huge, but they can be scrappy fighters when cornered. As a young conservation officer, I remember getting a call to remove a snapping, snarling animal from underneath a man’s truck. He was terrified to approach his vehicle while what he described as half wolverine and half Godzilla was underneath it. He claimed that every time he got near, the thing would bench press the truck a couple of times and double in size before his eyes. He refused to believe that the animal I removed and released in the nearby field was a mere frightened rodent, a yellow-bellied marmot.

I may never confess whether I choose war or peace with the marmots occupying my rock wall. I will feel like a traitor to my principles either way.


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