©Terry R. Thomas/www.nature-track.com

In its world, the great horned owl is a top predator and it will persecute all other owls that attempt to live within its territory.

The large pile of feathers at my feet once belonged to a long-eared owl; the size, barring and tawny color were unmistakable even if I hadn’t seen two other long-eared owls in the same area. It seemed strange though that this nocturnal predator could be killed and eaten by something.

Then I remembered the barn owls at Deer Parks WMU. The manager had alerted me to their presence in January but I was out of town. When I returned I gave him a call to check up on them. The barn owls were no longer around, he told me. Perplexed, I asked where they had gone. Well, it turned out that they hadn’t really left as he was finding bits and pieces of them scattered about; a wing here, a head there or piles of feathers like the ones I was now looking at. He said that the same thing had happened last year.

It wasn’t a disease, bad weather or simple misfortune that dispatched the barn owls or even the long-eared owl. There is another owl that claims these night skies and abides no trespass by smaller interlopers. The great horned owl is sovereign in these parts and all other owls that want a place at the table in their neighborhood eat there at their own risk.

The same is true for the dog world. I well remember watching three wolves lounging on the snow in Lamar Valley. They had eaten their fill from a nearby elk carcass and were just lazing about. That is until a pair of coyotes with far more temerity than brains, tried to grab a snack from the carcass. One of the wolves stood and stretched and the coyotes knew they had pushed their luck too far. They both were at a full run in seconds. One bailed off a cornice and escaped. The wolf focused on the other coyote, barked for his pack mates to join him and closed the100 yard gap like a bullet. The three of them bowled the coyote over and tore it apart in seconds.

Wolves don’t tolerate coyotes in their territory, something biologists documented in Yellowstone National Park shortly after wolves were reintroduced there in 1995. It didn’t take long for the new kings of the mountain to exert dominance over their smaller cousins. According to one researcher, within a year of reintroduction, wolves may have killed 25 percent of the coyotes in Lamar Valley.

Lest you feel too sorry for the coyotes, realize that coyotes play the same deadly game with their smaller cousins, the foxes. One Yellowstone study found that, “71 percent of interactions between coyotes and foxes in the Lamar Valley are aggressive, with 40 percent fatal to the fox.” And foxes would do it too, I’m sure, if they had smaller clan to persecute.

These are turf wars, not hunger-based killings. The sated wolves that I watched didn’t consume any of the coyote they killed, it was simply the equivalent of running a competing drug dealer off the block.

Gray wolves, coyotes and foxes, great horned owls, barn owls and long-eared owls all still coexist in the same ecosystems but size will always matter.


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.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"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