The Associated PressJACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — There’s no typical day for Circle EW Ranch manager Todd Wagner. Whether he’s pulling a moose calf from the now-defunct pool or repairing fencing, no two days are the same.
“I tell people that if you can’t decorate a cake, you can’t have my job,” said Wagner, 55.
Some know him as the 4-H leader who ran the beef club for seven years. Others remember him for his time on the Teton County Fair board, a position he held for five years, his last as president.
Former Circle EW ranch owner Liz McCabe, like many of his friends, fondly called him a “cowboy butler."
His duties include: washing windows, plunging toilets, watering plants, pouring wine, blowing snow, fixing fences, trapping bears or mountain lions (alongside Wyoming Game and Fish) and, occasionally, frosting a cake when McCabe’s hands became too shaky for decorating confections.
THE ROAD TO THE RANCH
Circle EW Ranch, located in Moose, is the northernmost private property before Grand Teton National Park.
Eli and Elsa Wiel, the parents of McCabe, a well-known local and former News&Guide co-publisher, purchased the land in the 1930s. “This property was in the family before the park existed,” Wagner said. “This place right here is why all these people are coming to Jackson.” McCabe, who died in 2012 at the age of 101, spent much of her time, especially during prime fishing season, at the ranch. An avid entertainer, she found the ranch was a special place to bring people together.
“She spent four nights a week entertaining,” Wagner said.
Now, only family and friends stay in the cabins on the ranch.
The cabins, of which there are several, have withstood the passage of time and tough Wyoming winters. The upkeep is a major part of Wagner’s job as ranch manager, a title he has held since Aug. 1, 2001.
Though originally from Laramie, Wagner graduated from Jackson Hole High School, where he met his wife, Ilene. He anticipated moving to Cheyenne at the time. But after four years of Navy service — four years active, two years inactive duty — he landed a job in Teton Village. He and his wife now remain steadfast on the property with their two dogs, Maddy and Squirt. With jets passing overhead flying toward Jackson Hole Airport, it’s almost like a mini ecosystem of its own.
“The turbulence from the jets causes more work for me than people would know,” Wagner said. “But it’s just part of what it is.”
But blowing snow and wind aren’t Wagner’s biggest environmental challenges.
Once, a black bear and her two cubs ended up caught between two doors.
“I poked one with the butt of my shotgun and said, ‘Get out,'” Wagner said.
Besides wrangling animals and providing constant upkeep, most of Wagner’s duties revolved around McCabe.
“The only thing I don’t do is her hair,” he said, slipping into the present tense when describing his late employer. “I just try to keep the ranch as it is. But it’ll always be Liz’s house to me.”
MISS LIZZIE AND ‘THE HENCHMAN’
Wagner said he makes nicknames up for everyone, including McCabe.
“She was my Miss Lizzie,” he said.
In return, she jokingly called him her henchman, he said.
Wagner lights up talking about the role McCabe had in his, and his family’s, life. He knows more about her than most, evident when he describes everything down to her “little red house coat” she wore with her purple fishing cap.
“She could wear color,” he said, leafing through old photographs. “Nobody else could pull that crap off.”
No one else, Wagner said, could touch her fishing bag. He’d put on her Smartwool socks and belt before every expedition.
“I know what’ll keep her warm,” he said.
McCabe’s house looks the way it did when she lived there, with pictures she took of wildlife up on the wall with snapshots of her with Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Copper cookware lines the kitchen.
Wagner noted that McCabe loved to cook, making her food a big part of his life too.
“She cooked a lot, even when she was 100,” he said.
Everything he described sounds mouthwateringly delicious, like blueberry coffee cake and bacon before big fishing trips, Mother’s Day popovers, Thanksgiving turkeys and milk-can stews — a ranch staple with corn, potatoes, kielbasa sausage, water and beer on an open fire.
“When there is steam coming out of the holes in the top, supper is served,” he said.
McCabe had a special bond with Wagner’s sons, 22-year-old Will and 19-year-old Trey. They promised her they’d go to college, and they did.
“She used to tell my boys, ‘I’m your grandma, you know that, right?'” Wagner said.
McCabe allowed the boys to sit at the adult dinner table at an earlier age than she allowed most children.
Wagner recalled her giving them a grammar lesson three days before she died. Prepositions, they learned, did not belong at the end of a sentence.
“I’ve even stopped saying it, too,” Wagner said.
WATCHFUL EYE ON THE WEST
It’s hard to hide that Wagner’s job has changed since McCabe’s passing.
Still, it’s impossible to separate his narrative from hers. Her 1963 red Cadillac still sits in the garage.
“It’s pretty lonely out here,” Wagner said. “We’re a one-man show. Some days are pretty quiet, but I’m on call 24/7.”
His job still remains taxing, especially during the winter. Days often begin at 3:30 a.m. if he wants to keep the main road to Highway 89 clear.
“Sometimes it looks like a drunken sailor did it,” Wagner said. “But in the winter time you just do it.”
Challenges always present themselves on the ranch. Previously, he built a barn to protect his son’s steers from hungry bears.
This year he kept an eye on the Snake River flooding.
“It was almost futile,” Wagner said of trying to keep the horse pasture from flooding. “It was like filling a 55-gallon drum with a teaspoon.”
He also keeps a close eye on visitors who don’t mind the “private property” sign.
“People think, ‘Private doesn’t apply to me. My curiosity trumps private,'” Wagner said.
If you do ever have a reason to be down at Circle EW Ranch, you better introduce yourself, Wagner warned.
“I chased a guy in a Suburban going 80 mph down the highway,” he said.
Though he is stationed up in Moose, Wagner maintains a pretty good read on the changing landscape of Jackson.
He remembers when McDonald’s was built “at the far end of town” and the day when his wife rode a horse through the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
“Can you imagine that now — the lawsuits?” he said, laughing. “It would be on YouTube by the time you got to the front door.
“Those were different times,” he said.
His kids and wife beg him to change out of his “ratty sweatshirts” and “stocking cap over a ball cap” when he goes into town. But ranch work, he said, doesn’t require fancy duds.
“It’s about function, not fashion,” he said. “I don’t care — I’m warm.”
He said that Jackson’s ranching roots are often seen through rose-colored glasses by tourists. But spend a day with him at Circle EW Ranch and you’ll learn that living next door to the Tetons isn’t as glamorous as it may seem.
“It looks all romantic and sweet, but cows need to be fed. They feed cattle at 20 below,” he said. “Do you know how brutal that is?” Wagner laughs when he sees the sign on top of Teton Pass that reads “Howdy Stranger. Yonder is Jackson Hole, the last of the Old West.” “I want to cut it down,” Wagner said. “That’s a joke.” ___ Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com
JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Skiers and snowboarders might not know that the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s forecast includes no information from Grand Teton National Park’s backcountry.
That could change this winter.
The Grand Teton National Park Foundation is fundraising for the $25,000 needed by Sept. 1 to install two new weather stations before winter. One would measure wind, the other snowfall.
“As a foundation staff and board, we have a lot of folks who are passionate backcountry users who could really see how this sort of campaign to add data to the existing avalanche forecast would really be something the community would be interested in and would like to support,” said Maddy Johnson, manager of communications and development officer. “People in Jackson love talking about the snowpack.”
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said adding sites will improve the accuracy of the forecast in a mountain range where conditions vary dramatically peak to peak, ridgeline to ridgeline.
“There are weather systems that come in that can affect the northern end and not the southern end and vice versa,” Comey told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
In addition to installing weather stations, Comey hopes to work with the park to have more interaction with park rangers and guides to improve the avalanche forecast.
More information can enhance what users know before they venture into the mountains and will supplement information from existing stations. Locals say they’ve seen an increase of skiers and snowboarders in the park in recent years.
“I truly believe this is value added for our backcountry recreationalists,” said Denise Germann, public affairs officer for Teton park. “Anybody that follows the area knows that we always respond to incidents involving backcountry skiers, so anything to help improve information for them to make informed decisions about their recreational activities is a good thing.”
The Teton-area avalanche forecast includes weather data collected outside the bounds of the park. Seven stations are checked daily at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, helping forecasters monitor 300 avalanche paths, as well as two stations at Grand Targhee Mountain Resort, on Freds Mountain and in Chief Joseph Bowl.
“As forecasters, we super heavily rely on what’s happening at Teton Village,” Comey said. “Always have.”
Finding sites for the two new stations is anything but easy, and time isn’t on the avalanche center’s side. It needs to buy the equipment and install it before the snow falls.
Stations in the backcountry use spread spectrum radio communications, with a base radio at the top of the Aerial Tram. New stations must have a line of sight with the tram or a line of sight with another station that can act as a relay point.
Access is a major consideration for new sites. The stations consist of a tripod, heavy-duty deep-cycle marine batteries and other weighty components like solar panels. In remote locations the equipment could be flown in by Jenny Lake climbing rangers on other helicopter missions. But in the winter they’re much harder to reach for maintenance, especially key for the snowfall stations. Remote stations will also mean more guesswork in gathering snow settlement information.
“The more often we get to them, the better data we’ll have,” Comey said.
As they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.
“If it’s sited next to a dangerous avalanche path, we’re going to tempt everybody,” Comey said. “If somebody gets snuffed in an avalanche going to one of our avalanche stations, that’s not a good thing. So ideally these stations will be mounted in a place where these temptations won’t be present. I’m just as tempted as anybody.”
Wind stations need relatively flat sites on ridgelines to obtain accurate readings away from artificially accelerated wind speeds, but they also need to be somewhat sheltered from westerly winds that can ice over instrumentation. Snow sites also need flat areas, often somewhat treed, for accurate readings that aren’t influenced by drifts.
“There aren’t many flat areas in the Tetons,” Comey said.
Solar power feasibility and technological capability are also vital.
“There might be a lot of great sites, but they may not work with our communications scheme, and they definitely have to have sunshine,” Comey said.
Comey is scoping out Steamboat Mountain for a snow station and the ridgeline of 25 Short or Maverick for a wind station as locations. If they work, Grand Teton National Park will conduct environmental compliance and land impact studies.
But even if the funds are raised and the stations are installed, Comey wants to caution backcountry users.
“It’s not our goal to forecast for a particular avalanche path in the backcountry,” he said. “We don’t really have that ability. A single station doesn’t tell you a lot about whatever is close to it. In a few feet, or hundreds of feet, in the next basin or slope over, you’ll have different snowfall patterns.”
Personal knowledge and skills are still essential for interpreting avalanche danger. “Data from snow pits and data from weather stations is really difficult to use to specifically address the hazard on a particular slope,” Comey said. “Data from these weather stations is best interpreted with respect to the general avalanche hazard. Everyone has to be their own avalanche forecaster, no matter what.” ___ Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com
JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Margaret Gordon learned a bear was on the loose about 20 minutes after her youngest daughter had ridden her bike to the bus stop.
“I ended up calling the school to make sure she got there” on Oct. 8, Gordon said. “It was a little alarming.”
Her older daughter later said she saw the bear cruise through their backyard and make its way down the street.
“She said it was so busy eating that when she pulled her bike out of the garage, it didn’t even look in her direction,” Gordon said. “She just hopped on her bike and rode the other way, quickly. We told her after she told us that story, ‘Feel free to stay in the house and call us. A bear is a perfectly fine excuse to be late to school.'"
Despite a recent rash of bears spotted near civilization, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said this year is a below-average one for human-bear conflicts.
“Really, this summer we had a pretty slow year as far as bear conflicts go here in the valley,” spokesman Mark Gocke told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
A cluster of recent headlines doesn’t tell the whole story. In an average year Game and Fish responds to between 60 and 80 bear conflicts. This year is a bit lower, with between 50 and 60 reported so far. A few weeks remain before bears retreat to their dens for the winter.
In dry years lacking an abundant berry crop, reports of bear conflicts tend to increase. Mike Boyce, a large carnivore biologist, remembered 2012 as a particularly bad one. He responded to 200 conflicts that year.
News that a Grand Teton National Park sow black bear was killed Oct. 9 after humans fed it fruit, resulting in her cubs being sent to a Michigan zoo, and that a boar black bear was killed Oct. 12 after frequenting neighborhoods near several Teton County schools prompted outrage and questions.
“I’m very disappointed in the actions of wildlife personnel this past week,” William Kunkle, a Wilson resident, wrote in an email. “Two black bears have been killed and two cubs have both lost their mother and their freedom. All of the bears should have been relocated. I don’t want to hear, ‘It’s a tough decision.’ Do your job, which is to protect both humans and wildlife. The easy decision is killing the bears. The hard work is removing them.”
Others were slightly more supportive, especially in the case of the bear that was lurking close to five schools and even more bus stops. “It is sad, and I recognize why so many people would be upset,” said Andrea Weenig, a mother of three in the Ellingwood neighborhood.
She saw the bear Monday morning and called it in, then trailed it in her car and honking at it occasionally until it moved west, away from homes.
“It kind of seems like even without the (grizzly) bear hunt, there’s been a lot of bears dying recently due to conflict with humans,” she said. “But I think this was a good call, given the proximity to so many kids. At dawn and dusk, they’re getting to their sports, going to school early, on bikes and may be alone. That’s not a good outcome.”
Game and Fish said the recent deaths represent only one tool of many in its larger management strategy for the species. Education, officials said, is the most important tool to combat conflict.
“Sometimes people think our only course of management action is to trap a bear, and it’s not,” Gocke said. “We go out on the ground and look for where the bear has been. Has it gotten a food reward? Are there other insecure food or bear attractants that are available? And we try to button them up. We go door to door and let people know if there’s a bear in the area. A lot of the time, that prevents conflicts from happening and of course, nobody hears about that.”
If a bear isn’t considered a threat to people, it’s a candidate for relocation. But the bears can’t be relocated outside state lines and Game and Fish prefers to keep them in the core of the ecosystem’s population. Despite the best efforts to move bears as far away as possible, bears sometimes make it back to the area where a conflict occurred within as little as two weeks.
“We think of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a pretty big, expansive area,” Gocke said. “But in the bear’s world, it’s really not.” Adult female grizzly bears’ home ranges are between 30 and 38 square miles (78 to 98 square kilometers), and those of males are larger, 108 to 120 square miles (280 to 311 square kilometers). Some males have larger home ranges, while females with young cubs are the most constrained. Black bears have a smaller home area, with an average male range of 38 to 58 square miles (98 to 150 square kilometers) and an average female range of 19 to 29 square miles (49 to 75 square kilometers).
Subadult males are most transient, with the ability to traverse the entire ecosystem.
“There’s only so many places you can go, quite honestly,” said Dan Thompson, large carnivore supervisor.
The type of conflict a bear was involved in — trash, livestock, property damage — is considered when assessing potential locations, and relocation tends to be a popular option with the public only if it’s away from where people live.
“If we moved them to the moon, they’d say, ‘Why didn’t you move them to Jupiter?'” Thompson said. “I understand there’s a lot of people out there that feel like we have too many bears and any time we move a bear to them, we’re putting more bears in their backyard. That’s not what we’re trying to accomplish with any of this. We’re trying to break the behavioral mold of a bear that got into a conflict so it can go on about its life without getting into trouble.”
If a bear doesn’t stay off the radar after a first relocation, Game and Fish officials aren’t hopeful it’ll work again. Bears also become trap-shy and difficult to catch after repeated attempts.
“Our experience has been if they do it a second time, there’s a really good chance they’ll do it a third time,” Gocke said. “That plays into our thought process when we have a bear and we’re looking at its history.”
Critics say Game and Fish kills bears because it’s cheaper than moving them, but officials said cost isn’t factored into the decision to relocate or not.
Killing the animal is seen as the last resort if other options don’t protect the public and the bear, Gocke said. “Having to remove an animal from the population or put an animal down is probably one of the worst tasks about our job at Game and Fish,” he said. “We take no pleasure in it whatsoever.” ___ Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com