Residents Concerned Over Number Of Yellowstone Wildlife Killed

Sep 26, 2014

Moose with new calf.
Credit Penny Preston

Cody – Grizzly bears, moose, bison, and many other Yellowstone area animals are hit and killed by speeding motorists every year. But now, a baby moose that made newspaper and magazine headlines when it survived a raging river, has been photographed all alone. Locals fear it is orphaned and unlikely to survive, because a motorist killed its mother. It’s led to a renewed discussion over speed limits and signs in forested areas of northwest Wyoming.

A heavy snowpack swelled the Shoshone River this spring.

A moose cow and calf seemed trapped on an island that was shrinking in the Shoshone Forest near Yellowstone. Amy Gerber was one of a dozen professional photographers recording the drama.

She recalled, “She gave birth on the island. The water was raging. There was no way this little calf was going to get across.”

Werner and Pam Noesner own a cabin on what locals call the North Fork. They saw the cow and calf on the island, too.

Pam said, “And the cars were lined up literally by the hundreds to watch.”

At one point, the calf went under water while trying to follow its mother across the river. But, finally, they both made it to shore. Lodge owner Kevin Millard knows the calf’s mother. He calls her Ellie. She’s named after his lodge: Elephant Head. He has pictures of Ellie with her tiny babies.

He said, “Seven years we’ve watched previous calves. She’s raised all seven calves.”

With the help of a temporary flashing sign that said, “Moose crossing” Ellie brought this year’s calf to his lodge’s front yard again. But, the flashing sign was removed after a few days.

Millard’s guests were delighted with Ellie and her calves. She actually had two this time: a yearling bull, and the tiny calf.

Millard said, “They love Ellie the Moose”

But people aren’t seeing Ellie these days. They’re seeing just a small calf.

Amy Gerber, and others think something happened to its mother.

She explained, “Myself and some others that have kinda followed this story have speculated that maybe this calf that we’ve been seeing the last month on the North Fork is maybe the same calf.”

"Speed contributes to a lot of the mortality of the animals that are on this river, and I think it is a real threat to human safety as well."

Wyoming’s Game and Fish says they found the carcass of a cow moose near a wetland in June. It had been hit and killed by a motorist. It’s the same wetland where Gerber photographed the calf, about seven miles outside Yellowstone’s East Entrance.

Unfortunately, most motorists traveling the road from Cody to Yellowstone ignore the fifty mile per hour  speed limit and go around anyone who is obeying it. There are signs on the road that warn of curves ahead, of people and horses crossing, but no signs warning that wildlife may be on the road.

Millard  enumerates the kills, “One or two buffalo killed every year on this highway. We have a few mountain sheep killed on this highway. We have a few elk killed on this highway. There are gobs of deer hit. We’re averaging a grizzly bear a year on this highway.”

He says his guests, which include hunters and photographers want to see the North Fork wildlife. They don’t want them killed on the roads.

He said, “Speed contributes to a lot of the mortality of the animals that are on this river, and I think it is a real threat to human safety as well."

When asked how she felt about the possible demise of Ellie, Pam Noesner replied, “Really angry. Really angry. We have a speed limit for a reason.”

She remembers a bull moose that died near her cabin.

She said, “I do remember the beautiful young moose that we had with really nice paddles a couple of years ago, and he was actually grazing in front of our cabin quite a bit. And we enjoyed taking pictures of him and giving him his space. And he was hit and killed by a car right in front of Mormon Creek. We do have moose here. Unfortunately they get hit a lot. More than people know.”

Werner stopped his car on the road and got out, to try to save a Big Horn ewe and her lamb.

He recalled, “A week ago I encountered a mother with a young sheep on a blind curve. And it was amazing. I was trying to stop the traffic because she was trying to get across the road to her young baby.”

The Noesnors say it’s a shame drivers are killing the animals they come to Yellowstone country to see.

Pam said, “Oh, they’re passing us all the time.”

Werner explained, “We’ll travel 50 to 55 maybe, and it’s amazing to see how many people just gun it and go around you, yes, and sometimes in very inopportune places, too.”

Werner points out people are at risk of getting hit, too.

“We also cycle here up and down the North Fork. We were riding with a group of kids once and we did encounter someone who passed on the right of someone going too slow, and almost caused us to have an accident.”

The Millards, the Noesners, and Gerber agree. They say motorists need to know why they should slow down. They want the state and the Forest Service to put up signs.

Pam said, “I wish that they, along with the Shoshone National Forest, should put up more signage about why the speed limit is what it is.”

And, Gerber realizes the cow that was hit and killed, and the small lonely calf she’s been seeing may not be the ones that escaped the raging waters of the Shoshone.

But, “Even if this little calf is not the same calf that we cheered across the river in June, it’s still a calf that’s been orphaned.”