Fall Colors and the Moose-Wilson Road Controversy

Fall Colors Abstract

Yesterday, the Moose-Wilson Road opened up after a number of days of being closed early, due to grizzly bears being seen there for the first time since Grand Teton National Park’s inception. Many cried foul, but the park service stood its ground and kept it closed as long as grizzlies were present. With so many black bears seen every year on the road, why the sudden change in policy? Was it really worth closing off an entire road?

The park cites that “…when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for the enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant.” My first reaction was to side with those that felt the park had gone too far, but once I got past the fact that I wasn’t getting photos of my favorite animal, I accepted the extra protection. I’m completely happy knowing that not only are grizzlies back there, but that they’re fully protected back there, unlike some other areas of the park where they frequently can, and do, cross paths with hunters.

Yesterday, with grizzly bears seeming to be out of the area, they opened the road up again and while fall is all but gone in most areas of Grand Teton National Park, visitors were delighted to see a bouquet of colors all along the entire formerly closed stretch of Moose-Wilson Road. Photographers were stopped all over the roadsides capturing the yellows, fluorescent oranges and bright greens on aspen trees as they intermingled with bold, burnt reds on the hawthorn bushes.

Later in the day though, Grizzly Bear #610 was spotted once again, thus prompting another closure of the road. For those that haven’t traveled the road before, it’s a very narrow and winding road lined with thick vegetation in areas where bears frequent as they feed on the hawthorn berries. One might wonder though, with so many black bears, why close it for grizzly bears? Black bears are much more docile than grizzlies. While you can get away with being in close proximity to a black bear (though of course, it’s not recommended at all), a grizzly bear is much more likely to let you know it doesn’t want you near it, especially if she has cubs. Add to that a number of locals that unfortunately speed through on their way to/from work, as well as a large percentage of people that don’t know the difference between a black and grizzly bear, and it’s a pretty solid recipe for disaster. With the animal still on the endangered species list, the park is out to do all it can to ensure those animals continue to thrive.

I had, at first, felt that the park had overstepped their boundaries in closing off the road, but in knowing that those grizzly bears are protected as well as they can be, it’s good to know that I’ll most likely be seeing them happy and healthy in the spring again.

17 thoughts on “Fall Colors and the Moose-Wilson Road Controversy

  1. Good article. I was one of the photographers affected by its closing. I was indeed frustrated at the time, but after witnessing several people approach other animals in the area I’m happy to hear these bears are safe for now.

  2. Good article. I was one of the photographers affected by its closing. I was indeed frustrated at the time, but after witnessing several people approach other animals in the area I’m happy to hear these bears are safe for now.

  3. I also agree that the park did the right thing in closing the road.  Frustrating for some? Yes.  But, grizzlies need all the protection we can give them, at least until they number in the thousands and are roaming wild and free throughout the entire Rocky Mountain region.  

    It’s interesting to read that they haven’t been spotted in this area since the park was created.  Back in 2004 or 2005, my friend and I were hiking high in Granite Canyon when we saw a grizzly moving in and out of trees lining a talus slope.  Though I don’t claim to be a bear expert I am more than capable of differentiating between a blackie and a griz – and this was most definitely the latter.

    Oh yeah, killer photo of the fall colors, Mike!

    1. Good point, Bret. I shouldn’t say they’ve never been in the area, but it was the first time that they were actively along the roadside for an extended period of time, much like the black bears normally are.  That was what made it more justified.  Slowly but surely, grizzly bears having spreading south through the Tetons.

      And thanks about the photo!

  4. I also agree that the park did the right thing in closing the road.  Frustrating for some? Yes.  But, grizzlies need all the protection we can give them, at least until they number in the thousands and are roaming wild and free throughout the entire Rocky Mountain region.  

    It’s interesting to read that they haven’t been spotted in this area since the park was created.  Back in 2004 or 2005, my friend and I were hiking high in Granite Canyon when we saw a grizzly moving in and out of trees lining a talus slope.  Though I don’t claim to be a bear expert I am more than capable of differentiating between a blackie and a griz – and this was most definitely the latter.

    Oh yeah, killer photo of the fall colors, Mike!

  5. NPS win. Let’s hear it for conservation. People can be so stupid about the animals; I witnessed some distressingly ignorant behavior recently and I support the rangers and their “bear essentials” priorities completely.

    Thanks for posting, Mike. (Did I see you in The Whole Grocer the other day? Wasn’t sure…lol.)

    1. Possibly!  I do shop there a lot.

      I think from the park’s point of view, it’s exactly as you stated it: average people simply can’t be trusted, especially around grizzlies.

  6. NPS win. Let’s hear it for conservation. People can be so stupid about the animals; I witnessed some distressingly ignorant behavior recently and I support the rangers and their “bear essentials” priorities completely.

    Thanks for posting, Mike. (Did I see you in The Whole Grocer the other day? Wasn’t sure…lol.)

    1. Possibly!  I do shop there a lot.

      I think from the park’s point of view, it’s exactly as you stated it: average people simply can’t be trusted, especially around grizzlies.

  7. Although frustrated that the road was closed and that I would not be able to see the bears while visiting a couple weeks ago, I agree the NPS made the right decision – I was much more frustrated by the ignorance of people that required this type of action. While there I was shocked to see people using their vehicles to block elk from crossing roads… very sad to see that type of behavior in what should be a safe place for these animals.

    1. Very true, Angelique.  Just the other day I was following a bull moose who wanted to cross the road and a car in front of me just kept moving right along with him, even as he kept running. I’ve also heard about a crowd of people blocking the road as wolves chased an elk herd and the elk herd had nowhere to go as a result.  Some people just don’t seem to “get” nature.  For reasons like that, I’m glad they closed the road.

  8. Although frustrated that the road was closed and that I would not be able to see the bears while visiting a couple weeks ago, I agree the NPS made the right decision – I was much more frustrated by the ignorance of people that required this type of action. While there I was shocked to see people using their vehicles to block elk from crossing roads… very sad to see that type of behavior in what should be a safe place for these animals.

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