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This summer I will be mapping willows (streamside shrubs) on Yellowstone's northern range (the area occupied by Yellowstone's northern elk herd in the winter). Basically, my assistant and I get paid to hike all over Yellowstone and use gps units to mark the willow thickets that we find. Then we measure how tall they are and record a few other pieces of data.

The hard part will be identifying the species of each thicket. Willows all look very similar to each other and they hybridize. So we are spending the first week practicing our ID skills. Once we get good at recognizing all 13 species that grow in northern Yellowstone (sheesh!), we're off for a summer of non-stop hiking. It should be pretty cool.

It will be nice to have an extra person with me. I usually work alone, and bushwhacking along streams is a great way to run into bears. Last month, I had to mace a bear for the first time in 17 years. The bear made me nervous, but the blow-back from the mace was actually worse. I spent several hours washing my face, coughing and hacking.

Don't use your bear mace unless you really need to.

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Comment by Rossman on December 27, 2007 at 7:53pm
Hey Mike -

Your bighorn sheep incident reminded me of a Dall sheep encounter my wife and I had in Kluane, Yukon Terr. We hiked up a ridge and came across a herd of 40 or so sheep and were able to get within 30 feet or so over the course of an hour or so. Eventually we were asked to leave by the dominate ram (full curl +) in no uncertain terms. While we were able to observe, it was one of the most memorable wildlife encounters we had experienced. Watching the herd behavior was neat. It was almost like watching a family gathering; the kids were playing, the nannies were supervising them, the old rams were hanging out shooting the shit and the dominate male was making his rounds between all the groups.


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