Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The National Elk Refuge is in Wyoming's historic mountain-rimmed Jackson Hole with the rugged Teton Range in the northwestern background. The town of Jackson adjoins its south boundary. The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior.
The refuge was established in 1912, primarily for winter range and care of the Jackson elk herd. The nearly 25,000 acres of grassland meadows, wetlands, and uplands provide late fall, winter, and spring elk forage. The elk are supplementally fed pelletized alfalfa hay when natural forage is less available below deep or crusted snow. As many as 7,500 or more elk may winter on the refuge.
The spectacle of thousands of wild animals concentrated in a small area attracts winter visitors, many of whom ride sleighs or wagons to view and photograph the elk at close range. The Elk Refuge provides protected habitat for many species of wildlife, and all human activity is confined to the main roadway through the refuge. The refuge road, as well as turnouts on Highway 26/191 north of Jackson, offer viewing and photography of various animals and birds on the refuge.
While the elk, or wapiti, are outstanding and the primary reason for the refuge, other animals of the high country live on the refuge yearlong, seasonally, or use the refuge in passing to and from higher elevations. Forty-nine different mammals have been observed on the refuge, including moose, bighorn sheep, and mule deer. From these larger and easily recognized animals, size scales down to the tiny, masked shrew, smallest of the refuge animals.
Coyotes are common. During the winter months when elk are concentrated on the refuge these carnivores act as an "elk disposal unit." Any animal that dies is soon consumed by these scavengers. Badgers are present in moderate numbers. In late fall they dig into burrows to catch and eat various hibernating rodents. Among the latter are the Uinta ground squirrels which spend two-thirds of the year sleeping underground and one-third raising families and fattening for the big sleep. Locally these rodents are know as "chiselers." Refuge records reveal that these animals vary greatly in numbers. One year they may be common while in another they may become comparatively scarce. Voles, or meadow mice, are common but rarely seen. They furnish food for hawks, owls, and other flesh-eating wildlife. Other wildlife forms present include the snowshoe hare, yellow-bellied marmot, and porcupine.
Beaver are common on the refuge. The dams they build make ponds used as foraging areas by moose. Red squirrels and chipmunks are found in suitable habitat. Trumpeter swans sometimes use the muskrat houses of Flat Creek marsh for nesting sites.
Bison, or buffalo, once ranged in Jackson Hole and a reintroduced herd from Grand Teton National Park winters on the National Elk Refuge. Buffalo skulls have been excavated from the mud of Flat Creek marsh. A few whitetail deer inhabit the area, but their close relatives, the mule deer, are much more commonly seen. The antelope or pronghorn once was common. After an absence of many years pronghorns are again drifting into the refuge from their ranges east of the Continental Divide. Mountain lions, grizzly bears and black bears range across adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park, but seldom venture onto the Refuge. As a result of the 1995 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, these native predators may soon be observed once again on or near the refuge.
Masked Shrew (Sorex cinereus). Common. These little insect-eaters live in streamside areas.
Vagrant Shrew (Sorex vagrans). Common.
Northern Water Shrew (Sorex palustris). Common, but rarely seen.
Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus). This bat is commonly found in old buildings, hollow trees, and rock ledges. Most often seen flying over or near water on summer evenings.
Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis). Status unknown.
Silver-Haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans). Common. Occupies forest areas.
Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus). Rare. Only six specimens known from Wyoming and one was from the Refuge.
Townsend's Bat (Plecotus townsendii). Uncommon. Feeds late at night near water.
Pika (Ochotona princeps). Uncommon. These little "rock rabbits" inhabit the higher, rockier portions of the refuge. The small, haystack-like food caches of this rabbit-like rodent may be found near their homes.
Whitetail Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii). An uncommon resident of the sagebrush meadow; turns white in winter.
Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus). This forestloving species is rare on the refuge. This species is grayish-brown in summer and white in winter.
Yellowbellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris). Normally found on rocky slopes. These 'rockchucks' sometimes burrow homes in stored hay.
Uinta Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus armatus). 'Chiselers' are the most common mammal seen on the refuge in the summertime. Their colonies resemble a miniature prairie dog town.
Golden-mantled Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis). Uncommon. This colorful species is often mistaken for a chipmunk, but is larger in size.
Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus). Uncommon.
Yellow-Pine Chipmunk (Tamias amoenus). Common in pine trees.
Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). This treeclimber is also called chickaree or pine squirrel. It is common in pine and spruce Forests of the northern part of the refuge.
Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). Common in aspens and pines. Seldom seen.
Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides). Gophers spend most of their time underground; their burrow mounds are more commonly seen than the animals themselves.
Beaver (Castor canadensis). Beaver dams and houses are commonly seen along the higher streams of the refuge.
Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). Common.
Bushytail Woodrat (Neotoma cinerea) (Pack Rat). Frequently invades cabins and buildings.
Meadow Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus). Common. Inhabits willows, meadows, and wet areas.
Longtail Vole (Microtus longicaudus). Inhabits drier areas.
Montane Vole (Microtus montanus). Common. Sagebrush Vole (Lemmiscus curtatus). Rare.
Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys gapperi). Common in conifers and aspens.
Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus). This fur-bearing marsh species is commonly found in refuge ponds.
House Mouse (Mus musculus). This introduced European is not common on the refuge and is found only in or close to houses and barns.
Western Jumping Mouse (Zapus princeps). Common in wet willow areas and in wet aspen stands.
Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Common. Porcupines chew on old saddles, leather straps, and wooden boxes as well as trees in their never-ending search for food and salt-flavored objects.
Coyote (Cants latrans). Abundant refuge resident.
Red Fox (Volpes vulpes). This fox is rare; most of its time is spent at higher altitudes.
Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Rarely seen on the refuge.
Grizzly Bear (Ursus horribilis). Rarely seen on the refuge.
Shorttail Weasel (Mustela erminea) (Ermine). A brown-backed mouse-catcher in summer but turns white in winter.
Longtail Weasel (Mustela frenata). Common. Similar to, but larger than, the ermine.
Mink (Mustela vison). An uncommon inhabitant of marshes and streambank areas.
Badger (Taxidea taxus). Abundant. They dig out ground squirrels even when the latter are in their winter sleep. Sometimes coyotes are seen hunting with badgers.
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Uncommon.
River Otter (Lutra canadensis). Rare. Occasionally found along streams.
Bobcat (Felis rufus). Rare. Cat tracks in the snow are more commonly seen than actual observations of this native flesh-eater.
Elk (Cervus elaphus). The refuge is a principal winter range for the Jackson Hole elk.
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Like the elk, deer are more numerous on the refuge in winter when they descend from the high country. Frequently seen during winter months on buttes or hillsides.
Moose (Alces alces). Moose, the largest of the American deer family, frequent the refuge river bottoms. Occasionally one of these animals is seen crossing open meadows or in ponds during the summer season.
Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). Also known as antelope, these white and tan speedsters are rare and in many seasons are not present.
Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) (Mountain Sheep). Bighorn are occasionally on the refuge during the colder months, moving from the higher country.
Bison (Bison bison) A reintroduced Jackson bison herd roams during winter months on the refuge.
Mountain Lion (Felis concolor) (Cougar). Rare. Occasionally wandering from nearby National Forest.
Refuge Manager National Elk Refuge 675 E. Broadway, Box C Jackson, WY 83001 Telephone: 307/733-9212