The pronghorn are sleek animals with ornate bands of tans, blacks, and white down their throats and breasts and smooth black horns in front of their ears. Pronghorn eyes are seated high toward the outside of their skull giving them their keen vision to see 320 degrees. Unmatched as the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere, their long, slender lower limbs are built for speed for sprints and long distant running reaching flights up to 60 mph and single gaits of 30 feet without touching the ground. Their lungs, heart, and trachea are twice the size of a human's allowing them to sprint for hours. The pronghorn were once hunted across Wyoming by the North American cheetah and it was the cheetah that vanished from this side of the world 12, 000 years ago and the pronghorn survived. Pronghorn, often mistakenly called antelope, are common in the open grassland and sagebrush hills of the Pinedale region along the US 191 wildlife corridor. They often are seen in groups, which can be quite large and moving gracefully during spring and fall migrations. Wyoming's "Path of the Pronghorn" annual migration is one of the last remaining long-distance animal migrations in the lower 48. Pinedale has been recognized for the nation's first federally protected wildlife corridor in US Highway 191; two gigantic migration overpasses, six underpasses and an extensive 13 mile wildlife fence along US HWY 191 to ensure the safety of wildlife migration crossings.
The Rocky Mountain elk is considered to be one of Wyoming's premier big game species. An estimated 75,000 elk live in the state, and there are eleven elk winter feed grounds in Sublette County. Most Rocky Mountain elk migrate between high elevation summer ranges to lower winter ranges and back each year. These winter range areas typically have special regulations restricting human presence that would disturb them during the stressful seasons. In the spring, snow melt and spring green-up of grasses cause the herds to move up slope into the higher elevations and forests. Elk shed their antlers every year and collecting them in the spring is a popular family activity for many people.
Mule deer are very common in Pinedale, but white-tailed deer also reside here in small populations. They often can be seen bounding and landing with all four legs simultaneously so that it looks like the animal is hopping along on all fours, although they have a standard running gait as well. Mule deer are usually silent, but when startled can be heard snorting or grunting as they move away. Mule deer tend to feed at dawn and dusk and visitors are often rewarded by seeing them on evening rides in the open sagebrush countryside. Males of both deer species lose their antlers each year and regrow them during the spring and summer to reach full spread in time for the fall mating season. Mule deer, on record have the longest intact migration in the lower 48, migrating 150 miles from Rock Springs winter range, north across the Red Desert and then up the foothills of the Winds, just behind Pinedale and up into the upper Hoback for summer range.
The majestic moose is always a thrilling sight, and a true symbol of the mountain west. While its appearance seems awkward, in reality moose are surprisingly agile and can rapidly traverse terrain that appears impassable. Unlike other members of the deer family, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. While they are often depicted in marshy areas, they spend most of their time in heavily forested areas and more than half of what they eat is wood. Female moose can be particularly aggressive, especially when accompanied by a calf. Bulls shed their paddle-shaped antlers every year and regrow them in time for rut. Wyoming boasts the highest population of moose in the Rocky Mountain states at around 8,000.
Wyoming declared the American Buffalo as the official state mammal in 1985. Typical habitats for these massive animals include semi-open grasslands and sagebrush meadows and other scrub lands. Although they are not normally considered high-altitude animals, the bison in the Pinedale and Yellowstone area can be frequently spotted over 8,000 feet. Due to changes in land use and depopulation in during the European immigration in the 1800s, the plains bison is no longer migratory and can dig in snow to find buried vegetation. Yellowstone National Park has been called the only place in the United States where bison have lived wild consistently since before they were hunted to near extinction.
Black bears are found in Pinedale's Bridger Teton National Forest, typically in remote higher country. Black bears are generally less concerning to visitors than the formidable Grizzly, but should still be considered dangerous predators. They can be especially aggressive out of hibernation or near their food cache. Mothers are fiercely protective of cubs and will attack if they feel threatened. Black bears inhabit all of the three mountain ranges that surround Pinedale. Extreme caution should be exercised in bear country: keep a clean camp, have and know how to use pepper spray, and keep pets and children nearby at all times.
Pinedale's mountainous terrain is a perfect habitat for Grizzly Bears, and they can be found throughout the entire Wind River Range. Adults can weigh up to 900 pounds and are aggressively protective of cubs. Due to their size and speed, attacks on humans, while rare, can be fatal. They are active throughout the daytime and evening hours, as well as prior to, and immediately after, their hibernation periods. Wilderness regulations mandate a clean camp through bear country to prevent attacks and problem bears. Violations of wilderness regulations can result in a hefty fine, so be aware of the dangers and rules for safety in Grizzly Bear country. Pepper spray per individual is highly recommended, although not required.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are well-adapted to extreme elevation and temperature. They live year-round high up in rocky cliffs and can be difficult to spot. Their most distinguishing feature is the massive curved horns which can weigh 30 pounds, as much as the rest of the bones in their bodies. The flocks of males and females are generally elusive and avoid contact with humans and other predators. They can be aggressive during mating season and the sound of their antler blows can be heard for hours as they clash heads at speeds of 20 miles per hour. The bighorn is one of the most coveted big game trophies. Very few licenses are awarded and many hunters wait a lifetime for a lucky draw.
Gray wolves can be found in several areas within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These large canines are social animals which travel in packs, but are aggressive predators and are fiercely territorial. Their territories are generally large, often spanning hundreds of square miles, and packs can travel up to 15 miles per day within their range to search for food. They can effectively attack large ungulates such as moose, elk, and deer, and share their kills as a pack whole. Wolves are omnivores and will supplement their mainly carnivorous diet with berries and other wild fruits and vegetables.
Both Golden and Bald Eagles can be found throughout the Pinedale region. These large birds of prey are opportunistic hunters and primarily feed on smaller rodents or fish, but have been known to carry animals weighing up to 15 pounds to their nesting grounds. The Golden Eagle can be easily confused with other large bird species of similar plumage coloration, but the Bald Eagle is distinctively colored and more easily spotted. While eagles tend to nest in areas with minimal human impact, they are aggressively territorial of their homes and will attack humans and animals if threatened. Eagles can have wing spans of up to 9 feet and can fly at speeds of over 30 miles per hour. Do not underestimate their capacity for causing harm, and keep a respectful distance away.
Bobcat, Lynx, and Mountain Lions call this area home. While these cats are often thought of as rare and elusive, they are very adaptable predators and can sometimes be spotted in trees, within city limits, and sometimes sunning on rocks in the daylight hours. Predatory cats are largely solitary animals, but mothers can be spotted with cubs on occasion. Extreme caution should be used with any feline encounters, as they can be aggressive and move at rapid speeds with great power. The Mountain Lion has a wide territory and is especially prone to stalking prey for many miles, and silently attacking from above or behind.
Sublette County is home to a species of fish found nowhere else in the world called the Kendall Dace. This fish is on the Endangered Species list and is only found in the Kendall Warm Springs in the Upper Green. This small, minnow-like fish was discovered in 1934, and the adult fish are only between 1-2 inches in length and have a flat belly with an olive-black color. Their sides are a grayish green, with a dark lateral stripe running down the sides which is thought to help with camouflage. They have dark speckles or blotches on the body, and their fins are plain. Visitors can walk down the side of the bank and view the fish in the warm water, but swimming is prohibited. The site is along the Green River Lakes Road, and is not marked, so watch for the primitive pull out parking area just after you cross the bridge over the spring. A low profile marker on site provides more information. Please be respectful of the fragile nature of the site and this unique fish species.
Native Trout Species
The Cutthroat trout is the only trout native to Wyoming. Cutthroat are spring spawners. Principal food of the cutthroat is plankton and aquatic insects in lakes and streams. Cutthroat over twelve inches often feed on small fish and crayfish. The state record cutthroat weighed 15 pounds and was taken from Native Lake, Sublette County, in 1959. Cutthroat can be distinguished from other trout by the orange or red "cut-throat" markings under the lower jaw. They can be distinguished from rainbow trout by the presence of very small teeth (toward the back of the tongue) and black spotting or purplish color of the pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department offers an angling program called the Cutt-Slam to educate fishing enthusiasts about the four subspecies of Cutthroat trout native to Wyoming and to develop an appreciation for their conservation efforts and to promote Catch and Release fishing.
The brown trout is widely distributed in lakes and streams throughout Wyoming. Brown trout prefer dense cover from undercut banks and vegetation. The brown trout is a fall spawner. Young browns feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, and plankton in lakes and streams. Brown trout over twelve inches prefer larger food items such as small fish and crayfish. Due to their longer life span (up to ten years) and preference for larger food, brown trout often reach trophy sizes. The current state record is 25.81 pounds. Brown trout are more nocturnal than other trout; early morning and late evening fishermen are usually most successful. Brown trout can be distinguished from rainbow and cutthroat by the relative lack of spots on the unformed caudal fin, by the typical presence of orange spots on the side, and by the orange border on the adipose fin. Brown trout have dark spots on a lighter background. A hybrid between the brown trout and brook trout, called the tiger trout, is sometimes seen in Wyoming, characterized by a rather striking striped color pattern.
Rainbow trout have been widely introduced to Wyoming. Rainbow are presently the most important fish used in Wyoming's hatchery system. The rainbow, like the cutthroat, is a spring spawner. Since these two species are fairly close relatives, hybridization often occurs. Because of this, rainbow are no longer being stocked in waters containing native populations of cutthroat trout. Rainbow prefer cool, clear water, either streams or lakes, with maximum water temperatures below seventy degrees. Food of the rainbow trout in lakes is mainly plankton, but they also eat aquatic insects, snails, crayfish, and fresh water shrimp. Larger rainbow prey on small fish. The current state record is 23 pounds, from Burnt Lake in Sublette County. Rainbows are distinguished from cutthroat by the absence of basibranchial teeth, the absence of cutthroat markings under the jaw, a white tip on the pelvic and anal fins, and more uniform spotting pattern. They are distinguished from kokanee by eleven anal fin rays.
Brook trout were widely introduced in the western United States from the late 1800s until around 1940. The brook trout prefers clean, cold streams and has become well established in the mountain regions throughout most of the state. The brook trout is a prolific fall spawner. In small streams, it often overpopulates, which may eliminate other trout species and cause an inability to grow past a relatively small size. Food consists mainly of aquatic insects, although larger brook trout often feed on smaller fish. The state record fish was taken from Green River Lakes and weighed 9.69 pounds. Most brook trout in Wyoming range from six to ten inches. The brook trout is distinguished from the true trout (genus Salmo) by light spots on a dark background, and from lake trout by a relatively square caudal fin and the presence of blue or pink spots.
Golden trout are the most elusive of the Wyoming trout species, and often times, the most sought. Golden trout are spring spawners and prefer cold water temperatures, such as within the Wind River Range's alpine lakes. The world record golden trout at 11.25 pounds was caught within the Wind River Range, and many anglers guard their golden trout fisheries with deep secrecy. Wyoming also boasts the All-Tackle length golden trout record at 21 inches. They are aggressive fighters when caught, and are thought to be one of the best game fish on the fly. Golden trout are easily distinguished by their rich golden flanks with red horizontal bands along the lateral lines on each side and about 10 dark, vertical, oval marks on each side. Dorsal, lateral and anal fins have white leading edges.