It’s hard to imagine, but moose, elk and other hoofed critters struggle to navigate the engineered piles of rocks and boulders that hold back the Snake River throughout much of Jackson Hole.
The levees, in other words, are a major wildlife impediment — among their many other impacts on the natural regime.
It’s a problem that the late Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation volunteer Greg Griffith helped identify. And this week the Wildlife Foundation’s executive director, Jon Mobeck, was out on the levee about a mile north of Rendezvous Park shoveling dirt and trying to implement a simple solution.
“This will be used by all kinds of animals,” Mobeck said Monday. “They’ll choose it even in the winter, when you won’t be able to see it. They know. Our camera trap was able to show that this will be tracked with prints.”
“This” was no more than a sloped and smoothed-over pile of dirt, perhaps 15 feet wide, that cut down to a braid of the Snake atop the usual igneous riprap the levies are made of. On one side of the ramp was the Snake itself, islands and willows, and on the other was a large cottonwood stand. The two habitats, in theory, are now better connected.
The material added to the levee was actually semi-rocky dirt called “pitrun” donated by Evans Construction, which had been dumped on West Bank resident Gene Linn’s property that day.
Linn worked with Griffith, who was killed in a car wreck last year, to add a test-run ramp to the dike on his property. A Wildlife Foundation remote camera monitored its use, which was significant.
“Everything under the sun uses that ramp,” Linn said. “We’re making places so that the animals can utilize the islands better. To me, that’s the major advantage.”
Also hoofing it over the ramps to avoid the riprap are a host of domestic animals Linn grazes on the expansive property: cattle, horses, donkeys and llamas.
“We’ve had two cows get injured on the big rocks,” Linn said. “One of them fatally.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Wildlife Foundation’s ramp initiative, which in the first phase consists of three new ramps in addition to the test ramp on the Linn Property. But Mobeck’s also hoping to scale up, and is eyeing Bureau of Land Management parcels and other private lands with willing owners that would make for good sites for more wildlife-friendly ramps.
“The whole idea is that we don’t want the Snake River and this riparian area to be a barrier,” Mobeck said.