Backcountry skiing can impact bighorn sheep health
New closures during the winter could help bighorn sheep in the Teton Range in Wyoming. Last week, an interagency collective of biologists recommended closing 21,233 acres to backcountry skiing and general human presence during the winter months as the area is prime winter range for “an imperiled, declining herd of bighorn sheep,” according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
If approved, the area, which is only “slightly smaller than the National Elk Refuge,” could help the floundering herd. It is key terrain that the sheep need for survival and that they would “potentially abandon if shared with skiers.”
“It would protect half of the bighorn sheep habitat,” said Aly Courtemanch, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) wildlife biologist.
While the actual acreage isn’t that much, it’s enough, added Courtemanch.
The Teton Range Bighorn Sheep Working Group is also recommending specific travel routes for skiers and snowboarders who need to travel through bighorn sheep habitat to reach open ski areas and pushing for more education on how backcountry skiing can impact bighorn sheep, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
Bighorn sheep typically abandon areas where skiing is prevalent, said Courtemanch.
Along with the new winter closures, WGFD is working with Grand Teton National Park to cull non-native mountain goats, as goHUNT previously reported, which use up resources like forage that native bighorn sheep depend upon.
“The goal that we’ve laid out is 100 sheep in the north and 100 sheep in the south,” said Courtemanch. “We feel like if we could get to those numbers we would feel much better about the sustainability of the herd.”
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