JACKSON (WNE) — Grand Teton National Park is asking backcountry skiers and snowboarders to avoid Mount Hunt, Static Peak and Prospectors Mountain for two weeks longer than usual to protect bighorn sheep.
“Wildlife, including bighorn sheep, need help from all of us after a tough winter,” Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said in a press release. “We are asking people to be actively engaged in the stewardship of these animals, because their survival depends on it.”
The three southern peaks are typically closed from Dec. 1 to April 30, aiming to allow the park’s skittish, alpine-dwelling inhabitants space during the toughest months of year — months when the animals’ fat reserves are depleted, and the sheep dwell on some of the highest, rocky faces in the Tetons to nibble on exposed vegetation. All three closures have been in place since the early 2000s.
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The park has also asked skiers to avoid “voluntary closure” areas it has established in the past few years.
The population of bighorn sheep that dwell in the Tetons is relatively small and isolated. Using DNA sampled from sheep scat throughout the range, park biologists estimated that in 2020 some 178 sheep lived in the range.
Research shows that sheep can get used to regular, predictable activity like people on a trail but struggle to adapt to irregular activity like people skiing all over a backcountry area. That can cause them to abandon precious winter habitat, threatening their critical fat stores.
Voluntary closures have aimed to establish designated routes through closed areas to reflect that science and strike a balance between sheep and skier’s interests.