21,233-acres of the Teton, WY backcountry could soon be permanently off-limits to backcountry skiers to help a declining herd of bighorn sheep.
Biologists are recommending that the ‘high quality winter habitat’ be protected from human activity to help the declining herd double in numbers, or else they become extinct.
“Overall, implementing the recommended high and moderate priority management actions would result in 21,233 acres of new bighorn sheep winter habitat protections in the Teton Range (47% of winter habitat). Forty-seven percent (16,952 acres) of the high-quality habitat in GRTE would be protected, 49% (3,478 acres) on CTNF, and 38% (803 acres) on BTNF. Of these areas, 2,833 acres overlap with areas that were identified as high-value ski terrain during the public collaborative process. Therefore, 5% of high-value ski terrain would have human access restricted.”
Wildlife officials say that 95% of the ‘high value’ ski terrain would still be accessible. The suggested closure would protect much of the Teton Range sheep’s winter habitat, an area they would abandon if humans were present, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. The area would be closed to humans during the winter months. Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests will be responsible for enforcing the policy suggestions.
“It would protect half of the bighorn sheep habitat.”
– Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch told the Jackson Hole Daily
As well as the closure, other measures are being discussed. These include designated skin tracks through sheep habitat, and using signage to educate backcountry recreators to their impacts on the bighorn sheep.
The plans have been met with some resistance from skiers though. In a post on Instagram, Fred Marmsater had this to say:
“Care about public access to public lands? About accessing mountains? Maybe even ski touring in the Tetons? GTNP is proposing large sweeping closures to the park and surrounding national forests that will end ski touring/access in the Tetons as we know it. This is to protect the Teton big horn sheep herd. If there was robust, published data showing that small ski touring parties negatively impact the herds habitat and survival and a well thought out and comprehensive plan, I could get behind this. But this data does not exist, nor does a solid plan. In fact, these same agencies are allowing continued ski area expansions into the sheep habitat, there is even a commercial airport inside the park… these closures has nothing to do with protecting the survival of these amazing animals. Make your voice heard; there is a zoom meeting this Wednesday night, and you can still send an e-mail to the park. Links in my story, and in @jeffdobronyi stories. #freethetetons”
And Jeff Dobronyi this:
“Backcountry ski terrain can’t be measured by lines on a map. We don’t think the same way a resort does when they calculate skiable acres. To us, the entire range is high-quality ski terrain, and the sense of freedom that we get when we can go anywhere we choose, if we just point our skis in that direction, is the very reason we go out of the resorts and into the backcountry in the first place. They’re not limiting 5% of high-quality ski terrain, they’re limiting an infinite amount of freedom and potential.”
A virtual meeting will be held today, October 20th, from 6-8:30 pm to discuss the findings of the Teton Range bighorn sheep working group. Staff from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department will also be online.
For the full details of all the proposed closures, check out the full report.