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Protecting the Bighorns in the Tetons

Bighorn sheep are such an iconic species out West and tens of thousands of hunters want to hunt them each year, yet few get to due to the bighorn’s limited range and population densities.

With the ever encroaching and expanding human population out West, especially after the craziness of the 2020 events in the country, further wildlife-human conflicts occur, even in places where you wouldn’t expect them.

Most high mountain wildlife species migrate down-country to lower elevations and milder weather when winter hits the higher elevations. A subpopulation of bighorn sheep in the Teton Range in western Wyoming is one of the exceptions to that rule. 

“The sheep eke out a living in the winter on nubs of dried grass and flowers near backcountry ski routes cherished by locals” according to Wyofile.com. “The Teton Range herd shuffles slightly up to the sides of peaks in the winter where wind scours away the snow, exposing nubs of vegetation.”

“Every time the wary sheep see something — or someone — approach, they retreat, burning precious calories and abandoning valuable winter range, researchers say.”

“Other places in the world are watching what is happening here. I might be optimistic, but the things I’m seeing lead me to believe it’s working,” said Josh Metten, a member of the Teton Backcountry Alliance Steering Committee and professional naturalist. “We’re involving people from the ground up and learning from each other and working together instead of being divisive… If we can’t do it in a national park, can we do it anywhere? We have to get it right here.”

I find it commendable that the groups are working together to find a solution to yet another dynamic challenge in the balance of sustainable wildlife populations and human recreation/expansion in the Rocky Mountain West. (This isn’t a unique situation out West. Colorado has long been fighting to find the balance between recreationists and elk in their summer range where elk numbers are dropping.)

What do you think? Should the ski opportunities be kept open or should they be closed down to protect the bighorns? 

About Brandon Mason

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4 comments

  1. The big horns were here first and we all need to respect that
    We humans have pushed and pressured almost all wildlife out of their natural habitat
    It’s time to take a stand for them they don’t have voices or lawyers to explain their needs
    We need to understand there cry for help and do something about it NOW for God made us accountable for all the animals on earth.!

  2. This argument has been going on for years. The sheep don’t need lawyers and if they did “have a voice” would laugh at some of the human ignorance. Just a few miles away the sheep graze and lick the tires of vehicles in the elk refuge. I’ve ridden horses and hiked mere feet away from these great animals and suspect this is another created crisis requiring funding and restrictions to the few skiers in the area.

  3. If public land managers created more opportunities for backcountry skiers with expansion of new trails, thinning and other similar ski area development, it would reduce use on this particular area and more opportunities for backcountry skiing.
    Also, prey animals (sheep, deer, elk, etc) are designed to flee from actual danger. Skiers are not a threat. I don’t see skiers as a significant burden to the sheep and their health . Let the skiers ski.

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