In covering the hotly debated topic of the Teton’s Bighorn Sheep population and how best to protect the remaining individuals, it’s clear backcountry skiers/riders are key stakeholders. The region’s sheep are threatened, and biologists say interaction with winter backcountry users in winter may precipitate their decline. As conflicts like this arise in the future, it’s quite possible that backcountry skiers look to this case as a conflict resolution roadmap.
New to this topic? You can find more information from WildSnow here:
–With Teton Bighorn Sheep in Decline, Backcountry Skiers Face Closures
–Update: Bighorn Sheep and Backcountry Skiers/Riders in the Tetons
Although a formal plan has not been implemented, it is likely that several winter recreation zones in the Tetons, much of which holds excellent ski/ride terrain, will be restricted to winter recreationists to help protect sheep. A working group is creating the Grand Teton National Park’s Bighorn Sheep Winter Habitat Protection Plan.
Some aligned advocacy groups formulated a survey for Teton skiers/riders and winter climbers. The groups include The Teton Backcountry Alliance, Teton Climbers Coalition, Winter Wildlands Alliance, the Access Fund, and American Alpine Club. These stakeholders claim the survey intends to “inform the development of Grand Teton National Park’s Bighorn Sheep Winter Habitat Protection Plan.” Survey results were published on Wednesday.
Teton Bighorn Sheep & Winter Backcountry Travel Respondent Data
The survey had 257 respondents total, 67% of which reside in the Teton region, 25% Inter-Mountain West, 5% total from AZ, CA, OR, WA, 1% Midwest, 2% Northeast, and 1% international. 12% of respondents noted they were a Teton guide during the winter and early spring. (The survey did not gather information about age or gender identity.)
According to the survey’s Executive Summary, “most respondents reported that they have observed few to no bighorn sheep in their backcountry travels, with [a] small number of people having observed sheep on high, wind-blown areas.”
Ski/Climb Experience of Respondents
-47% said greater than 20 years of experience
-24% between 10 and 20 years of experience
-10% between six and 10 years of experience
-9% between one and five years of experience
Teton Zone Backcountry Usage of Respondents
-65% had spent ten or more days per year in the Teton backcountry from December 1 to April 30 in the last five years.
-75% had traveled the backcountry in the southern half of Grand Teton Park, with 33% spending greater than 20 days in that region from December 1 to April 30.
-60% of the respondents had traveled the backcountry in the more remote northern portion of Grand Teton Park from December 1 to April 30, with only 6% spending greater than 11 days in that area.
Teton Bighorn Sheep & Winter Backcountry Travel Survey Findings Summary
-12% of all respondents reported that they were unlikely or extremely unlikely to follow voluntary closures.
-67% indicated they would likely follow closures or were neutral on the question
Respondents were slightly (10%) more likely to follow (mandatory) non-voluntary closures.
-High-use skiers were slightly less willing to comply with closures (voluntary and mandatory) than low-use skiers.
-Those employed as guides were slightly less willing to comply than non-guides.
The survey includes cross-tabulated information which highlights differences between subgroups. Below, respondents with a Teton region zip code are compared to non-locals when asked about their willingness to follow voluntary and hard (non-mandatory) closures.
Jason Albert comes to WildSnow from Bend, Oregon. After growing up on the East Coast, he migrated from Montana to Colorado and settled in Oregon. Simple pleasures are quiet and long days touring. His gray hair might stem from his first Grand Traverse in 2000 when rented leather boots and 210cm skis were not the speed weapons he had hoped for. Jason survived the transition from free-heel kool-aid drinker to faster and lighter (think AT), and safer, are better.
If I understand this correctly, this was a skier/recreationalist advocacy group led survey, and if so, I could see this as worrying for those groups. One read of these results is that it provides support for mandatory closures as well as stricter enforcement/higher fines for those breaking closures.