Winter Backcountry Recreation Component of Bighorn Sheep Study Continues

There is ample evidence that winter is the most difficult time of year for ungulates to survive. Deep snow, low forage availability, and increased caloric expenditure to maintain body heat, as well as energy demands of gestation in females, all contribute to the real risk of starvation. Bighorn sheep in the Teton Range have lost their historical migratory routes into the Jackson Hole and Teton valleys due to human development, and now winter on a limited number of wind-swept slopes and ridges at high elevation. Wildlife biologists are concerned that this small and genetically isolated bighorn sheep herd could experience significant mortality during winter. Therefore, we want to gain the most information possible about how these bighorn sheep use winter habitat in the Tetons, and which areas are most important to their survival.

We are continuing to collect backcountry recreation data in winter 2010, along with location data from GPS-collared bighorn sheep. In order to collect the most accurate and up-to-date data possible on backcountry recreation use patterns, we are randomly contacting backcountry users at 11 trailheads throughout the Teton Range and asking them to carry handheld GPS tracking units for the day. These GPS units provide detailed route information, which will be coupled with trail counter data to map patterns and intensity of use of various recreation routes.

This objective approach to measuring backcountry recreation will enable us to directly compare backcountry recreation with bighorn sheep movements. Since we will also have detailed location information of bighorn sheep movements during winters 2009 and 2010, we will be able to determine if and how bighorn sheep respond to various levels of human use in the backcountry. We appreciate the continued cooperation from local backcountry users in collecting this valuable information, and recognizing the value in developing effective ways to share the backcountry with bighorn sheep. Please contact the project lead, Aly Courtemanch ( with any questions.

Photos: Doug Brimeyer, Aly Courtemanch