What You Missed: Teton Officials Mull Backcountry Ski Closure to Help Bighorn Sheep

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How do backcountry adventures impact Mother Nature?

It’s an ethical question that visitors to Wyoming’s Teton Range may be forced to face in the coming months. Last week a committee comprised of biologists, land managers, and recreation groups published a report on the region’s dwindling herd of bighorn sheep, which environmental advocates have tried to protect for years. The herd has shrunk to just 130 animals.

The report, while not binding, recommends that the National Park and Forest Services close 21,000 acres of backcountry terrain to skiers, who flock to the region each winter to chase challenging lines and deep snow. The wary sheep retreat whenever they see humans approaching, and their movement burns valuable calories and cuts them off from scant areas of exposed grass and flowers on the mountains.

The report has sparked a debate among skiers and environmentalists. While most agree that the sheep merit protection, some skiers wonder if there’s a better method than a complete closure of the terrain. Would the voluntary closure of an area suffice? What if a website informed skiers of the herd’s specific location? What if users simply punished those skiers who strayed too close to the sheep?

“Then if skiers aren’t behaving well, if skiers are observed touring up thin-covered slopes with a bunch of sheep in the distance, there would be consequences,” said Thomas Turiano, a board member of the Teton Backcountry Alliance. “It may be, when skiers behave like that, these areas would get closed.”

Environmental advocates, meanwhile, argue that an invaluable species could be lost if land managers cater to people’s need for fun.

Ethical debates around recreation and ecological preservation are all too common in the Mountain West, as the soaring population and growing recreation industry push further into backcountry areas. How those debates impact policy involves a lengthy evaluation process by land managers like the National Park and Forest Service.

While these policy battles can drag on for months or even years, the ethical questions they represent are ones that all of us should consider when we hike, bike, or ski in the backcountry.

Yosemite’s Largest Campground Closes for Renovations

Camping in California’s Yosemite National Park is about to get more crowded and competitive than usual.

On November 17, park officials shuttered three campgrounds for renovations, among them the Tuolumne Meadows site, which boasts 336 total campsites and is the largest in the park. The sprawling campsite will reopen in 2024 or 2025, officials said.

The two other closed campsites—Bridalveil Creek and Crane Flat—will reopen in 2023.

Closures for renovations are common in national parks, since infrastructure in some of the older parks dates back decades. Originally built in the 1930s, Tuolumne Meadows underwent its most recent major renovations in the 1960s. The latest project will add two new restrooms, an updated water and sewer system, and a new road network. But the length of the closure in Yosemite is bound to increase congestion in the already busy destination. Earlier this year Yosemite launched an online reservation system for day visitors to manage the post-pandemic surge.

With the closures, Yosemite will still have ten campgrounds open to visitors, five of which require reservations. We recommend planning your 2022 trip ASAP.

One Second Better

Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda set a new world record in the half-marathon distance at Sunday’s Lisbon Half Marathon in Portugal. Kiplimo’s time of 57:31 shaved one second from the previous world record, set in Valencia, Spain, in 2020 by Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie.

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