“…better than any other animals the bighorns typify the Tetons.”
-Fritiof Fryxell, 1938
An early season visit to the National Elk Refuge in Jackson found a herd of bighorn sheep working the Miller Butte area. Very comfortable with our presence, it was a great opportunity to observe and photograph these seldom seen inhabitants of this Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Some ewes appeared ready to lamb, so follow-up visits are definitely on the shortlist of things to accomplish.
Derived from a much larger bighorn sheep complex that historically lived in northwest Wyoming, numbering perhaps 100-125, Wyoming’s smallest and most isolated native herd of bighorn sheep, the Teton Range bighorn sheep resides year-round at high elevation in Grand Teton National Park and surrounding National Forests. This population’s hold on the future is tenuous owing to its small size, likely isolation and the combined effects of loss of historic winter ranges, habitat alteration due to fire suppression and threats posed by increasing recreation in and near important seasonal ranges. has been studied. A three-year collaborative study has just been completed to improve the understanding of how and why bighorn sheep use the Teton landscape through identifying locations, characteristics, and use patterns of seasonal habitats and movement corridors by collecting data from GPS radio-collared bighorn ewes. Furthermore, a better understanding of the relationship between human activities and sheep habitat use is needed to evaluate whether sheep avoid high human use areas and to devise appropriate management strategies. Additional information on the study project is available at http://tetonsheepproject.blogspot.com/
Wondering how this Elk Refuge population relates to the Teton Range bighorn sheep population, a phone call was made to the National Elk Refuge for information. According to Eric Cole, Refuge Biologist, with the development of the National Elk Refuge, a relatively new bighorn population now winters on the Refuge. This year saw a record population estimated to be around 75 animals. This herd’s Summer home is the Gros Ventre range rather than the Teton range and as the snow melts and suitable food sources become available, this herd will migrate to the summer range high in the Gros Ventre range. Cole indicated lambing generally occurs in early June which makes this is an outstanding time to visit the Elk Refuge to view these seldom seen animals.
Grand Teton National Park is just 310,000 acres of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that is estimated to be between 12—18 million acres. This is one of the largest intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth today. Only in this Ecosystem exists the largest free-roaming, wild herd of Bison in the world, one of the largest Elk herds in North America, one of two Grizzly populations in the contiguous US, the longest migration of native Pronghorns of any North American mammal, and home to the Teton Range bighorn sheep. Visit often and stay a while, youlee be amazed at what you can see.
From Don’s Corner