Bighorn sheep wait their turn during a tram trial run last summer. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

TETON VILLAGE, Wyo. — Ewe heard it here first: Starting April 11 through May 19, bighorn sheep are in for a scenic ride up the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) Aerial Tram.

Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) will utilize Big Red as a migratory tool for some of Jackson Hole’s bighorn sheep herds after the Forest Service was granted a Wildlife Migratory Use Permit (WMUP) in March.

In a heavily negotiated contract with JHMR, Bridger-Teton will pay a rate of $3,350 per sheep, round trip, relocating roughly 100 sheep. Operations will occur hourly.

In the winter months, bighorn sheep travel to lower elevation ranges where they spend the winter grazing on the mostly snow-free slopes of Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge. From May through October, herds begin to move to higher-elevation ranges. Wildlife biologists say the 2022/23 winter deep snow conditions caused significant strain on the species and pose a potential barrier to the summer migration, which has largely contributed to the use of this new management tool in anticipation of summer needs.

According to BTNF, Teton bighorn sheep are one of the smallest and most isolated herds in Wyoming. The native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd is of high conservation value to the Jackson Hole community and millions of visitors from around the world who visit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each year.

“The Aerial Tram is a great tool for the movement of wildlife into higher-elevation ranges, especially after the harsh winter we’ve just had,” said BTNF Biologist Wooly Clark.

While this is the first year the method will be implemented, depending on annual snow depths and the success of the program it may continue into the future.

A test ride was recently conducted with a few bighorn sheep ahead of the program’s official launch on April 11. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

With rams weighing up to 300 pounds and ewes up to 200 pounds, tram engineers determined a 22-sheep capacity per ride. Since the mating season for bighorn doesn’t start until July, there will be designated separate bachelor cars for the rams to prevent commingling and maintain their natural behavior.

Beginning next week, tram operators will receive training on wrangling and supporting the bighorns’ tram migration. For safety, a tram operator will be in an enclosed structure within the tram car while two wildlife officials will ride to the top with the sheep. There are also two specially trained Australian shepherd dogs, Scat and Waffle, who will assist with moving operations.

If you’ve made it this far and can’t believe what you see, check the date. Happy April Fools’ from Buckrail!

More stories from April 1


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