Don't be bull-headed about winter travel restrictions in the NER. (Nick Sulzer)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Authorities at the National Elk Refuge are reminding visitors about winter travel restriction in place for the protection of wildlife.

While the Elk Refuge welcomes the public to enjoy the many wildlife viewing opportunities this season, it also remains committed to the protection and preservation of habitat and wintering animals. Recreationists are asked to respect all travel restrictions on the Refuge this winter while enjoying the abundance of area wildlife.

Elk Refuge road closure sign. (USFWS)

In conjunction with Bridger-Teton National Forest winter travel restrictions, a portion of the National Elk Refuge Road will be closed to public travel from December 1, 2018 through April 30, 2019 to protect wintering wildlife. The closure, which begins approximately 3½ miles northeast of the Refuge’s entrance on East Broadway Avenue in Jackson, includes both Curtis Canyon and Flat Creek roads.

Elk and bison hunters with National Elk Refuge permits will be allowed to drive through the closure to access hunt parking lots during the days their permits are valid. Hunters must drive directly to the designated lots to park prior to hunting. The elk season concludes at dusk on Friday, December 14, with the bison season tentatively running through Thursday, January 31. No public travel beyond the closure will be allowed after the hunting seasons conclude.

Bighorn sheep like to lick the salt off your vehicle. Please don’t let them. (USFWS)

The Refuge Road is a popular destination in the winter as elk, bighorn sheep, and other animals can frequently be seen close to the roadway, providing both wildlife viewing and photography opportunities. Travelers on the roadway often stop, park, or leave vehicles unattended while observing wildlife, obstructing the safe movement and passing of other vehicles. While visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the rich wildlife viewing opportunities during the winter months, drivers wanting to extend wildlife viewing experiences or take photographs should pull off the roadway, safely park, and allow for the free movement and safety of other traffic.

Travelers on the Refuge Road may experience nearby bighorn sheep often boldly approaching vehicles to lick and ingest the salts and minerals found on the vehicle’s surface. Because pneumonia is a chronic condition in this herd, licking off a shared surface greatly increases the chances that a disease may spread to other uninfected sheep. There may also be harmful chemicals on a car or truck’s surface that could be harmful to consume. Consequently, wildlife managers are concerned with the high number of people that stop on the Refuge Road to allow this to happen. Rather than stopping in the Refuge Road, wildlife watchers should continue driving slowly ahead when sheep approach their vehicle, moving to a pullout further from the herd and then walking to within a reasonable distance for photos or observation.

Winter wildlife abounds in the National Elk Refuge. (USFWS)

All visitors and residents using the open portion of the Refuge Road must be aware that travel is confined to the roadway only. All off-road travel is prohibited, including walking, skiing, or other recreational activities. Dogs are also limited to the roadway and must be leashed at all times.

Wintering elk can be seen from Highway 26 / 89 /191 north of Jackson during most of the winter season, with turnouts on the east side of the highway allowing wildlife watchers a designated location away from traffic to view and photograph animals. However, people that leave their vehicles, violate the North 89 pathway seasonal closure, and approach the Refuge fence often create a disturbance for wintering elk that can cause the herd to bolt from the area as they react to the presence of a human on foot. Repeated disturbance throughout the winter from people walking into closed areas, including the North 89 pathway, can impact an animal’s health during a time of year when energy conservation is key to their survival.

More information on area winter wildlife viewing is available on the National Elk Refuge’s web site, including a printable Winter Wildlife Viewing Guide (Adobe PDF).