Reminder: North 89 Pathway remains closed until May 1

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Finally things are warming up around here and it is beginning to feel like spring. With the warmer temps comes the urge to get out and about and shed ourselves of a little of that cabin fever thing.

A reminder from the folks at the Elk Refuge urges cyclists and pedestrians to please respect the North 89 pathway closure through April 30 to maximize benefits to wildlife, habitat, and migration corridors. The path may be clear but that does not make it okay to use, yet. It may not seem like any elk are around but that doesn’t mean your presence isn’t harmful to wildlife.

The opening and closing of the multi-use pathway bordering the Refuge to the west is coordinated with Jackson Hole Community Pathways and the Teton County Parks & Recreation Department. Managers use the number of elk remaining on the Refuge and the potential for migration conflicts as the basis for an annual decision to open the pathway as early as April 15. If the number of remaining number of elk stabilizes to the May 1 long–term average of approximately 2,500 elk or less, an opening earlier than April 30 is considered.

GPS collar data shows that peak spring elk movements typically occur during the second and third weeks of April. However, the Jackson Hole valley experienced record snowfall totals this winter, in some cases delaying spring green-up that would draw elk to other areas. So far this spring, wildlife managers have seen very little movement of elk from the National Elk Refuge to their summer ranges. An elk survey earlier this week noted nearly 6,200 elk still remained on the Refuge.

There may not be an elk in sight but the sight of a biker or pedestrian on the pathway could be stressful for wildlife on the Refuge. (Lori Iverson, USFWS)

It’s true, many of the remaining 6,200 elk are quite some distance from the fence line. Still, increased presence of humans can deter their natural tendencies to migrate.

“Elk react differently to people than they do with cars on the highway,” explained Refuge Manager Brian Glaspell. “We don’t want to do anything that would compromise their dispersal or prevent their natural inclination to leave their winter range.”

Glaspell added that the management decision to open the pathway is based on the migration of the herd as a whole and what will provide the greatest benefit to wildlife. “We can’t quickly open and close the pathway whenever small groups of elk move closer to or away from the pathway,” he added.

Though unauthorized use of the pathway is tempting for cyclists and pedestrians to get in early season exercise, the public is asked to recognize the value of the pathway and its availability for so many months of the year.

“It’s one more way our community can demonstrate a respect and commitment to living compatibly with Jackson’s wildlife,” Glaspell said. The pathway is open each season through October 31.

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