Teton Bighorn Sheep Project

Loss of migration patterns and access to seasonal ranges are threats facing ungulate populations throughout the world. Historically, bighorn sheep in the Teton Range near Jackson Hole, Wyoming undertook an annual migration from high elevation summer range to low elevation winter range. However, the combined effects of human settlement, livestock grazing, and other factors led to the disruption and loss of migration around 50 years ago. The herd currently resides year-round at high elevation (8,000 to 12,000 feet) in Grand Teton National Park and on the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests. It is Wyoming’s smallest and most isolated native herd – a remnant population of approximately 100-150 sheep. However, the population’s hold on the future is tenuous owing to its small size, genetic isolation from surrounding herds, marginal winter habitat, and potential disturbance from winter backcountry recreation.

Growing recognition of the status of the herd and the need for interagency cooperation in management led to the formation of the Teton Range Bighorn Sheep Working Group in 1990 and the development of a strategic plan. The strategic plan recognized that the existing information regarding the status and threats to this herd was inadequate. Thus, the primary goal of our project is to conduct research that is closely aligned with the knowledge gaps and management needs outlined in the strategic plan.

The specific objectives are to 1) evaluate the summer and winter habitat selection strategies of the herd, 2) assess whether and how bighorn sheep avoid winter habitats due to backcountry recreation, 3) evaluate bighorn sheep use of retired domestic sheep allotments, 4) determine lamb survival through summer for a sample of bighorn ewes, and 5) evaluate summer diet selection and time-budgets. Results from this study will inform future management decisions regarding refinement or addition of seasonal closures, habitat enhancements, justification for or against a future transplant, and expansion of human development. We also hope to shed light on how these bighorn sheep have adapted behaviorally to wintering on high elevation range, as such information would better our understanding of how loss of migration influences ungulate populations.

During winters 2008 and 2009, we captured and GPS-collared 28 bighorn ewes in the Teton Range. The GPS collars provide 5-hour fixes of bighorn sheep locations for 2.5 or 1.5 years. These GPS locations are being used to develop summer and winter resource selection functions describing bighorn sheep habitat selection throughout the Teton Range. We have also collected data on human backcountry recreation patterns (i.e., backcountry skiers) in winters 2009 and 2010 by establishing trail counters and recruiting backcountry users at 11 trailheads to carry handheld GPS units, yielding over 800 GPS tracks of backcountry use. The recreation data is directly comparable to GPS locations from collared bighorn sheep collected during the same period. Also, during summers 2008-2010, field crews tracked GPS-collared ewes to monitor lamb survival, collect fecal samples for diet selection analysis, conduct vegetation surveys, and collect time-budget observations.

This is a collaborative project involving our research group, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park, and Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests.

Click here to go to the Teton Bighorn Sheep Project Blog

Gallery

Reports & Publications

D’Antonio, A., C. Monz, S. Lawson, P. Newman, D. Pettebone, and A. Courtemanch. 2010. GPS-based measurements of backcountry visitors in parks and protected areas: examples of methods and applications from three case studies. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 28:42-60.

Project Reports

Annual Report 2010
Annual Report 2009– for UW-NPS Research Center

Contact

Alyson Courtemanch, M.S. candidate
Wyoming Cooperative & Wildlife Research Unit
Dept. 3166, 1000 E. University Avenue, Laramie, WY 82070
[email protected]  |  lab: (307) 766-6415  |  cell: (207) 441-2692

Steve Kilpatrick, Habitat Biologist
Wyoming Game & Fish Department
420 North Cache, P.O. Box 67, Jackson, WY 83001
[email protected]  |  office: (307) 733-2321

Sarah Dewey, Wildlife Biologist
Grand Teton National Park
P.O. Drawer 170, Moose, WY 83012
[email protected]  |  office: (307) 739-3480

Doug Brimeyer, Wildlife Biologist
Wyoming Game & Fish Department
420 North Cache, P.O. Box 67, Jackson, WY 83001
[email protected]  |  office: (307) 733-2321

Project Lead

Alyson Courtemanch is currently an M.S. student in the Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming. Aly earned a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from St. Lawrence University in 2005.

Timeline

The project started in January 2008. Initial bighorn sheep captures took place in February 2008 and a second round of captures took place in March 2009. Field work was conducted during winters 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 and summers 2008, 2009, and 2010. The GPS collars dropped off on 15th July 2010 and were collected by September 2010. Analysis is taking place during fall and winter 2010/2011, and final reports will be completed by August 2011.

Funding & Partners

Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition • Wyoming Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation • Wyoming Game & Fish Department • Grand Teton National Park – Rocky Mountain Ecosystems Studies Unit • Teton Conservation District • Grand Teton National Park Foundation • Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests • Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee • National Park Service – University of Wyoming AMK Ranch • Eastern Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation

Other Project Coordinators

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort • Grand Targhee Resort • Rendezvous Backcountry Tours • Brunton, Inc. • Jetboil, Inc.