North Highway 89 Pathway remains closed for public use

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Despite spring conditions and warmer weather, the North Highway 89 pathway remains closed to non-motorized public use.


April 10, 2018 (NER 18-06)

Despite spring conditions and warmer weather, the North Highway 89 pathway remains closed to non-motorized public use. Though groups of elk began moving north from the National Elk Refuge as early as two weeks ago, approximately 4,200 elk were still on Refuge land last weekend. The pathway seasonal closure from November 1 to April 30 maximizes benefits to wildlife, important wildlife habitat, and migration corridors.

A substantial number of elk wintered on or adjacent to the National Elk Refuge this season, topping out at 10,200 animals during the annual classification count led by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department in February. The number represents 94% of the Jackson Elk Herd, up from 83% wintering in the same areas the previous year. Because of lower snow totals throughout the Refuge, much of the herd was dispersed throughout the 24,700 acre wildlife refuge, including the northern hills where winter elk use is less common.

Even though many of the remaining 4,200 elk are out of the public's view, the increased presence of humans near the fence line can be stressful for wildlife. "We want to maximize the amount of habitat the elk use and not discourage them from the west side as they stage to move toward summer ranges," explained Refuge Manager Brian Glaspell.

The opening and closing of the pathway 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 animals stabilizes to the May 1 long-term average of approximately 2,500 elk or less an earlier opening is considered. "We can't quickly open and close the pathway when animals move near or disperse away from the pathway," Glaspell said. "Instead, we look at the larger picture rather than individual snapshots in time to make the key management decision."

GPS collar data shows that peak spring elk movements typically occur during the second and third weeks of April.

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 six months of the year. "It's one more way to demonstrate a respect and commitment to living compatibly with Jackson's wildlife," Glaspell added.