Though spring is breaking out across many parts of the country, in the northern Rockies winter is still the norm, and in Glacier National Park visitors are being urged to let wildlife enjoy their winter range through mid-May.
Off-trail travel through critical winter range areas is not allowed through May 15 in specific areas of the North Fork, Lake McDonald and St. Mary districts of the park in an effort to protect wildlife, park officials said in a release. This restriction is intended to protect wintering ungulates such as deer, elk, moose and sheep from disturbance. Limiting human use to designated trails will help protect the animals during the critical winter and spring months.
This restriction does not affect the public’s use of designated roads, trails or river in these areas. Only off-trail use is prohibited between December 1 and May 15 of each year. Signs are posted at public access points in these locations.
In the North Fork area, the protection area is between the North Fork of the Flathead River and the Inside North Fork Road south of Logging Creek and north of Dutch Creek. Further south along the North Fork of the Flathead River, the winter range immediately east of the river from Big Creek south through Great Northern Flats, the Apgar Mountains area, is also protected.
In the Lake McDonald area, the restriction to designated trails is in the Belton Hills area along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River corridor. On the east side of the park, the winter range protection areas include the St. Mary, Two Dog Flats and Rising Sun areas.
Scientific evidence and research shows that human disturbance in ungulate winter ranges can adversely impact and stress wintering ungulate populations. In particular, ungulates occupy these areas just before and during the spring green-up, at the time of year when they are at their poorest physical condition.
Disturbance to the wildlife can inflict major stress on the populations, which may result in the death of individual animals. By implementing these off-trail restrictions in some of the park’s most humanly-accessible winter ranges, the park is also mirroring state restrictions and providing consistency in protecting big-game populations and winter ranges.
Specific information about the protection areas is offered through narrative and maps in the Glacier National Park 2012 Compendium which is located on the park’s website at www.glacier.nps/glac by clicking on park management, laws and policies.