The snow-shrouded mountains sure are pretty, but when you're driving through Grand Teton National Park in the coming weeks and months, keep an eye out for the park's wildlife.
With spring-like weather and warmer temperatures arriving, animals are actively “on the move” from their winter ranges to their summer haunts in Grand Teton National Park. Herds of elk recently moved off the National Elk Refuge and fanned out across the sagebrush flats just north of the Gros Ventre River and along both sides of Highway 26/89/191.
Several groups of elk began spreading across snow free areas in the park earlier this week. Because spring migration is now fully under way, motorists should be alert for wildlife on and near park roads and drive with extra caution during the coming weeks.
As the snow recedes, bison, mule deer, and moose are also making a transition from wintering areas to summer ranges. In the past week alone, two moose were struck and killed by vehicles just south of Moran Junction on Highway 26/89/191 in an area of dense willows near the confluence of the Snake River and Buffalo Fork River. This section of highway carries a 45 mph speed limit day and night, and a nighttime speed limit of 45 mph is posted for the entire length of Highway 26/89/191 in Grand Teton National Park.
Slower speed limits are posted in an effort to slow drivers and reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions such as those that took the lives of two moose in one week.
Many animals tend to move during low light conditions and are generally most active between dusk and dawn. Moose can be found browsing in both the sagebrush flats from Gros Ventre Junction to Moose Junction and in riparian areas near the Gros Ventre River and Buffalo Fork of the Snake River just south of Moran Junction. Mule deer, wolves, bears and other animals may also be encountered on or near park roads, and pronghorn antelope will soon make their way back to Jackson Hole.
Animals are typically weakened from the rigors of a Jackson Hole winter and may be forced to use precious energy whenever startled or disturbed by the presence of vehicles and humans on foot or bicycle. All visitors and local residents should keep their distance from all wildlife, maintaining a distance of 100 yards from bears or wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife, including nesting birds.
Public closures are now in effect near sage grouse leks throughout the park. Those who visit these areas must obey the posted closures to reduce disturbance to sage grouse on their seasonal mating areas. Wildlife protection closures will be in place for the next 4-6 weeks while the sage grouse are present.
Motorists are required to drive the posted speed limit and advised to be alert for animals that cross roads unexpectedly. Driving slower than indicated speed limits—especially at night—can increase the margin of safety. Collisions between motor vehicles and wildlife may result in severe damage to the vehicle, serious or fatal injuries to occupants of that vehicle, and/or death for the animal involved.
Although it may be a cliché, spring migration is a critical time to give wildlife a brake!