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Help wildlife survive winter by giving them space

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PHOTO BY ADOBE STOCK

MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

BIG SKY—Winter and spring are stressful times for wildlife as they must rely on fat reserves and limited nutrition to survive. This can make encounters with people especially detrimental to wildlife as the stress of these encounters can deplete an animal’s energy reserves.

The best thing people can do to help wildlife survive is give them plenty of space. This helps animals retain the energy they need to make it through this season of cold temperatures and limited forage.

This need is illustrated in an area of the Spanish Peaks near Big Sky. Bighorn sheep spend the winter months in Deer Creek and Asbestos Creek, which are becoming more frequently visited destinations for backcountry skiing. Backcountry skiing in this area puts recreationists amid critical habitat for a struggling population of bighorn sheep.

Cold temperatures and heavy snowfall have brought excellent opportunities for recreationists, but they’ve also made this winter exceptionally difficult for wildlife. As people across the state head outside to enjoy skiing, looking for antler sheds and other forms of winter recreation, here are some steps they can take to help wildlife:

  • Avoid recreating in areas with wintering wildlife. If you plan to ski in the Spanish Peaks, be aware that Asbestos Creek and Deer Creek are essential winter habitat for bighorn sheep.
  • Abide by seasonal closures on wildlife management areas. Public access is closed in winter for many wildlife management areas to provide habitat security. These closures are strictly enforced.
  • If you encounter wildlife, especially ungulates, give them plenty of space and consider recreating elsewhere. Animals may seem like they don’t mind your presence, but stress from these encounters is harmful.
  • Always keep pets under control.
  • Never feed wildlife. Artificially feeding wildlife can cause digestive failure for animals and is illegal.

As people keep their distance from wildlife, they protect an important part of what makes Montana’s outdoors so extraordinary. To learn more, visit fwp.mt.gov.

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