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Jackson Hole News & Guide, Emma Breysse– While skiers tracks on Josies Ridge have drawn the most attention, this winter has seen more traffic in wildlife closure areas than officials like to see.

Authorities did not have exact numbers, but dispatchers said they have seen “an increase” in the number of people calling to report recreators in closed areas this winter. They declined to comment on the size of the increase.

Most of the reports occur in closed areas that are easily accessed from the town of Jackson.

“I don’t know exactly what is behind these decisions,” Bridger-Teton National Forest Trails Supervisor Linda Merigliano said. “It’s pretty hard not to know when an area is closed.”

That is especially true in the Snow King and Cache Creek trail areas, which are major spots for closure violations because areas nearby are open for winter recreation.

All of those areas are heavily signed in bright orange for people heading into a no-go zone.

The skiers who have been using Josies Ridge, for example, likely dropped down into the closure area after hiking over from the top of Snow King Mountain.

Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Executive Director Craig Benjamin, whose organization runs the ubiquitous “Don’t Poach the Powder” campaign, had a few ideas on why skiers and hikers are making their way into forbidden territory.

“I think most people around here are decent people who follow the rules,” he said. “But I think some people are just not, and it’s those people who feel entitled to go where they want when that’s where they want to go.”

Crowds at places like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort may be sending skiers in search of powder, and high avalanche risk in much of the backcountry may have sent them in search of less risky turns, Benjamin said.

It can be frustrating for those who are tasked with keeping people out of territory reserved for wild animals at this time of year, for reasons perhaps best illustrated by the tickets logged in 9th Circuit Court.

While those numbers do not represent every agency that might be writing tickets for violating closures, the past month’s records show no citations for closures in areas where tracks and footprints clearly show people have been.

“We usually don’t have a car or anything to follow up on when these things happen,” Merigliano said. “It’s hard to catch these people in the moment, and that’s almost the only time to do it.”

For animals the problem is one that can be found on signs all over the valley: Dodging humans wastes calories that are difficult to replenish when most plants are covered in snow.

The Josies Ridge area is the only place in the valley where animals hoping to access Flat Creek do not have to cross a road to do so. Animals use the area for just that reason, Benjamin said.

Within the last month, Alliance staffer Skye Schell has taken photographs of elk foraging on the ridge, according to Outreach Coordinator Mandy Crane.

For Merigliano, the problem becomes one of her responsibilities.

“When we see things like this happen, especially things that are so public and visible, I get a lot of pressure to come down on recreators,” she said. “I don’t want to regulate recreation more heavily, I really don’t. But if people don’t follow the rules, I have to have those conversations.”

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