Don't Poach the Powder: Campaign Helps Protect Wildlife in the Winter

Elk in winter.
Elk in winter. Courtesy Raymond Leinster (Flickr)
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If you've ever seen a moose struggling through chest-deep snow, looking for bark to strip off trees, you can understand the purpose of the Don't Poach the Powder campaign. Winter is already difficult for local wildlife, with temperatures plunging well below zero and food in short supply. And when you add the stress of fleeing from backcountry users into the mix, animals have a tough time making it through the winter. Some stressed animals suffer a long and lingering death, and early spring, even after the snow melts, still presents a challenge in terms of survival.

A moose feeding in the winter.
A moose feeding in the winter. Tim Rains (NPS)

The Don't Poach the Powder campaign (DPTP) was launched in 2001 as a collaborative effort by several Jackson-area organizations to help protect local wildlife, including moose, elk, deer, and bighorn sheep, from these stresses. This effort closes certain areas of public land to human (and dog) use during the winter and early spring months (typically Dec. 1 to April 30). The closures aren't just a suggestion—they are the law. Violating them can lead to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine.

The effort is supported by numerous local partners, including two national forests (Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee), Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge, and Wyoming Game and Fish, along with nonprofits Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, as well as wildlife tourism operator Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures. We sat down with Stace Noland of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance to find out what the DPTP campaign is really all about—and what it means for outdoor enthusiasts.

Signage from the "Don't Poach the Powder" campaign
Signage from the "Don't Poach the Powder" campaign Courtesy Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance

Why did the “Don't Poach the Powder” campaign begin?

Our mission at the Alliance is to protect the wildlife, wild places, and community character of Jackson Hole, so when our partners came to us and asked if we could help inform winter recreation enthusiasts on the harm their actions could inflict on wildlife, it made perfect sense.

Who is your target audience?

Our target audience consists of winter recreational enthusiasts who venture into wild, scenic, backcountry areas to enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling—oftentimes with their dogs. Recently, DPTP has expanded into the spring and fall months to inform people about seasonal closures to pathways.

Why is it important to respect wildlife closures?

Wildlife closures represent areas of significant importance to wildlife (such as mule deer, elk, and moose) in the winter. Much research and data has gone into determining the location of these areas.

Winter is the most stressful time of the year for wildlife. Deep snow, scarce food, and cold temperatures make energy conservation key for winter survival. When people—or their pets—disturb wildlife, it forces them to burn calories that are incredibly difficult to replace while foraging through several feet of snow. Meaning that animals are more likely to die... Going to Albertsons, Smiths, or Whole Grocer for a meal are not options.

Elk in winter.
Elk in winter. Courtesy Raymond Leinster (Flickr)

How are these closure areas determined?

The closure areas have been widely researched over the years and are determined by biologists and managers from the all the agencies. Basically, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, and the National Elk Refuge. Depending upon which agency manages the land under closure, that respective manager determines the closure. All these agencies consult with each other to determine the location and duration of these closures.

These closures have existed for years. When they were first decided, this decision was subject to a public review process, as with most federal and state government decisions. For any new revisions to existing closures, there will again be a public review process.

Do you find that people generally comply with these regulations?

Don't Poach the Powder is an awareness-raising campaign. Once winter recreation enthusiasts learn how their actions could potentially affect wildlife, they tend to comply. Especially when they learn that poaching wildlife closure areas is a crime, carrying a penalty of up to $5,000 or six months in jail.

Informal reports from agency personnel indicate that these awareness campaigns are effective in helping people comply with these regulations. A longer term objective of this program is to work with existing agency law-enforcement records and staff to measure the effectiveness of this campaign.

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