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2016: Discovery, policy, adventure … and Yellowstone

Looking back, 2016 was a year of adventure and discovery with a year-long celebration of Yellowstone National Park and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Wyoming people again displayed their passion for recreation and land-use in important policy discussions and action. It shouldn’t be surprising. In Wyoming, where recreation is big business, people have big opinions about it.

Policy

In January of 2016 a poll showed most Wyomingites oppose selling public lands. Residents like Jeff Muratore said the recreation opportunities afforded on public lands are the reason he lives in Wyoming. Some elected officials like Rob Hendry, a Natrona County commissioner, see benefits including the chance for better management — if states take over federal land. Federal public land transfer is still a divisive issue in the West as we enter 2017.

In October, the death of legendary conservationist Tom Bell reminded Wyoming people that the state’s landscapes and land-use policies have been an integral part of public discussion in the state for decades. Bell, a Lander resident and World War II veteran, founded both High Country News and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

On the Shoshone National Forest, mountain bikers continue to advocate for trails after the Forest Service closed a popular ride in the Dunoir Special Management Area during its forest-wide management planning process in 2014. The agency recently unveiled a plan for mountain biking across the forest.The Mountain Bike Route Designation Project calls for 35 miles of new trail, but also closure of unofficial routes, including popular rides in Sunlight Basin near Cody and off the Loop Road near Lander.

Alicia Maggard paddles on a hazy August morning on Shoshone Lake, a backcountry lake in Yellowstone National Park. If you're going to tour the lake by paddleboard, go when it is warm and paddle when winds are calm. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile)

Alicia Maggard paddles on a hazy August morning on Shoshone Lake, a backcountry lake in Yellowstone National Park. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile)

Multi-use management issues weren’t limited to the Shoshone. A spike in popularity of electric bikes, which use a motor, became a new problem on trails in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Technology makes some e-bikes as powerful as a motorcycle and as they grew in popularity that began to cause run-ins on popular non-motorized trails, said Linda Merigliano, forest recreation and program manager on the Bridger-Teton. She worked to educate riders where e-bikes were allowed.

Emerging technology also led the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to impose a ban on hunters use of piloted aircraft or drones for scouting game. The commission’s prohibition extends from  Aug. 1 to Jan. 31. Wyoming’s previous rules prohibited hunting within 24 hours of flying to find game. Wyoming’s new rule is one of the strictest in the country because it includes all aircraft, as well as drones, said Tim Brass, state policy manager for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“Wyoming really took a bold step there,” Brass said.

Discovery

It’s amazing, with all the knowledge we already have, how much there is still left to learn.

In 2016, biologists discovered a migration route used by deer in Grand Teton National Park. The route was one of four recently documented thanks to the use of GPS tracking, which allows scientists to closely monitor where animals go.

Tracking collars also are employed in a new study of how wild horses use the landscape in the Adobe Town Herd Management Area. The collars will show researchers how and when horses move across public and private land.

In Yellowstone, scientists spent part of November and December mapping the water beneath Yellowstone’s surface. The project will, for the first time, help scientists to understand where the water erupting from the park’s famous geysers originates, and how water features throughout the park are connected.

Other scientific discoveries gave insight into our ancestors’ lives in Wyoming.

Archeologists studied sites that offered clues that may help determine whether early humans played a role in the extinction of mammoths. New research showed how hunters and gatherers flourished in what is now Wyoming. And wildfires revealed ancient artifacts.

Adventure

The people of Wyoming are always pushing boundaries in the outdoors.

Jackson’s Ryan Burke traversed the Tetons, scaling 50 peaks in a week-long trip. He covered 102 miles and climbed 112,000 vertical feet, the equivalent of summiting Mount Everest from sea level three times.

Wilson’s Jax Mariash Koudele set out to become the first woman to complete the Grand Slam Plus of Four Deserts racing, which involves completing five grueling multi-day stage races in a single year. Peaks to Plains talked to her in May after she finished two of the five races. According to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Koudele successfully finished the Grand Slam Plus in November.

Tonya Lewman walks through the fog and sagebrush while scouting for antelope Oct. 7, near Ucross. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile)

Tonya Lewman walks through the fog and sagebrush while scouting for antelope Oct. 7, near Ucross. (Kelsey Dayton/WyoFile)

Not all adventures in Wyoming are so extreme. Peaks to Plains covered powder ski instruction, a fire-tower “motel” in the Bighorn Mountains and a paddleboard trip on Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone’s backcountry.

In October, Tonya Lewman went hunting for the first time. Lewman had just turned 50, been divorced, and gotten braces. She was looking for something beyond just meat for her freezer. As part of the Women’s Antelope Hunt she found confidence as well as the pronghorn buck she successfully harvested.

Yellowstone

This summer just braving the crowds of Yellowstone National Park was an adventure. With the park service’s 100th anniversary, the nation’s first national park counted more than 4.2 million visitors through October.
As Yellowstone celebrated the milestone, researchers started looking at one of the most prominent species in the park — humans.

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One study looked at how people use the park — where they go, what staff they talk to. Another study looked at why humans were not obeying park rules — often inadvertently — and getting injured, or putting wildlife at risk. Finally, we offered a guide on how visitors can still take in the sights of Yellowstone National Park, while avoiding the crowds, or at least some of them.

WyoFile is proud to offer regularly published opinion columns from journalists and professionals with a unique perspective on life in Wyoming — Ed.

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About the Author

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Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star-Tribune. Contact Kelsey at [email protected] Follow Kelsey on Twitter at @Kelsey_Dayton

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