By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily
Aerial sharpshooters at Grand Teton National Park partially eradicated a herd of invasive mountain goats last weekend as Wyoming and federal officials asked the National Park Service to halt its plans.
In an email on Tuesday, park spokeswoman Denise Germann said 36 animals were killed in a helicopter operation Friday. There were approximately 100 mountain goats in the park herd. Germann said there are no additional operations planned.
Later Friday evening, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt reportedly ordered the National Park Service to “stand down” on the mountain goat cull.
In a Monday news release from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, officials said Bernhardt halted the operation after reading a “strongly worded” letter Gordon had sent Friday to acting Grand Teton superintendent Gopaul Noojibail.
“I appreciate the excellent working relationship we have with Secretary Bernhardt and that he is willing to discuss this issue in more detail without the pressure of ongoing aerial hunting,” Gordon said in the release. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”
Germann said Noojibail and Gordon met Tuesday to “discuss efforts to protect the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd from going extinct.” The mountain goat cull is meant to remove the invasive species, which Germann said could potentially transmit fatal pathogens to the native bighorn sheep or compete with the sheep for territory and resources.
“It was a productive meeting and we greatly appreciate the governor’s time and interest,” Germann said.
The aerial hunt, which was carried out by contractors, has been the subject of controversy for some time. Last month, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission passed a resolution condemning the National Park Service’s plan. At the time, agency director Brian Nesvik said Game and Fish had “communicated several times, in multiple ways” to the National Park Service that it disagreed with the plan.
Nesvik again criticized the aerial cull on Friday in a call to Grand Teton’s Noojibail. Rather than killing the mountain goats by aerial sharpshooter, Nesvik and the agency proposed allowing hunters on the ground to remove the invasive species. Last year, Game and Fish helped thin the mountain goat herd with a hunt outside park boundaries.
On Tuesday, Nesvik said his agency would be willing to collaborate with the National Park Service moving forward.
“We remain prepared to work with Grand Teton to meet their management objectives using methods that align with the value Wyoming people have for wildlife,” Nesvik said through a spokeswoman.
Germann, the Grand Teton spokeswoman, said hunters may have a chance to further thin the herd as soon as this year.
“The National Park Service is continuing to develop a skilled volunteer culling program that could be implemented as early as this fall,” she said. “This culling program will utilize trained volunteers to remove non-native mountain goats via ground-based methods.”
Grand Teton initially planned to remove the goats in January but had to delay the operation due to snow and high winds.