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mountain goats

Grand Teton Mountain Goat Hunts To Resume in September; Gordon Supports

in News/wildfire
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon expressed his support Thursday for Grand Teton National Park’s plan to manage mountain goats within park boundaries using volunteers to kill a limited number of the animals.

The updated plan came after the governor called for a halt to the aerial gunning of non-native mountain goats to reduce their numbers. The new plan will allow qualified volunteers to harvest the animals, according to a news release from Gordon’s office.

“I am delighted that Grand Teton National Park officials have chosen to take a different, more sensible approach to addressing this important wildlife management issue,” Gordon said in the news release. “From the very beginning we have expressed our desire to partner with the Park to find a solution that achieves management objectives for this population and respects Wyoming values.”

Mountain goats in the park compete with bighorn sheep for limited, high-elevation habitat and may spread disease to the native sheep herd.

In February, Gordon was vocal in his opposition to a plan that relied on shooting the mountain goats from helicopters as a way to control the population.

In communications to both acting Grand Teton Park Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Gordon criticized the National Park Service’s choice to “act unilaterally aerially executing mountain goats over Wyoming’s objections.”

Gordon’s position was supported by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which adamantly recommended volunteers play a role in the operation.

The commission passed a resolution in January that condemned the use of aerial gunning to manage goats and urged the park to use skilled volunteers as the removal method. In a letter that same month, Brian Nesvik,Wyoming Game and Fish Department director, made the same recommendation.

“The use of qualified volunteers underscores how public participation is a key tenant of how wildlife is managed in Wyoming. The opportunity for the public to aid in the reduction of mountain goats — a wildlife management action — is essential to our state and reflective of the high-value we place on the wildlife resource,” Nesvik said in the release.

Grand Teton will manage the qualified volunteer program, and the methods and approach were developed in collaboration with Game and Fish.

Mountain goat meat harvested by qualified volunteers will be used to the greatest extent possible by the qualified volunteers who take the mountain goats or by donating the meat to organizations that work to address hunger.

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Grand Teton Culls 3 Dozen Mountain Goats, Stops After Governor, Feds Object

in News/politics
Mountain goats
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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.

Gov Gordon Applauds Halt to Mountain Goat Shoot

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(Press Release) Governor Mark Gordon expressed his gratitude to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt after the Secretary intervened to call off a planned mountain goat culling through aerial gunning in Grand Teton National Park. The culling was scheduled to begin last Friday.

Bernhardt’s order to “stand down” came in a phone call to Gopaul Noojibail, acting Grand Teton Park superintendent late Friday. The call was made after Governor Gordon shared with Bernhardt a strongly-worded letter sent to Noojibail Friday afternoon. In the letter the Governor criticized the Park Service’s choice to “act unilaterally aerially executing mountain goats over the State of Wyoming’s objections.”

“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,” Governor Gordon said. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”

The aerial gunning operation targeted a population of mountain goats that potentially pose a threat of spreading disease to the native bighorn sheep population and compete with the sheep for habitat. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission passed a resolution last month condemning the use of aerial gunning to remove mountain goats from the Targhee herd and urged Grand Teton to use skilled volunteers as the removal method. In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2019, the Department formally recommended the Park use skilled volunteers for mountain goat removal. Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik also made a third request to stop the plan on Friday, citing public disapproval.

“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.

State, national park work to limit mountain goat population

in News/wildlife
Mountain goats
2405

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Doug McWhirter wants people to understand several things about Wyoming’s iconic mountain goat populations.

They’re cool. And they don’t belong everywhere.

“Mountain goats are fascinating, cool, and there are places we want to manage for thriving mountain goat populations,” said McWhirter, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife management coordinator in the Jackson region. “We want thriving mountain goat populations in the Snake River, Palisades and Beartooths areas.”

“We want to manage for hunting and viewing opportunities in these areas. In other places, we want to favor the core-native bighorn sheep herds in our management,” McWhirter continued. “Bottom line, we don’t hate mountain goats.”

Wyoming game managers share a concern with the National Park Service concerning a relatively new, expanding, non-native mountain goat population in Grand Teton National Park. 

The Teton Range is home to a small herd of native bighorn sheep, one of the smallest and most isolated populations in Wyoming.

The Teton Range bighorn sheep population is about 100 strong, while this new non-native mountain goat population has eclipsed 100 animals and is still growing.

The new mountain goat population is believed to have expanded from the Palisades area and into the Teton Range. The first documented reproduction of mountain goats in Grand Teton National Park was recorded in 2008. 

Now there are concerns that the mountain goat population threatens the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd through increased risk of disease transmission, which the Palisades goats are documented to harbor, and the potential for competition for limited resources.

“The Teton Range herd of native bighorn sheep is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors,” said Denise Germann, Grand Teton National Park public affairs officer. “Our intent is to remove the non-native population of mountain goats and to maintain and improve viability of the native Teton bighorn sheep herd.”

The Game and Fish Department, assisted by hunters, is doing its part to manage the park’s mountain goat population in 2019. Liberalized hunting seasons were implemented outside of the park, in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Jedediah Smith Wilderness.

“We’re doing what we can to address the situation in goat hunt area 4,” McWhirter said.

In the hunt area, the once-in-a-lifetime draw for mountain goat licenses was set aside. Instead, to help manage the mountain goat population, the department set a quota of 48 licenses for the 2019 season.

McWhirter checked a harvested mountain goat last week from area 4, and it marked the 21st harvested goat of the season. 

“Without exception, the hunters I have encountered have been very supportive,” McWhirter said. “They have appreciated the opportunity  to harvest a mountain goat, and to try to conserve bighorn sheep populations in the Tetons.”

The Teton bighorn sheep herd, “during the times we’ve been monitoring numbers, has never been huge. There’s about 100 to 125 sheep there,” McWhirter said. “They don’t migrate. They live at high populations all year, and they are subject to harsh conditions. These new non-native mountain goats are bringing additional mouths to the landscape, and we believe this peer competition could adversely affect the sheep.

“The bighorn sheep are doing OK in the Tetons,” McWhirter continued. “They’ve always been living on the edge, and besides the non-native goats, there are issues, too, with expanding backcountry winter skiing. The pressures on those sheep are making it tougher for their survival.”

Details aren’t certain yet, but Grand Teton National Park is considering removing the non-native mountain goats from within its boundaries — specifically, between Cascade and Snowshoe canyons — by lethal and non-lethal methods this winter.

“Without swift and active management, the mountain goat population is expected to continue to grow and expand its distribution within the park,” Germann said. “The mountain goat population is at a size where complete removal is achievable in a short time, however, the growth rate of this population suggests that complete removal in the near future may become unattainable after a period of about three years.”

Mountain goat hunting inside the park itself, or what the National Park Service refers to as the “use of skilled volunteers,” is the newest idea for mountain goat removal in the Tetons. 

“Qualified volunteers is a tool that may be used, but we have not developed this program,” Germann said.

Where Grand Teton National Park currently authorizes hunting, park officials refer to the practice as a “reduction program.” 

Rules are generally more restrictive for hunters in Grand Teton National Park, but the hunting is done by hunters licensed by the state Game and Fish Department.

The concept of using “skilled volunteers,” or hunters, is new since the national park issued an environmental assessment on the issue last December. Plans then called for National Park Service staff or contractors to kill goats from the ground with rifles, and from helicopters with shotguns. These early plans called for leaving the carcasses where the animals fell.

In March, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act passed Congress. Part of the bill addressed wildlife management in national parks.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stated, “if the (Interior) Secretary determines it is necessary to reduce the size of a wildlife population … the Secretary may use qualified volunteers to assist in carrying out wildlife management on [park] system land.”

Grand Teton National Park officials cited the Dingell act in their “finding of no significant impact” decision, which was signed by Acting Park Service Regional Director Palmer Jenkins in September.”

The desire is to quickly and efficiently remove non-native mountain goats from the park,” Germann said.

“Our big things, in our comments, are that we would like to see all efforts exhausted before ‘agency lethal removal’ is the answer,” McWhirter said. “We really appreciate the Park Service addressing our concerns, and allowing skilled volunteers to participate and help with the conservation of these goats. It’s all about trying to make a bad situation more tolerable.”

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