A herd of mountain goats in the Snake River Range enjoys a spring snack in 2015. The species is not native to the nearby Teton Range, which it has invaded, putting bighorn sheep there in peril. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

To protect imperiled bighorn sheep, Grand Teton National Park will try to gun down invading mountain goats from the air — despite a Wyoming Game and Fish Commission resolution condemning the plan.

Weather has stymied the plan to shoot the non-native goats, but the park is trying to schedule a helicopter for the shoot later this month or in early February, park spokeswoman Denise Germann told WyoFile on Thursday. It’s possible “skilled volunteers,” a legal euphemism for hunters, might yet get a chance to bag a goat as the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and department advocate.

Grand Teton will continue to pursue the aerial goat-gunning option because it best addresses the threat to the Teton bighorns, Germann said. The isolated and shrinking bighorn population of perhaps 125 sheep could contract disease from the goats, further threatening its viability.

“The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect native species and reduce the population of a non-native species,” Germann told WyoFile. Managers believe that quick action is key in fighting invasive species, she said.

“It’s easier and more cost-effective the earlier and [more] rapidly you take action,” she said. “Our goal continues to [be to] protect that small Teton bighorn sheep herd,” she said, a goal the park shares with Game and Fish. 

The park took to heart Wyoming Game and Fish comments advocating instead for a hunter harvest of goats, Germann said. Grand Teton changed its plan to include an option for “skilled volunteers” to shoot and retrieve mountain goats in the culling operation, she said.

“We may be using it later this year,” she said. Meantime, “we’ll use the tool that’s the most effective at the time and the most rapid tool.”

Game and Fish condemns plan

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on Wednesday condemned the park’s plan. The commission “strenuously urges the National Park Service to immediately cancel plans to kill the mountain goats via aerial gunning,” a resolution signed by commission president David Rael states (see below).

It is “unacceptable” to have “government personnel kill mountain goats from helicopters and [leave] them to rot and be wasted,” the resolution reads. The park plan is “inconsistent with all notions of game management, fair chase, and totally inconsistent with years of GTNP management of big game animals…” the resolution reads.

Wyoming Game and Fish Commission President David Rael. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Instead, the park should allow “skilled volunteers” to bag and remove the goats, the resolution states.

The park plan does have “biological merit,” Game and Fish director Brian Nesvik wrote Grand Teton National Park Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. Potential “pathogen transfer” from goats to sheep “poses a risk to bighorn sheep populations,” Nesvik wrote.

Some bacteria can easily cause pneumonia in bighorn sheep, a malady that can spread rapidly and decimate a population.

Nevertheless, hunting, not aerial gunning, is the appropriate method to cull populations, Nesvik wrote. “We reserve agency aerial removal only for urgent situations where removal must be timely to prevent disease transmission,” his letter reads.

“Our assessment of public value for mountain goats and the use of public hunters to manage wildlife is corroborated through citizen feedback,” Nesvik wrote.

Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid said in a statement the park plan “flies in the face of all Wyoming values with how we approach wildlife management.” Commissioner Pat Crank couldn’t understand the decision, according to a statement.

Hunting forbidden in national parks

“Hunting is not allowed in national parks,” Germann said, drawing a distinction between the park culling plan and Game and Fish hunts.  

“Hunting — it’s a recreational act,” she said. “It includes fair chase, personal [procurement] of meat,” and other rules, ethics and traditions. “Culling is an intensively managed operation — meat allocation is not guaranteed,” Germann said.

Hunting could be added to the program “if conditions safely allow,” she said, noting the steep terrain where goats live. “It’s very challenging here,” she said.

The park also could capture mountain goats alive and relocate them, she said. That remains an option as well.

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Germann said she didn’t know whether Noojibail would respond to the Game and Fish, but that the two agencies are in regular communication.

Grand Teton is authorized by congress to hold an annual elk reduction program, in which qualified hunters are temporarily deputized as rangers to kill elk in some areas east of the Snake River.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. In other words, Wyoming Game & Fish wants to sell more hunting licenses and tags. If Game & Fish cannot make money off of this, then they are against it.

  2. AFTERTHOUGHT : the Rocky Mountain “goat ” is not and never was native to the Greater Yellowstone region. The closest a native population ever got to GTNP was much further north and west in Idaho and Montana close to the Canadian border. So why do we have them at all ? It’s a fair question.

    All the (pseudo) goats being discussed here are descendants of animals purposely reintroduced to NW Wyoming in the late 1950’s – by the Wyoming Game and Fish -in the Beartooth Mountains-Clarks Fork Canyon area north of Cody, for purposes of sport hunting. Fifteen years later the Idaho Game and Fish introduced a small population into the Snake River Canyon area near Alpine WY – for the purposes of sport hunting. This was also done in Colorado – again for the purposes of sport hunting,

    The Beartooth goats have done so well in the past 60 years that they have spread all the way west across the alpine granite Beartooths and south into the volcanic Absarokas, and kept going. There are now goats southwest of Cody in the South Fork of the Shoshone mingling with Bighorns in a prime sheep hunting area. Ditto goats that have come east down the North Fork of the Shoshone and are now found in prime sheep habitat above the Wapiti Valley. The expansion and increases in goat numbers have been quite remarkable . One good reason for this is a lack of natural predators… the Rocky Mountain goats are not preyed on much , maybe a high altitude Cougar now and then , so there is not much preventing them from multiplying ( unless and until the Wyo and Idaho game and fish departments in their infinite wisdom go to the Himalayas in Asia and bring home some Snow Leopards for transplant, he says only semi-factiopusly…)

    Wyo Game and Fish is ” concerned” about the very goats they reintroduced a few river drainages and geologic zones away in the Cody region are now diminishing trophy Bighorn sheep , which generate a lot of revenue.

    This is the part where I have to say Wyoming G&F has a very VERY long legacy of introducing nonnative game to Wyoming for purposes of sport hunting ( read: revenue for licenses ) , or translocating them within Wyoming to areas that once had the same animal but were extirpated. I remind all that there were only two kinds of game fish native to Wyoming before 1900… a couple subspecies of Cutthroat trout , and the interesting Arctic Grayling found in a few subalpine areas. All those other fish that anglers aim for are nonnative…Rainbow, Brown, Brook, Mackinaw ( Lake) and even Golden trout. Also the whitemeat Pike and other swimmers – all were brought here for Put and Take fishing and cash licensing. Then there are all the upland game birds… your delightful Ringneck pheasants are from China. There are Hungarian partridges and Chukars brought to Wyoming from Eurasia to be hunted alongside the controversial native Sagegrouse . For decades game managers moved animals around, excusively for hunting and fishing, rarely if ever for biological backfill and certainly not done for restoring ecological balance.

    Keep in mind that Wyoming G&F is a GAME department first , and wildlife management gets in behind that. WyGFD’s mission statement is to provide crop animals and harvests , not to do serious zoological conservation and restoration ( which do not generate the revenue needed to support same ).

    So— The National Park Service and Wyoming Game and Fish are at odds over what to do with the nonative Rocky Mountain Goats they themselves transplanted from far away and have been managing ever since on top of native species … in the convoluted matrices of all the other game, fish, and fowl they brung here … otherwise known as Alien Exotic animals. It’s complicated. And too much of wildlife management is driven by politics and economics these days, not biology and ecology. Don’t even get me going on Grizzlies and Grey Wolves which DO belong here but are gentrified, big time.

    The question becomes: Since both the Park Service godplayers and the State of Wyoming godplayers both want to kill those Rocky Mountain goats as the preferred solution , but employing contrairian political / economic / bureaucratic means to do the dirty deed … why isn’t capture and translocation being considered ? After all, the goats were brought here in the first place. Whyc an’t they be taken somewhere else that would be more welcoming and less frictional ?

    Oh by the way , if Wyo G&F and the Legislature and Governor and certain stakeholders would pull their heads out of their … Stetsons … they would see that translocation solves their Grizzly bear issue as well. Maybe we need to work on a package deal for relocating large wildlife instead of just killing them… Duh!

  3. Lets see if I got this.
    The Park Service in Jackson wants to shoot what appears to be healthy Mountain Goats because of the threat to the healthy Bighorn Sheep. The cost will be payed for by the public. Likewise, the Wyoming Game and Fish also wants to shoot the Goats because of the Bighorns, but says its all about the meat, not the profit. There is some minor consideration to relocating the goats. Either way the public pays.

    In Dubois, the Wyoming Game and Fish is trying to shoot what appear to be perfectly healthy Bighorns that are not a problem, except they are hungry. Are the domestic sheep which carry a disease detrimental to Bighorns the problem or not? Regardless, the Bighorns must die. Yet the Game and Fish doesn’t want hunters to do the deed. Helicopter gunning is the only salvation for the Bighorns, not relocating. Same can be said for the bears. Either way the public pays. What about next year and the following years when the issues will occur due to wildlife expanding their range? Maybe the Game and Fish should buy a military equipped Blackhawk.
    I guess I don’t got this.

  4. The outcome of either the Park Service approach or the Wyoming G & F approach is the same. The goats get shot to death regardless.

    I guess the goats don’t have much say about it.

    Speaking of alien exotic species wandering the landscape where they really don’t belong , damaging resources, and are not wanted,]… what about those English Herefords and Scottish Angus bovines , and Moreno Rambouillet and Hampshire sheep hither and yon ?

    1. “English Herefords and Scottish Angus bovines”

      That’s funny, Dewey.

      Add 3.5 million humans to the cow numbers. 65 miles of unpaved roads. 152 paved miles. Motor boats, cars, planes, etc. The Paleo-Indians would never recognize the place. Invasive people are our biggest problem. They puts the goats into the park. They will now take them out.

  5. I worked several seasons in close proximity to introduced goats in Olympic National Park. They dig up the native vegetation and frequently harass people (including me) and have killed one man. In the nearby Cascades, where they’re native, their behavior is different, they are aloof and wild. I’ve never seen an introduced species be biologically successful and though beautiful, they don’t belong in the Tetons.

  6. Thanks to Adam Roich for rescuing the wildlife on Dominion property. It’s too bad he was fired over “ethics” violations. Dominion is now mitigating the problem after getting “egg on its face.” Dominion is mitigating only because it looks bad, not because it cares about Adam Roich or the wildfile. Bad form Dominion, but that’s “ethics,” it seems.