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.
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.
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.