Grand Teton civilian mountain goat gunning a go — again

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)

By Angus M. Thuermer, Jr., WyoFile

Grand Teton National Park will allow already-selected hunters and shooters to again kill non-native mountain goats starting in September. The move is part of an effort to preserve a small population of native bighorn sheep.

Why it matters: The bighorn sheep herd that lives in the Tetons is the “smallest and most isolated core, native bighorn sheep herd” in the state, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says. About 125 individuals live exclusively in the Teton Range but non-native goats, introduced in nearby Idaho, have moved into the national park and threaten the bighorns with pathogens deadly to sheep but not goats.

How we know: Park officials announced the program’s resumption in a July 23 email with the subject line “Qualified Volunteer Program”. Culling will resume Sept. 22 and run through Oct. 25 using qualified civilian shooters who participated in last year’s operation, Grand Teton officials said. In that round, 108 shooters participated and killed 43 goats. Another 50 or so goats remain.

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They said it: “Removal will be exceedingly more difficult,” Grand Teton officials said in a statement. Culling takes place in rugged, cliff-studded mountain terrain. No new applicants will be accepted.

History: Citing the need for “immediate intervention” to save the bighorn population, Grand Teton launched a unilateral extirpation effort in February 2020 that killed 36 goats in an aerial-gunning sortie.

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Wyoming had wanted hunters to kill the goats instead and Gov. Mark Gordon protested, saying the Park Service was “executing mountain goats over the State of Wyoming’s objections.” The Park Service stopped its operation after then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt intervened, and pivoted to a volunteer culling operation.

Next up: Expect experienced hunters who have passed Park Service shooting tests to be in the Tetons this fall. Already-selected participants must again pass a background test, be the subject of no active warrants and have no wildlife violations on their records or citations from Grand Teton.

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Technicalities: Grand Teton has been careful to distinguish the culling operation from hunting. Shooters cannot keep trophy parts but may be able to harvest meat. Fair chase hunting rules do not apply; the operation is done exclusively for conservation, and generates no revenue.

 

 

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