- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - The techniques used to capture the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s iconic wildlife for research are many, ranging from live-trapping grizzly bears to aerially darting wolves or sacking mule deer with a net gun.

In the case of immobilizing mountain goats in the Snake River Canyon in northwest Wyoming, a capture operation more resembles a slow-motion drive-by shooting and takes place within or just outside of a vehicle.

On the morning of March 26, a lone goat was on the receiving end of Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Gary Fralick’s tranquilizer gun. The ejected dart, to Fralick’s surprise, didn’t have the desired effect, and the struck goat took off fast uphill and eventually crested a ridge out of sight.

“I think what happened is the needle hit the femur,” Fralick said, “and the drug was never deployed into the muscle mass.”

Game and Fish staffers sweeping the hillside north of the Snake River Canyon never came up with the darted goat, and attempts later that day and the next to capture another goat were fruitless.

But in days prior Fralick, warden Kyle Lash and other Game and Fish personnel had successfully darted, captured, collared and tested two goats in the Palisades, making for a total of six active research animals in the Wyoming portion of the herd.

The goal of the research is to assist in Montana State University’s Mountain Ungulate Project, which is keeping tabs on the ecology of mountain goats and bighorn sheep - and of interactions between the species - in mountain ranges all around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Fralick, now three years into the monitoring process, is also getting a chance to better understand the herd he manages. Questions remain about goat reproduction, diseases, mortality and other herd dynamics, Fralick said.

“I also need to understand movements and distribution,” he said. “Where are the winter ranges and where are the summer ranges?”

Data from GPS tracking collars indicate that the nanny goats that winter in the bottom of the Snake River Canyon don’t venture far each summer.

“They’re only migrating less than two miles - to Ferry Peak and South Indian Peak,” Fralick told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (https://bit.ly/1JfQD3S).

During winter the goats are often down low near the highway not far outside of the community of Alpine. The Palisades goat herd can be a spectacle and a draw for wildlife photographers, not unlike the scene at Miller Butte, where bighorn sheep gather when the snow flies.

There’s little evidence so far that Wyoming’s goats regularly mingle with those that live across the state line in the Big Elk and Palisades creek drainages, Fralick said.

According to the latest state “job completion reports,” the last official count of Palisades goats in Wyoming was 108. Another 250 were counted aerially in Idaho portions of the Palisades.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game introduced the nonnative species to the range in the late 1960s and early ‘70s to provide a new hunting opportunity.

Anecdotal observations suggest that dispersing male mountain goats from the herd are capable of venturing long distances. Individuals have been spotted in the Salt River, Wyoming and Gros Ventre ranges, though breeding populations exist in none of those places, Fralick said.

A small breeding population has established to the north in the Teton Range, and occupies territory in both Grand Teton National Park and nearby Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Grand Teton biologists are also partaking in the Mountain Ungulate Project and are monitoring the Teton’s small bighorn sheep and goat herds.

Park managers are in the process of writing a management plan for the goats. Eliminating the exotic herd from the park is one of the options being considered.


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com



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