- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ALPINE, Wyo. (AP) - About 1,000 feet above the Snake River on the steep slopes of Ferry Peak, a nanny mountain goat soon to be known as F1 was nibbling on fresh greens with not a care in the world.

Her instincts were misguided.

Perhaps 30 yards away Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Gary Fralick and warden Kyle Lash were armed with a tranquilizer gun and waiting for a clear line of fire. Consumed by her drawn-out meal, the sure-footed white herbivore took her time and barely paid the wildlife managers any attention, the Jackson Hole News and Guide reported (https://bit.ly/1TXZP3w).

Three minutes passed, then five, and still no clear shot. She took a couple of steps forward, cleared a conifer and then “Whap!”

A dart fired by Lash struck high on a hindquarter. The goat jumped, scampered onto a toppled root ball and stared down her red-shirted captors. Transfixed, she stood like a statue until the drug caused her to sway and slump to the ground.

Nearly two hours later, when she came to, the goat wore a big synthetic red identification collar and had new ear tags. Now when she moves around Fralick can get reports of her travels from hikers, skiers and citizen scientists on the lookout.

The goat’s new identity as “F1” is an important piece of a puzzle for Game and Fish, an agency that’s trying to map out where it does and does not want the nonnative wild goats residing in Wyoming.

“Over the next few years we’re going to determine where we would like to see mountain goats and where we would not support populations establishing,” Fralick said from an Alpine parking lot.

Motivating the monitoring effort are worries about goats infecting bighorn sheep with deadly pathogens or outcompeting the native species for finite forage. Members of the Palisades Goat Herd, one of two herds in Wyoming, have made permanent forays into bighorn territory before: The Teton Range is now habitat for both species.

To cut into the goat herd that now calls the Tetons home, Game and Fish is making plans for a “general season” hunting tag for animals north of Highway 22, said regional wildlife management coordinator Doug Brimeyer.

“We started to evaluate options for providing hunter opportunity in an effort to control mountain goat expansion,” Brimeyer said. “One of the ways to do that is to provide people with an opportunity to hunt those expanding populations.”

The Beartooth Goat Herd, where the animals roam south of the North Fork of the Shoshone River, is also being eyed as a target for a general hunt, he said.

But if that happens, over-the-counter goat licenses are still a ways away.

Mountain goat hunting tags are expensive ($2,152 for nonresidents), statistically difficult to draw and currently limited by state statute to once in a lifetime. The Wyoming Legislature would therefore need to act to clear the way for a general hunt, Brimeyer said.

The tags would likely be highly coveted, so Game and Fish would have to figure out how to regulate a hunt with potentially lots of license-holders targeting so few animals.

Grand Teton National Park is making its own plans for dealing with its goats, which have been reported there for decades but weren’t known to be reproducing until the late 2000s. The population is now thought to be 40 to 60, an estimate higher than even just a year ago.

Cascade Canyon is the goats’ Teton Range epicenter, but they’ve also been reported in Snowshoe, Moran and Leigh canyons and even along Grassy Lake Road, Grand Teton spokesman Andrew White said.

In late 2013 the park “scoped” a management plan that gauged views on lethal and nonlethal tactics to get rid of the exotic species. The effort has sat on the backburner since, but that’s soon to change, White said.

“Moving into the summer we’re hoping to refocus on the mountain goat issue,” he said.

A “thorough” environmental assessment of the park’s options is in the works, he said. Meantime, Grand Teton is asking visitors to report any observations of either goats or bighorn sheep in the park to authorities.

Fralick, who oversees the Palisades Mountain Goat Herd, is confident he’s not dealing with a hoofed locust.

“It’s been 60 years since the initial translocation of goats into the Palisades,” Fralick said. “These goats have had a long time to really disperse or not, and to date we haven’t seen that.

“There’s very little evidence of goats being able to persist in the Salt Range and the Wyoming Range,” he said.

Introduced by Idaho Fish and Game in the late 1960s to provide a new big game species, the group of goats has grown slowly but steadily. Since the late 1990s surveys of the population in Wyoming have generally exceeded 100. Another couple hundred typically call Idaho home.

Solitary goats have been reported outside their normal Snake River Range haunts in the Wind River and Gros Ventre ranges and the southern reaches of the Abasaroka Range. But those are probably just peripatetic billies. Last year a Game and Fish warden spotted a goat 6 miles north of Togwotee Pass in the Teton Wilderness.

“If they do disperse, do they persist?” Fralick pondered.

That’s where the distribution research comes in.

The work, tied to Montana State University’s Mountain Ungulate Project, seeks to understand the ecology of cohabited bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

So far Fralick has captured 20 goats. Three have been nannies that were fitted with GPS collars. All have showed a strong fidelity to the area immediately around Ferry Peak and South Indian Peak, and by all signs are part of a non-migratory population.

“It’s probably no more than 2 or 3 miles from the winter to the summer ranges,” Fralick said. “We’re not seeing reproductive-age nannies - that we know about - dispersing and establishing reproductively viable populations.”

Back on April 20, Fralick, Lash and company were hoping for a 2- to 4-year-old billy - an age and sex class that tends to roam farther. Two male goats are currently research subjects, but their tracking collars are still wrapped around their necks and so their movements remain a mystery.

The first time a tranquilizer dart sailed toward a goat that morning, the shot was high and it deflected off the ungulate’s back. Needing to make sure of the miss, Fralick and Lash gave chase.

After a while they transitioned to “hunting” the fleeing goat herd - a pursuit with a dim chance of success. Tranquilizer guns are accurate to only 30 or 40 yards, often too close for even the roadside goats accustomed to close human contact in the Snake River canyon.

After her slumber set in, F1 was hauled down Ferry Peak hundreds of yards to a rendezvous point with the rest of the Game and Fish crew, University of Wyoming researcher Samantha Dwinnell and the Mountain Ungulate Project’s Bob Garrott. On high-angle, loose ground, transporting mountain goats by hand isn’t easy: Fralick, a veteran biologist, endured a goat-horn-induced rip in his blue jeans and at one point found himself not-so gracefully completing a front flip. But they got the job done, and nestled the nanny into a shaded, relatively flat area.

For more than half an hour the research team diligently processed the goat. Nasal, tonsil and ear swabs were administered, and blood was drawn to test for mange and pathogens. Measurements were taken, and the nanny was estimated at 95 pounds and 5 years old.

After a reverse-sedative was injected, she woke quickly, scrambled a comfortable distance away and immediately got the munchies. This time the reason for the browsing was the sleep-inducing drug - a suspected appetite stimulant - rather than apathy toward the hominids huddled nearby.

F1, at least temporarily, wasn’t going far.


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

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