By Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2020

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Grand Teton National Park officials have ended an effort to kill off the park’s nonnative mountain goats for now.

Volunteer hunters killed 43 goats over six weeks before an accumulation of snow made hunter safety a concern. Chief Ranger Michael Nash ended the hunt a couple weeks sooner than planned.

“The snow’s not going to go away, at this point,” Nash told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Park officials want to eradicate the 100 or so goats because they compete with a population of about 100 bighorn sheep for habitat and can spread diseases, including pneumonia, to the native sheep.

They switched to using hunters on the ground after a program to shoot the goats from a contracted helicopter drew criticism last winter.

Opponents included members of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, who said the aerial shooting caused goat meat to go to waste. The commission sets the rules for hunting and fishing in Wyoming.

The helicopter gunning killed 36 goats in less than a day before Gov. Mark Gordon raised concerns and U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered a halt.

In all, 79 goats have been killed this year. That could be over half of the population, but how many goats were born this year isn’t known.

Participants in the fall hunt said pursuing the goats through the Teton Range was physically demanding.

They included Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid, who had been among the opponents of aerial gunning. Schmidt now says he supports shooting the goats from the air if the goal is quick eradication.

Schmid and his team killed seven mountain goats this fall. Two goats fell in areas where they couldn’t be recovered, but the team recovered the meat from five.

He praised the park’s efforts to arrange the volunteer hunt.

“We were all very surprised at how well the Park Service laid it out,” Schmid said. “They’ve done what the public asked, and they gave us the opportunity.

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