(Moose, WY) — Beginning February 23, the National Park Service will cull non-native mountain goats using aerial methods in Grand Teton National Park in order to conserve a native and vulnerable population of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Teton Range, according to a press release.
During aerial operations, an area encompassing the northern portion of the Teton Range from Cascade Canyon to Berry Creek and extending from the base of the range west to the park boundary will be closed. Additional locations may be closed if mountain goats are located in other areas of the park.
Bighorn sheep have occupied the Teton Mountain Range for thousands of years, but today this native population is small, isolated from other nearby populations, and at risk of local extinction. As one of the smallest and most isolated herds in Wyoming, currently estimated at approximately 125 animals, the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd is of high conservation value to the park, the Jackson Hole Community, and millions of visitors from around the world who visit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect native species and reduce the potential for local extinction of a native species within the park. Mountain goats are not native to Grand Teton National Park.
Mountain goats were introduced into the Snake River Range in Idaho and over the years their population expanded and reached the Teton Range, numbering more than 100 animals before removal efforts were initiated in 2020. Mountain goats can carry bacterial diseases that are lethal to bighorn sheep. The Teton Range bighorn sheep population has been relatively isolated and are therefore likely ‘naïve’ to these diseases.
As part of the park’s 2019 Mountain Goat Management Plan, the park removed 36 mountain goats using aerial lethal means in February 2020, 43 mountain goats using qualified volunteers in Fall 2020, and an additional 20 mountain goats using qualified volunteers in Fall 2021.
In consultation with partners, the NPS has determined that the continued use of qualified volunteers would be neither safe nor effective in removing the remaining 25-35 nonnative mountain goats located in the remote terrain of the Teton Range. During the Fall 2021 qualified volunteer program, a team attempting to recover culled mountain goats was stranded overnight in technical terrain and required climbing assistance to descend the area the next day. The safety risks and difficulty in ground-based removal efforts would continue to increase given there are fewer non-native mountain goats and most of those that remain occupy the least accessible areas of the Teton Range. As such, aerial removal is a safer and more effective method.
Lethal removal activities will be performed by contractors with appropriate training, certifications, and skills in aviation operations and the safe use of firearm protocols.