Spotting a mountain goat perched high on a cliff might thrill many of the millions of tourists who visit Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park every year, but park officials say it might be time for the agile, bearded animals to go.
Park officials announced Tuesday they’re taking public comment on a plan to kill or relocate the mountain goats.
The problem, according to the park, is Grand Teton’s 100 or so mountain goats threaten a herd of about 80 bighorn sheep. The bighorn sheep numbered as many as 125 animals just a few years ago.
The thriving goats spread disease and compete with the bighorns for food. Pneumonia, which also can be carried by herds of domestic sheep in the backcountry, is an especially severe threat for bighorn sheep populations in Wyoming and elsewhere.
Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are both native to the Rocky Mountain region. Grand Teton’s mountain goats aren’t native to the park, however. They descended from mountain goats introduced southwest of the park in the 1960s and 1970s.
Grand Teton’s bighorn sheep herd, on the other hand, is native the park and one of the smallest and most isolated bighorn sheep herds in Wyoming.
“We’ve got a management responsibility to maintain the native species, which is the bighorn sheep,” Grand Teton spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
After hearing from the public on the proposal through Jan. 6, park officials expect to decide as soon as mid-February on what to do about the mountain goats, Germann said.
The goats are reproducing rapidly. Now might be the best time to reduce or eliminate the animals before they’re too numerous to bring under control, according to the Park Service.
One wildlife biologist who studies bighorn sheep praised the proposal. Native mountain goat habitat is nowhere close to where they’ve been introduced in the U.S. to provide hunting opportunities, said Rob Roy Ramey II, with Nederland, Colorado-based Wildlife Science International, Inc.
“The very far Northern Rockies? OK,” Ramey said. “Colorado and Wyoming? I don’t buy it.”
Wildlife managers should eliminate mountain goats not only in Grand Teton but elsewhere to help struggling bighorn sheep, Ramey said.
“Unfortunately, state wildlife agencies sell nonnative wildlife viewing opportunities to the public,” Ramey said. “This is not a zoo in the wilderness. It should really be for native wildlife.”