JACKSON, Wyo. — The oft-maligned culling of non-native mountain goats from Grand Teton National Park will begin September 14, according to park authorities.
The proposed shooting of mountain goats in its original form was first opposed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the governor. Both have since signed off on the new procedure.
After sifting through applications (more than 240 teams applied), up to 70 volunteer teams were chosen and qualified. A majority of the applicants were from Wyoming, the park says.
Each team consists of a minimum of two individuals and a maximum of six individuals per team. They were randomly selected for seven operational periods between September 14 and November 6. An optional operational period in mid-November may be included, depending on conditions.
Each randomly selected applicant must pass a background investigation. They may not have active warrants, past wildlife violations, or violations associated with Grand Teton National Park. Volunteers identified as a shooter must pass a mandatory firearm proficiency evaluation. Each volunteer must have a high level of physical fitness as they may need to hike up to 20 miles per day at altitude in extremely rough mountainous terrain under a variety of weather conditions.
The volunteer teams will each be assigned one of ten geographic zones throughout the entire Teton Range within the park. The non-native mountain goats are generally found at high elevations. Qualified volunteers may access these zones from a variety of trailheads, as well as national forest lands to the west of the park.
All volunteers for the culling program will be clearly identified as a “National Park Service Qualified Volunteer” with an orange bib on their back as well as an orange or pink hat.
No park trails or areas are anticipated to be closed during the culling program. Signs will be posted at trailheads that access the areas the volunteers will be working to create awareness for any backcountry hikers or climbers.
The use of qualified volunteers is a tool identified in the National Park Service’s 2019 Mountain Goat Management Plan based on requests from Wyoming Game and Fish Department and in line with guidance in the 2019 John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.
There is widespread interest among local, state, and national stakeholders in conserving the Teton Range bighorn sheep herd. The National Park Service is working on this project in cooperation with federal and state partners including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The Teton Range is home to a small herd of native bighorn sheep currently estimated at approximately 100 animals. As one of the smaller and most isolated herds in Wyoming, that has never been extirpated or augmented, it is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors. 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. 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.
The growth rate of the non-native mountain goat population suggests that complete removal in the future may become unattainable unless immediate action is taken.
There are key differences between a culling program in a national park and traditional recreational hunting.
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