Grand Teton goat shoot suspended after stern letter from governor

By Mead Gruver, AP

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Grand Teton National Park officials have suspended efforts to shoot mountain goats from a helicopter in the wake of criticism from Wyoming’s governor in the hours after the program began.

Gov. Mark Gordon called the helicopter shooting a “farce” in a letter sent to acting Grand Teton Superintendent Gopaul Noojidail and publicized by Gordon’s office Friday evening.

Mark Gordon’s letter to Grand Teton NP. Image: Courtesy Governor’s Office

“I have long appreciated Grand Teton National Park for the treasure it is to all our citizens. Now I hope I will not have to remember it as an example of federal disregard for the sovereignty of the states,” wrote Gordon, a Republican.

The National Park Service has suspended the flights since Friday’s initial effort, which was “effective towards meeting our objective,” park spokeswoman Denise Germann said by email Monday.

“We are taking a pause in operations and will continue our conversations with our partners at the state,” Germann added.

Germann did not respond when asked why the Park Service suspended the flights and how many goats had been killed.

The Park Service seeks to eradicate about 100 nonnative mountain goats for the benefit of about 100 native bighorn sheep, saying the goats compete with the sheep for food and habitat and can spread diseases including pneumonia to the native animals.

The Park Service released a plan in January to use a combination of shooters on the ground and on contracted helicopters before goats become too plentiful to be easily eliminated from the craggy mountains.

“The National Park Service has a legal responsibility to protect native species and reduce the potential for the local extinction of a native species within the park,” Germann wrote Monday.

Foul weather postponed a previous plan for aerial shooting in January but Friday’s weather in the Teton Range was clear and calm. Park officials closed off large portions of the mountains to the public in preparation.

Gordon’s letter came after Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik voiced last-minute objections by phone with Noojidail on Friday.

“I will remember your blatant disregard for the advice of Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department,” Gordon wrote Noojidail. “I am simply at a loss for why the Park Service would ignore an opportunity to work towards a solution upon which we could both agree and can only take it as an expression of your regard for neighbors and the respect you apparently do not have for Wyoming or our professionals.”

Wyoming officials object not out of concern for mountain goats but from a hunting-ethics perspective: Shooting from helicopters leaves the meat to waste. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets the state’s hunting and fishing rules, passed a resolution in January condemning the helicopter shooting plan.

The National Parks Conservation Association also objects out of concern the program could lead to a “de facto” goat-hunting season involving private citizens. So far, the public is not taking part in goat eradication in Grand Teton.

Grand Teton, located in western Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park, is unusual in that the 1950 law establishing the park provides for an “elk reduction program” in which members of the public with hunting licenses hunt elk in the park each fall.

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