GTNP releases bighorn sheep conservation plan

MOOSE, Wyo. — The National Park Service announced a plan to aid in the conservation of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Teton Range, whose population is dwindling.

NPS signed a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Mountain Goat Management Plan/Environmental Assessment, which allows the National Park Service to rapidly remove non-native mountain goats from the park by lethal and non-lethal (live capture and translocation) methods.

The purpose of the plan is twofold: 1) aid in the conservation of a native population of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Teton Range whose status is tenuous, and 2) protect other park resources and values from the rapidly growing non-native mountain goat population.

The decision was based on an analysis in the environmental assessment and public comments. The Teton Range is home to a small herd of approximately 100 native bighorn sheep — one of the smaller and most isolated herds in Wyoming. It has never been extirpated or augmented. The herd is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors. And mountain goats are one of its biggest threats.

Mountain goats are not native to GTNP. They threaten native Teton Range bighorn sheep through increased risk of pathogen transmission and potential for competition. NPS has a “responsibility to maintain the ecological role of and reduce the potential for local extinction of native bighorn sheep,” GTNP said in a press release.

Without swift and active management, the mountain goat population is expected to continue to grow and expand its distribution within the park. The mountain goat population is currently at a size where complete removal is achievable in a short time, however, the growth rate of this population suggest that complete removal in the near future may become unattainable after a period of about three years.

Implementation of the plan to remove non-native mountain goats from the park by lethal and non-lethal methods will begin this winter.

The decision also includes modifications from the preferred alternative to include the use of qualified volunteers to assist in ground-based lethal removal activities and allow for the donation and distribution of mountain goat meat that results from lethal removal activities. The National Park Service will develop a program to integrate qualified volunteers with its management program. The program will follow requirements provided in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

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