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Mountain goat cull back on in Grand Teton, park looking for volunteers

JACKSON, Wyo. — Grand Teton National Park will again go ahead with a controversial mountain goat cull after twice suspending operations earlier this year.

The National Park Service received stern criticism from Governor Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department after beginning aerial gunning of the nonnative species. Gordon called it a “[F]arce I will long remember.”

The operation was called off once due to weather and then again after Gordon fired off a letter to acting park superintendent Gopaul Noojibail.

Grand Teton NP spokesperson Denise Germann said 36 goats were killed by a private contractor hired by the Park Service last February. This time around, park authorities are going to shoot from the ground and are asking for qualified volunteers to take part in the cull. Applications are being accepted now until a max of 240 are taken.

The cull will be similar to hunting with some exceptions. Culling in a national park does not generate revenue and does not include fair chase. Participants will not be allowed to keep any animals they shoot. Meat may be donated if certain conditions are met. Each shooter will be allowed to remove as many goats as he or she can reasonably kill. The use of silencers will be allowed.

Germann said the eradication of nonnative mountain goats is necessary in order to preserve a struggling bighorn sheep population that numbers, perhaps, 100 in the entire Teton Range.

“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,” Germann stated in a release.

Background

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, which 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 the 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 nonnative mountain goat population suggests that complete removal in the future may become unattainable unless immediate action is taken.

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.? Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

The cull

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.

The qualified volunteer program will take place on September 14 – November 13, 2020, weather permitting. There will be eight operational periods and those interested must apply as a team with a minimum of two individuals and a maximum of six individuals per team.

In order to safely and successfully participate in this program, volunteers 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.

All volunteers will receive training in bear spray deployment, backcountry tracking, radio protocols, species identification, and potentially, disease sample collection. Applicants must be United States citizens and at least 18 years of age.

Volunteers may not have active warrants, past wildlife violations, or violations associated with Grand Teton National Park, and must pass a mandatory firearm proficiency evaluation.

Qualified volunteers interested in participating in the program may learn more and apply online. The park will stop accepting applications once 240 applications have been received. Successful applicants will be randomly selected for each operational period.

There are key differences between a culling program in a national park and traditional recreational hunting.

  • Culling in a national park is done exclusively for conservation and stewardship purposes, while hunting is primarily for recreation or procuring food.
  • Culling in a national park is conducted under controlled circumstances with the supervision of National Park Service personnel, while hunting is performed at the hunter’s discretion, subject to applicable licensing and laws.
  • Volunteers may not keep a trophy when participating in a culling program in a national park. The meat may be donated or distributed to Indian Tribes, qualified volunteers, food banks, and other organizations that work to address hunger, in accordance with applicable health guidelines.
  • Culling in a national park does not generate revenue and does not include fair chase.

Frequently Asked Questions?

What is the goal of this program? The goal is to eradicate non-native mountain goats within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park as quickly as possible. Without intervention, non-native mountain goats could transmit pathogens to or displace Teton bighorn sheep on very limited winter range and optimal summer habitat.

Why is the park eradicating non-native mountain goats from the Teton range? Non-native mountain goats were introduced into the Snake River Range in Idaho and over the years, expanded their population and reached the Teton Range. Non-native 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.

What is the anticipated time frame for meeting this goal? The timing and duration of removal efforts will ultimately depend on weather, density and distribution of non-native mountain goats, and the success of the qualified volunteers. Additional removal and monitoring operations may be required to ensure non-native mountain goats do not return.

Has the park already begun the lethal removal of non-native mountain goats? Yes, in February 2020, an NPS-authorized contractor removed 36 non-native mountain goats using aerial-based lethal removal methods authorized in the park’s non-native mountain goat management plan.

Is this the first-time ground-based lethal removal will be tried? Yes.

Are there options for non-lethal removal like live capture and translocation in the plan? Yes, those options exist in the plan but are currently not being implemented. Investigations were made to gauge interest from other states for a capture and translocation effort, but past capture success (15 goats in 5 years of trying) and the resulting costs, coupled with the known disease history of the source population of these non-native mountain goats (Snake River Range, ID/WY) did not garner much interest.

Is this an approved management plan? Yes, a Finding of No Significant Impact was signed by the acting regional director, National Park Service Regional Office Serving Department of Interior Regions 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 in September 2019, supporting the Mountain Goat Management Plan Environmental Assessment.

What is the authority to conduct this type of activity in a national park? The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (54 USC 104909)

SEC. 2410. WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT IN PARKS.
(a) In General.–Chapter 1049 of title 54, United States Code (as amended by section 2409(a)), is amended by adding at the end the following:
“Sec. 104909. <<NOTE: 54 USC 104909.>> Wildlife management in parks
“(a) Use of qualified volunteers.–If the Secretary determines it is necessary to reduce the size of a wildlife population on System land in accordance with applicable law (including regulations), the Secretary may use qualified volunteers to assist in carrying out wildlife management on System land.
“(b) Requirements for qualified volunteers.–qualified volunteers providing assistance under subsection (a) shall be subject to–
“(1) any training requirements or qualifications established by the Secretary; and
“(2) any other terms and conditions that the Secretary may require.
“(c) Donations.–The Secretary may authorize the donation and distribution of meat from wildlife management activities carried out under this section, including the donation and distribution to Indian Tribes, qualified volunteers, food banks, and other organizations that work to address hunger, in accordance with applicable health guidelines and such terms and conditions as the Secretary may require.”.
(b) Clerical Amendment.–The table of sections for chapter 1049 of title 54 (as amended by section 2409(b)), United States Code, <<NOTE: 54 USC 104901 prec.>> is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 104908 the following:
“104909. Wildlife management in parks.”.

Is Grand Teton National Park collaborating with partners and stakeholders? Yes, we are coordinating with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the USDA Forest Service.

Can a qualified volunteer take (shoot) more than one mountain goat in the performance of their duty? Yes, this is a culling operation with the goal of eradicating non-native mountain goats within the boundaries of the park. Qualified volunteers may lethally remove as many non-native mountain goats as is reasonable for their given situation and should make a reasonable effort to care for and remove the edible portions from the animals they take.

Could non-native mountain goat carcasses be left on the landscape by qualified volunteers? Volunteers should make reasonable efforts to retrieve the edible portions of the animals they take, as long as the terrain is reasonable and allows safe access to the animal.

Who can apply to be a qualified volunteer? Applicants must be United States citizens and at least 18 years of age. Qualified volunteers may not have active warrants, past wildlife violations, or violations associated with the Elk Reduction Program. Volunteers must certify that they are physically fit and able to hike and operate in management zones above tree line at altitude and travel in remote and steep mountainous terrain. Volunteers must also pass a mandatory firearm proficiency evaluation (three of five shots in an eight-inch target at 200 yards).

Do volunteers need to be in good physical condition? In order to safely and successfully participate in this program, volunteers must have a high level of physical fitness; volunteers may need to hike up to 20 miles per day at altitude in extremely rough mountainous terrain under a variety of weather conditions (i.e., wind, rain, snow, and below freezing temperatures). Elevations in the park range from 6,320’ to 13,775’ and volunteers can expect to pursue most non-native mountain goats in 3rd through 5th class terrain at elevations ranging from 9,000’ to 12,500’.

Will qualified volunteers be provided training prior to going into the field for operations? Yes, all volunteers will be required to show proficiency with a firearm (if shooting), and will receive training in bear spray deployment, backcountry tracking, radio protocols, species identification, and potentially, disease sample collection.

Are the qualified volunteers considered employees of the National Park Service? Yes.

Do I need a valid hunting license to participate? No, a qualified volunteer (shooter) needs proof of a Certificate of Competency and Safety in the Use and Handling of Firearms otherwise known as a state-issued hunter safety card (regardless of age or state). Law enforcement and military exemptions to hunter safety cards will not be accepted.

What will happen to the meat brought out of the field by qualified volunteers? Per the Dingell Act, the meat may be donated or distributed to Indian Tribes, qualified volunteers, food banks, and other organizations that work to address hunger, in accordance with applicable health guidelines. Successful volunteers will be eligible to keep the meat equivalent of one goat per volunteer or they may choose to donate the meat. Meat shall be possessed through a Wyoming Game and Fish donation coupon.

Does a harvested mountain goat need to be tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD)? No, only deer, moose, and elk can contract CWD. Bovids are the “horned” members of the even toed ungulate order (hoofed animals). Deer are “antlered” even toed ungulates.

Can a volunteer keep the cape, head, or horns? No, the qualified volunteers are only eligible to receive a meat donation through a Wyoming Game and Fish Department donation coupon. The cape and horns must be left at the site of kill. However, members of Indian Tribes who participate as qualified volunteers may be eligible to keep additional portions of the mountain goat.

Will this program require temporary closures to areas of the park? It is possible that specific areas of the park will need to be temporarily closed during non-native mountain goat management activities if park staff determine this is necessary to ensure public safety. Closures of specific areas could last for several hours, days, or for the duration of the management activities.

What is the projected time frame for utilizing qualified volunteers in 2020? Project operations will begin on September 14, and will run through November 13, 2020 (weather permitting).

What is the group size? Minimum group size is two and the maximum size is six. The team leader must be an identified shooter and may be assisted by 1-5 shooting or non-shooting helpers. Complete information for all intended shooters must be provided at the time of application.

Can I participate as a solo qualified volunteer? No. If an applicant is accepted, and members of his/her group later drop out and their group size decreases below two, the applicant will not be able to participate.

Are qualified volunteers required to carry bear spray? Yes, a minimum size of 7.9 oz, EPA registered, readily accessible, and NON-expired bear spray must be carried by each volunteer. This will be provided by the NPS.

What else will the NPS provide to the qualified volunteers? Radio, satellite communication device, and GPS tracking device for use while conducting operations. Applicants are accountable for all equipment provided and must return the equipment at the conclusion of their operation.

What else will the NPS provide to the qualified volunteers? Radio, satellite communication device, and GPS tracking device for use while conducting operations. Applicants are accountable for all equipment provided and must return the equipment at the conclusion of their operation.

How will successful qualified volunteers and others legally transport goat meat after leaving the park and crossing state lines? A Wyoming Game and Fish Department donation coupon will be issued.

How will qualified volunteers be identified in the field? Each volunteer will be issued an NPS volunteer uniform item which must be worn while actively participating in non-native mountain goat removal operations.
What caliber of weapons must be used by the qualified volunteer? Volunteers must use a rifle of a minimum caliber .25 bottlenecked ammunition with at least a 100-grain bullet.

What type of ammunition will be used for this program? Qualified volunteers must use non-lead ammunition.

Can a qualified volunteer use a silencer on their rifle? Yes, silencers are encouraged but not required, in accordance with federal laws on silencer possession and use.

Will shooters need to show proficiency in marksmanship? If applying as a shooter, you will be required to demonstrate your skill during the training day by putting three of five shots, using the ammunition and rifle that you will use in the field, in an 8” target from 200 yards. Failure to do so will be cause for termination of an individual from the program.

What time frame are qualified volunteers applying for? Volunteer groups will be assigned to one of eight culling periods: 9/14-19, 9/22-27, 9/30 -10/5, 10/8-13, 10/16-21, 10/24-29, 11/1-6 and 11/10-15, weather permitting. Each session starts with a mandatory training day, followed by up to five days in the field. You may not need to participate all six days. However, you may not participate past the end date of your session.

May qualified volunteers apply for multiple operational periods? Volunteers will be asked to indicate which dates they are available, and preferences for sessions if they are available for more than one. Weather and other conditions may cause the cancellation of a session. If a team is only available for one week they must select that week for all four preferences.

Can qualified volunteers pick what area they will be culling in? Volunteers will select their management zones during the application process in order of preference. Park management will assign teams to management zones that will maximize potential success, support management priorities, and avoid wildlife or visitor use conflicts. All areas are difficult to access, and most are extremely challenging. Potential applicants should review the area maps and descriptions at the bottom of this page before choosing to apply.

Will volunteer teams need a backcountry permit for overnight stays in the management zone they are assigned? No. Teams will be provided guidance based on their specific circumstance on the best location to camp. All backcountry camping regulations (no fires, food storage, party size, camping in designated areas, etc.) will be in effect.

Can volunteers use stock while participating as a qualified volunteer? Only zones 1 and 6 are conducive to stock-supported camping and subsequent removal effort, thus volunteers reliant on stock will be limited in their options to participate in non-native mountain goat removal. Please review stock regulations if you intend to utilize this resource. In particular, 1) stock use is limited to park-maintained trails and may not leave the trails for any purpose to include scouting and goat retrieval; 2) stock users must provide all certified weed-free feed that is necessary for the entire operation; and 3) grazing on park vegetation is not allowed. Prior to arriving, volunteers should read Grand Teton National Park’s webpage regarding stock-use inside the park.

How is this culling operation different than the Elk Reduction Program? This culling operation is a management action to eradicate non-native mountain goats in the park as quickly as possible in order to protect the park’s bighorn sheep population. The Elk Reduction Program is used for managing part of the native Jackson elk herd, the largest elk herd in North America. Congress authorized the Elk Reduction Program in 1950 as part of the legislation that expanded the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. This legislation included a provision to manage the elk population through an annual elk reduction program when necessary.

How will qualified volunteers be selected? All applications for a specific operational period will be considered through a random draw. For each operational period 1-10 teams will be selected to participate in specific management zones. Teams that are drawn will be notified by email and phone if selected. Teams that are not selected will be notified by email.

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