Goat culling operation begins despite state objections

JACKSON — Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and the chief of his wildlife department reached out to Grand Teton National Park at the last minute to try to stop contracted gunners from killing the Tetons’ nonnative mountain goats.

The park started the helicopter operation — which is causing a public closure of much of the Tetons — Friday. The flights were supposed to continue through the weekend.

“Let me begin by expressing my profound disappointment that the National Park Service chose to act unilaterally aerially executing mountain goats over the state of Wyoming’s objections,” Gordon wrote to Teton ParkActing Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. “I will remember your blatant disregard for the advice of Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department.”

The state of Wyoming has supported the park’s goal of eradicating the exotic Teton goats, because they pose a threat to a fragile population of native bighorn sheep.

The method for getting the job done, however, has been a point of contention.

When the park’s goat removal efforts were in the planning stages, Wyoming Game and Fish lobbied for allowing hunting using “skilled volunteers.” Park officials heeded the advice, authorizing hunting in their plans. But when the time came to execute the plan, it announced

that it would start out using rifles and shotguns from a contracted aircraft.

Hunting is not typically allowed on National Park Service property, although a provision in the 2019 John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act allows for the use of “qualified volunteers” to kill wildlife for population reduction purposes.

Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik spoke with Noojibail on Friday, making a third request to halt the operation, according to an agency press release.

“I have again asked the acting superintendent to use skilled volunteers,” Nesvik said in a statement, “because it aligns with the public’s desires for acceptable methods of removal while allowing the park to achieve their objectives to reduce mountain goat populations.”

Gordon was less diplomatic in his correspondence with the park’s acting superintendent: “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 of the respect you apparently do not have for Wyoming or our professionals,” he wrote. “[It is] another aspect of this farce I will long remember.”

Grand Teton spokesman Denise Germann did not grant an interview Thursday afternoon and declined to answer questions about the operation.

“We value the perspective of our state partners,” Germann wrote in an email, “and will continue to discuss how to best achieve our mutual goals to protect the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd.”