Grand Teton says goat gunning operation was ‘effective’ before pause

Grand Teton National Park killed 36 goats in its one-day aerial shoot Friday, an official said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

The park is working toward hosting a season next fall during which skilled volunteers would participate in a culling program, the statement read. Park Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail talked with Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday, the statement said.

“Volunteers may not keep any trophy when participating in a culling program in a national park,” the statement said of the potential hunting/culling program. “The meat may be distributed generally to volunteers, food banks, etc., after careful screening for public health considerations.”

Grand Teton National Park said its operation to shoot invasive mountain goats from the air was “effective towards meeting our objective,” before Interior Secretary David Berhnardt intervened to pause the operation at Gordon’s request.

Bernhardt intervened Friday evening after Gordon sent a letter to Grand Teton’s Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail that afternoon blasting the agency for the operation. The park conducted its program for a day before the pause.

The shooting plan targeted the goats, considered an exotic, invasive species, to help a struggling bighorn sheep herd that lives in, and is native to, the Teton Range. Grand Teton officials feared that without “immediate intervention” the goats could displace sheep from fragile habitat, pass on diseases and extirpate the bighorn herd.

But Wyoming wanted hunters, not hired sharpshooters, to kill the goats and also harvest the meat. Retrieving goat carcasses was not a priority in the park plan.

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik said he disagrees that immediate intervention was necessary.

“I don’t subscribe to the fact there was an urgent need,” he said Monday. “Last Friday wasn’t the day that was an urgent crisis.”

Gordon applauded Bernhardt’s intervention in a statement.

“I appreciate the excellent working relationship we have with Secretary Bernhardt and that he is willing to discuss this issue in more detail without the pressure of ongoing aerial hunting,” his statement read. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”

Gordon ripped federal officials in his short letter to Noojibail on Friday. Gordon called the park operation a farce, said the park ignored an opportunity to work with its neighbors and characterized the plan as “executing mountain goats over the State of Wyoming’s objections.”

The operation was an example of “federal disregard for the sovereignty of the states,” Gordon wrote. He promised to tell Noojibail’s bosses about the disagreement, Gordon wrote.

“Please rest assured I will make sure your park’s attitude and willingness to find solutions is well communicated to our [congressional] delegation, the Secretary of the Interior, and others.”

The bighorn sheep herd that lives in the Tetons is designated a core native herd, under Wyoming’s bighorn sheep plan. It has never been wiped out and replaced with transplants, but is vulnerable. The bighorn sheep make up the “smallest and most isolated core, native bighorn sheep herd,” in the state, the Game and Fish Department wrote in a report.

The department agrees goats should be eliminated from the Teton Range, Nesvik said Monday.

“WGFD managers are concerned that this herd remains vulnerable to local extirpation due to small numbers, low genetic diversity and isolation, increasing disturbance from backcountry recreation, loss of historic winter ranges, and a growing mountain goat population,” a 2018 report by the state agency reads.

That same report pegged the bighorn herd in December 2018 at 81 sheep. At the same time, biologists documented 88 mountain goats, up from 66 the year before.

“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,” park spokeswoman Denise Germann said in a text message Saturday.

“Without immediate intervention the nonnative mountain goat population is expected to grow rapidly and contribute to the potential extirpation of the native bighorn sheep herd within the park,” her message read.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and Nesvik had earlier protested the aerial gunning plan. Game and Fish Department conducted a robust mountain goat hunting season outside the park in the Tetons.

Game and Fish Department set a quota of 48 mountain goats in Hunt Area 4 for 2019, an effort “to relieve competition between the non-native goats and a struggling native bighorn sheep herd there,” the agency said in a statement. An online tally showed that hunters killed 23 goats in the area, which abuts the park on the west and south, in 2019. To shoot goats inside Grand Teton, where hunting is generally prohibited, skilled volunteers would receive special authority.

Game and Fish proposes another liberal mountain goat hunting season in 2020, according to the agency website. Hunters could kill up to 48 animals of any sex and age in mountain goat Hunt Area 4. That number is the highest of any goat hunt area in the state.

The proposed season in the area also would be the longest, stretching from Aug. 1 to Nov. 15, when including the 15-day archery season.

Wyoming hunting regulations are strict regarding the care and use of meat from big game. They require hunters to take and preserve edible portions of a killed game animal and prohibit abandoning meat at a butcher shop or processing facility.

Nesvik said the state has no aversion to a hunting season that would see kids killed. Game and Fish has numerous hunting seasons that call for the taking of young animals as part of its wildlife management scheme, he said.

He had the chance to taste mountain goat meat about 20 years ago, Nesvik said.

“It eats pretty good,” he said.


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