Grand Teton National Park is asking for the public's help in addressing its non-native mountain goat problem. The park announced Thursday, August 6, it is now accepting applications from qualified volunteers for a culling program. Culling is set to begin mid-September and wrap up by the middle of November.
The announcement is the latest development in the ongoing, and at times contentious, issue of the invasive species causing problems for the native bighorn sheep population, which has been in decline and currently sits at an estimated 100 sheep. Mountain goats can carry bacterial diseases, and can displace sheep on the already limited winter range.
"We're hoping that with our participants and the interest that we have, that we will be successful in removing the majority, if not all the goats from the national park," park spokesperson Denise Germann.
In a press release, the park explained that volunteers will need to "have a high level of physical fitness," since culling may require them to hike up to 20 miles a day through steep and rough terrain with the potential for extreme weather conditions. Volunteers also have to be at least 18 years old, be a United States citizen, and they must prove their firearm abilities through a mandatory exam - successfully shoot three of five shots in an eight-inch target at 200 yards.
The park also made clear in its release how a culling program is distinct from traditional recreational hunting. For instance, in the culling program volunteers may not keep a trophy, nor the head, or horns. However, tribal members who participate may be able to keep additional portions of the carcass.
Successful volunteers may be able to keep the meat equivalent of one goat, or they may choose to donate it to food banks or to Native American tribes.
This is not the first lethal action the park has taken to remove mountain goats. Last February, the park used contracted, aerial gunners to remove 36. Additional aerial efforts planned for that month were delayed after state and federal agencies, including Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) director, as well as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior told the park to call it off. The culling program will be done in collaboration with the WGFD, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service.
"I am delighted that Grand Teton National Park officials have chosen to take a different, more sensible approach to addressing this important wildlife management issue," Gordon said in a statement.
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This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.