Correction: This story was edited on Feb. 24 at 7:00 p.m. to reflect recent developments
Responding to calls from Wyoming’s governor and other officials, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt halted Grand Teton National Park’s use of aerial gunners to cull mountain goats.
Despite state management agency and public opposition, Grand Teton National Park contracted helicopter crews with shotguns to kill nonnative mountain goats today. The operation was supposed to continue throughout this week, but after a single day, the operation was halted.
According to reporting in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, Grand Teton National Park spokesperson Denise Germann said that today’s operations were “effective toward meeting our agenda,” but are now “paused.” Germann refused to comment on the number of goats killed saying, “the intent is to share the information after the operation is over.”
The Park Service says that it must remove the goats, which are not native to the area, in order to protect the threatened Targhee population of bighorn sheep, which have the rare distinction of never being extirpated or augmented.
The goats were never intended to populate the Tetons. They expanded out of the nearby Snake River Range, where they were planted to provide hunting opportunity. The goat and sheep populations in this range are now even, at around 100 individuals each, and park biologists fear goats could soon out-compete or introduce disease into the native bighorn population.
“The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect native species and reduce the potential for local extinction of a native species and therefore intends to reduce the number of nonnative mountain goats in the park as quickly as possible,” Germann said in an earlier press release. “Mountain goats are not native to Grand Teton National Park. Mountain goats threaten the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd through increased risk of pathogen transmission and the potential for competition. Aerially-based lethal activities are the most efficient and effective methods to remove nonnative mountain goats.”
Wyoming does not dispute that the goats must go. However, the governor, game commission, and numerous other state officials insisted that trained hunters should be allowed to conduct the cull and recover the meat,
On Friday, Feb. 21, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon sent an angry letter to Gopaul Noojidail, acting superintendent of Grand Teton. The letter made its way to Sec. Bernhardt, who choose to cancel the aerial gunning.
“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. I will remember your blatant disregard for the advice of Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department,” Gov. Gordon said. “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. Another aspect of this farce that I will long remember.”
There is a long precedent for managing wildlife through hunting in Grand Teton. When Congress expanded the park’s boundaries in 1950, they specifically included provisions for hunting elk within the park, in order to manage the large herd that migrates between the park and the National Elk Refuge. That hunt has now been conducted for 70 years.
In January, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission passed a resolution that condemned the Park Service’s planned cull.
“Leaving carcasses to rot, where there is no utilization of that resource, rather than allow sportsman to go out with park supervision and training to harvest an animal—like is done with elk—I can’t understand that decision,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Pat Crank.
Though all parties would likely prefer to see hunters involved involved in wildlife management, Grand Teton park officials felt the cull needed to be executed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sec. Bernhardt’s intervention suggests that hunters may yet get the opportunity to participate in the animal removal.
“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,” Gov. Gordon said. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.