The Wyoming Game and Fish Department continues to study the Palisades Goat Herd, collaring an additional eight animals in a late March project.
The herd, covered with heavy white winter coats, has drawn the attention of Star Valley/Jackson commuters and travelers along U.S. Highway 26/89 just east of Alpine this winter.
“In the years I have been in the area, this is the first year that many goats have frequented the highway, this intensively since December,” WGF Biologist Gary Fralick said in an interview with the Star Valley Independent. “We think it is the saline solution put on the roads, [in the winter].”
He continued, “We are working with motorists to slow down and make them aware of the mountain goats licking the solution.”
Fralick expects the herd to move to higher ground as the snow recedes and grass is available at higher elevations in the Snake River Canyon.
The collars, three that will automatically drop off in 2015 and four that will fall in 2016, are expected to provide valuable information on the herd’s movement in the western Wyoming and southeastern Idaho area.
“We want to look at how the mountain goats move and distribute themselves over the landscape,” said Fralick.
When collared, the temporarily sedated animals, were taken through a series of tests, including blood samples and swab samples from their ears, nasal and tonsils. The samples will be tested for disease.
“This is all new research,” explained Fralick. “We can conduct this research because of The Greater Yellowstone [Area] Mountain Ungulate Project.”
The project is spearheaded by Montana State University and conducted in cooperation of wildlife agencies from the three-state area of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Mountain Goats were first reintroduced to the Snake River Mountain Range by the Idaho Fish and Game Department over a three-year period, between 1969 and 1971.
In the nearly 45 years since reintroduction, the Palisades herd has expanded both in size and into Wyoming.
In 1994 the Wyoming Game and Fish population objective for the Palisades herd was noted at 50. A 1996 count showed 24 animals, while a 2012 count showed the number had increased to 108.
In a June 2013 interview with the Independent, Fralick acknowledged, more common mountain goat sightings occur at the mouth of the Snake River Canyon near Alpine. However, he said in recent years mountain goat sightings have been reported at Corral Creek Lake, Bear Creek and Mt. Wagnor in the Salt River Mountain Range.
“They have expanded rapidly,” said Fralick in the June interview. “We are seeing them in places we have never seen them before.”
With the expansion and increase in numbers, wildlife officials want to have data on the animal’s health, reproduction and seasonal movements.
In March of 2014, Fralick further clarified, “These are isolated observations, in the Wyoming and Salt River ranges.”
He added, “That may change, but the core population is around Alpine.”
A recent female goat, killed by vehicle traffic in the Snake River Canyon, had a previously placed radio collar that showed little movement in the region. Fralick advised that downloaded data from the collar showed the mountain goat had a “summer range that centered around Ferry Peak, just east of Alpine.”
In the earlier interview, Fralick concluded, “It’s important we begin to gather this baseline information for the future management of the herd.”