Wandering mountain goats get Oregon's attention

Wandering mountain goats get Oregon's attention
An aviation crew captured this goat east of Bend and put a radio collar on him. He was released unharmed.

BEND, Ore. -- Take a hike in the Elkhorn Mountains above Baker City in the northeast corner of Oregon and you're likely to see them: Rocky Mountain goats perched on dramatic rock outcroppings.

So what are goats from northeastern Oregon doing hundreds of miles away near Bend? Or up near Mount Adams in Washington state?

Wildlife biologists put a radio collar on a goat often visible in the rocks above Oregon Highway 20 east of Bend, Ore., in hopes of tracking the goat and learning more about their wandering ways. The goat has been attracting hundreds of sightseers from Central Oregon in recent weeks.

The two-year old goat was radio-collared by an aviation team and released unharmed back into the wild in the Dry Canyon area east of Bend.

DNA samples of the goat were taken so the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife can compare the results to other goat populations to determine where the goat came from.

“This male is dispersing, and that is what Rocky Mountain goats do, looking for new habitat and for other goats,” explains Steve George, ODFW Deschutes district wildlife biologist. “Goats tend to stay put in the winter, but we expect this one to continue moving once it gets warmer."

Rocky Mountain goats were likely extirpated -- essentially made extinct within a certain area -- from Oregon prior to or during European settlement in the late 19th century.

The present statewide Rocky Mountain goat population is estimated to be 800, the result of capture and relocation efforts that have been used to help re-establish populations in their historic habitat.

Rocky Mountain goats are now found in several mountain ranges of northeast Oregon and in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, including Mount Adams.
 
Oregon’s largest population is found in the Elkhorn Mountains along the craggy ridge that runs from Marble Creek Pass north to Anthony Lakes.

If the goat turns out to be from Baker County, it won't be the first goat to wander far from home.

A goat that ODFW believes found its way from the Elkhorn Mountains to The Dalles in 2007 is now on Mount Adams.

In summer 2009, another Rocky Mountain goat believed to be from the Elkhorns made it to the Deschutes River. It was collared on the John Day River in October 2009 before returning to an area northeast of La Grande.

For now, however, the goat east of Bend is staying put.

“ODFW staff saw the goat again yesterday," George said Tuesday, "and it is doing fine and in the same general location where it was collared.”