Let's goat! Wildlife restored to native habitat

Let's goat! Wildlife restored to native habitat
Rocky Mountain goat release at the base of Mt. Jefferson, July 27, 2010. Photo by Jim Yuskavitch.

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Mountain goats captured from the Elkhorn Mountains of Baker County were released at the base of Mount Jefferson on Tuesday, returning the animals to part of their native range in the Oregon Cascades for the first time since the 19th Century

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs conducted the release.

Mountain goats disappeared from the Cascades due to severe weather, climactic fluctuations and unregulated hunting. The release Tuesday was part of an ongoing effort to restore the species to its native habitat in Oregon. >>> Photo Gallery

Wildlife biologists captured 45 goats from the Elkhorn Mountains in Baker County, where about half of the estimated 800 goats currently in Oregon reside.

This year’s capture and relocation marks the 10th time the Elkhorns’ population has been used as the source population for transplanting goats to other parts of the state.

Rocky Mountain goats are attracted to salt during the spring and summer, so the goats were trapped using a drop net baited with salt.

ODFW veterinary staff were present to monitor the goats, collect blood samples for disease screening and administer inoculations to the animals.

Historical literature states that Rocky Mountain goats live on Mount Jefferson.

The tribal lands in Upper Whitewater River were identified as a release site by ODFW’s Rocky Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep Management Plan back in 2004. The area is very similar to the Elkhorns and should provide excellent habitat for the goats, ODFW said.

The tribes will manage the Mount Jefferson Rocky Mountain goat population on their lands to provide cultural and ceremonial opportunities for tribal members. Once an adequate population has been sustained - 50 or more goats for five years - tribal members could hunt the goats on their lands.

"It is exciting that the tribes are getting a native animal back to its home range and another opportunity to experience traditional hunting," said Robert Brunoe, CTWSRO general manager of natural resources.

In future years, Rocky Mountain goats may be released at other sites in the Central Oregon Cascades including Three-fingered Jack and the Three Sisters.

As the goats establish themselves in the Cascades on non-tribal lands, hunting and viewing opportunities will become available for Oregon residents and visitors.

Rocky Mountain goats were extirpated from Oregon prior to or during European settlement in the late 19th century.
The rarest game animal hunted in the state today, only 11 tags are available for the 2010 season. All controlled Rocky Mountain goats tags are “once in a lifetime” so once a hunter draws the tag, he or she may never draw it again.

ODFW also raffles off a Rocky Mountain goat tag each year to raise money for research and reintroduction efforts like this one. Raffle sales for this fall’s tag fetched $24,739.

Oregon’s current Rocky Mountain goat population is the result of reintroduction efforts like the one that happened yesterday. This year’s project was the 18th since efforts to reintroduce Rocky Mountain goats to Oregon began in 1950. That year, five goats were transported from Chopaka Mountain in northern Washington to the Wallowa Mountains by the Oregon State Game Commission (now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Under ODFW’s Rocky Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep Management Plan, ODFW transplants animals to help reestablish populations in historic habitat. A site-specific plan guides the reintroduction and monitoring of Rocky Mountain goats in the Central Oregon Cascades.