Federal and state organizations are up in arms over which modern warfare tactics should be deployed against a park’s goat population.
Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park has a problem: Invasive mountain goats pose a life-threatening risk to the region’s bighorn sheep. In the name of protecting the native flock, the National Park Service and the state of Wyoming developed a plan for eradication in 2018, relying mostly on aerial sharpshooters to gun down the goats from helicopters. Although the NPS initially dismissed volunteer hunters as “ineffective,” they eventually allowed for a supplemental on-the-ground anti-goat op after a significant push from the state’s Game and Fish Department, the Daily Beast reported.
“This is every hunter’s dream,” said Wyoming Wildlife Advocates executive director Kristin Combs, according to the Daily Beast. “You’re letting them loose inside a national park to kill as many goats as possible.”
This February, the plan was launched, and the sharpshooters culled 38 goats — a third of the park’s population — in their first day. Shortly thereafter, however, the helicopters were indefinitely grounded and the goat elimination program suddenly paused.
The plan to cull a harmful population has now become a tussle between state and federal agencies over cross-jurisdictional control and local hunting culture. The state of Wyoming is pushing for a more hunting-forward approach.
“We felt because of COVID, that meat was going to go wanting. People could make use of the meat. Hunting for your family is a tradition we all cherish in Wyoming,” Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon told the Daily Beast after writing a searing letter to Grand Teton’s acting superintendent expressing his “profound disappointment that the NPS chose to act unilaterally, aerially executing mountain goats over the state of Wyoming’s objections.”
This month, volunteers took a stab at goat-killing and, as the NPS predicted, were comparatively ineffective.
Over the course of a week in September, hunters were only able to take out three goats, Grand Teton National Park’s Public Affairs Officer Denise Germann told the Daily Beast. Only meat from one of the goats was able to be retrieved.
“If we assume that’s the average for the weeks remaining, this could take years and the potential for disease transfer to bighorn sheep won’t be going away anytime soon,” Wildlife Program director of the National Parks Conservation Association Bart Melton told the outlet. “Compare that with removing almost a third of the population aerially in one day. We shouldn’t even be talking about this anymore.”
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