Forest Service says protection
efforts in order
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
The mountain goat population in the
Boulder and White Cloud Mountains has fallen sharply, federal officials believe,
prompting discussions about whether winter recreation should be restricted in
areas favored by the animals.
Robin Garwood, wildlife biologist for the
Sawtooth National Recreation Area, said an ongoing Idaho Fish and Game survey of
mountain goats in the White Cloud Mountains has indicated that the population
dropped by two-thirds in approximately the last 15 years. The state agency in
1988 estimated the population at 186 animals, compared to only 61 animals in
2002, Garwood said.
State Fish and Game numbers for both the
Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges—excluding the western slope of the
Boulder Mountains—also indicate a sharp drop. In 1988, an estimated 278 goats
roamed the area, but by 2002 the population dropped to 120 animals, Fish and
Ed Cannady, backcountry recreation manager
for the SNRA, said the U.S. Forest Service has not conducted its own count of
mountain goats in the Boulder-White Clouds. However, he said the Fish and Game
numbers do accurately demonstrate a trend in the regional mountain goat
population. "I see far fewer goats than I used to when I’m back there (in the
White Clouds)," he said. "The empirical evidence is that there is a decline."
Garwood and Cannady said the Forest
Service has not determined the cause of the decline, but is considering its
options to protect the mountain goats from potentially stressful encounters with
Cannady said travel restrictions might be
necessary to protect the animals. "We’re going to have to look at the best way
to ensure that the goats have the best opportunity, not just to survive, but to
bring their numbers back to where they were historically," he said. "If that
includes travel restrictions, then we will definitely look at those."
Any future restrictions on travel in
mountain goat ranges would include "any and all travel types, including skiers,"
Garwood said mountain goats are
particularly vulnerable in winter, when they are generally confined to lower
elevations where they can successfully forage for food. With food sources
already waning in winter, the animals must conserve their energy to stay healthy
and cannot afford to repeatedly run from their home ranges, she noted.
"Any extra disturbance can be
detrimental," Garwood said. "The less disturbance, the better."
Cannady said the Forest Service has not
determined that any one type of encounter between mountain goats and humans is
most detrimental to the animals. "Everyone assumes that motorized uses have the
greatest impact, but it’s a lot more complex than that, of course," he said.
"It’s very situational."
Despite a reluctance to enact land-use
closures, Cannady said the SNRA does have an obligation to protect its signature
species. "I think we would be hard pressed to sit idly by while the population
is in decline."