Helicopter gunners to kill Teton park mountain goats

Winter weather has caused Grand Teton National Park to temporarily postpone its plan to use helicopter gunners to kill off its population of non-native mountain goats.

The planned mountain goat killing operation in Grand Teton National Park literally never got off the ground because of poor weather.

The park’s plans to remove a population of about 100 non-native mountain goats via helicopter gunners has been postponed until later this winter due to snowstorms and high winds currently circulating the Teton Range.

After the park announced earlier this month that it was going to exterminate the goats via helicopter gunners, several people contacted the Idaho State Journal to voice their opposition to the plan. Additionally, animal rights groups and environmental conservation organizations are both scrutinizing the plan and calling on Grand Teton National Park to reconsider its approach to controlling its population of non-native mountain goats.

“Killing one species in order to protect another is like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in an email.

“Humans placed these mountain goats in the area, and it is up to us to use non-lethal methods to remove them if, and only if, removal is truly necessary for them, the environment, and other animals — and NOT to satisfy the blood lust of hunters, who love to manipulate wildlife numbers so that they can hang more heads on the wall. Gunning down goats from helicopters is the stuff of warfare, and PETA is calling on the National Park Service to use only humane population-control methods.”

Kristin Combs, the executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said she was disappointed in the park’s decision to use lethal control methods on the non-native mountain goats.

“While we respect the decision to protect the Grand Teton bighorn sheep herd, using a lethal control method to remove the invasive mountain goats should have been a last-resort option,” Combs said. “We would have liked to see some effort to relocate the mountain goats elsewhere first.”

Grand Teton National Park said it determined the best route at controlling the invasive mountain goat population after conducting an environmental assessment in December 2018. The assessment suggested that the park either take no action regarding the invasive goats, use lethal methods only or use a combination of lethal and non-lethal methods.

The park said it wants to control the population of the non-native species of mountain goats because of their impact on the Teton Range’s declining native species of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

“The Teton Range is home to a small herd of native bighorn sheep currently estimated at approximately 100 animals,” the National Park Service said in a Jan. 2 news release. “This herd is one of the smaller and most isolated in Wyoming and has never been extirpated or augmented. The Teton Range herd of native bighorn sheep is of high conservation value to the park, adjacent land and wildlife managers, and visitors.”

The invasive mountain goat numbers have grown to about the same size as the native bighorn sheep herd in the last few years and the animals compete for food resources. There are also fears that the non-native goats will transmit diseases to the native bighorn sheep.

The non-native mountain goats migrated into the Teton Range from the nearby Snake River Range after they were transplanted there in the 1960s and 1970s to provide hunting opportunities, Combs said.

The public was allowed to comment on the environmental assessment’s findings between Dec. 4, 2018, and Feb. 15, 2019.

In September 2019, the National Park Service signed a FONSI, or Finding of No Significant Impact, document indicating it was opting for the option that involved using lethal and non-lethal control methods on Grand Teton National Park’s invasive goats. The park was given the green light to remove the non-native mountain goats from the Teton Range this past November.

Grand Teton park spokeswoman Denise Germann told the Journal last week that the park chose helicopter gunners as its control method as opposed to trapping and relocating the invasive goats to locations outside of the park because the helicopter gunners were the most “effective and efficient” use of park resources.

In regards to the park’s recent decision to delay the mountain goat killing effort, Germann said poor weather kept the helicopters from entering the park.

She said, “It started out just too windy (and) then we had snow and winds. It’s a challenging situation and safety is a concern.”

The park was going to forbid people to enter its mountainous mid-section for a week so the helicopter gunners could kill the invasive goats, but that planned closure has now been rescinded.

Germann said the plan to kill the invasive goats via helicopter gunners has only been delayed and will resume.

“We work with a contractor and they have other business to do so we will set up another day and hopefully the weather will let them fly,” she said. “We will be rescheduling it, but I don’t have a date for that yet.”

In the interim, PETA is calling on the National Park Service to use this weather delay to reconsider the planned execution of the goats.

“PETA hopes the National Park Service will use this time to consider the cruel absurdity of gunning down goats from helicopters,” PETA Senior Director Stephanie Bell said in an email. “Non-lethal methods are the only acceptable approach when contending with species who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in areas where they are unwanted and are deemed invasive.”

The Post Register contributed to this report.