Wyoming Game and Fish Commission

Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners, pictured, have condemned Grand Teton National Park’s decision to target the Tetons’ unwanted nonnative mountain goats with contracted aerial gunners.

State wildlife officials are blasting Grand Teton National Park’s decision to lead off its mountain goat eradication efforts with aerial gunning.

Meeting in Cheyenne on Wednesday, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission broached the topic unexpectedly and signed off on a resolution opposing the park’s plans for this winter. Instead of shooting the nonnative goats from a helicopter, the governor-appointed board is seeking a hunt open to volunteers, an approach the park has also authorized.

“Having government personnel kill mountain goats from helicopters and leaving them to rot and be wasted is unacceptable,” Game and Fish Commission President David Rael wrote to acting park Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. Grand Teton National Park’s “refusal to utilize statutory options allowing skilled volunteers to harvest the mountain goats is shortsighted and sets a dangerous precedent.”

The eradication plan, years in the making, was finalized last fall. At the urging of the state, the national park altered its decision to allow the use of “skilled volunteers,” i.e., hunters, to remove the exotic goats, which are considered a threat to the survival of the Teton’s native bighorn sheep herd. But the plan is flexible, also allowing for aerial and ground-based gunning from contractors and rangers.

When park officials rolled out their plan Jan. 3, they announced aerial gunning would be the method of choice for the first winter. A vast portion of the Tetons was closed to accommodate the contracted shooters, but ongoing winter storms have kept helicopters grounded. The cull was subsequently called off and rescheduled for later this month or in early February.

Grand Teton spokeswoman Denise Germann said Thursday that Wyoming Game and Fish’s appeals have not led to any change in plans for this winter. Besides the written resolution, Noojibail and Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik have been discussing the method of choice for killing off the Tetons’ goats.

“We do plan to continue with the aerial, lethal removal,” Germann said. “We need to move quickly.”

Aerial gunning, she said, is the most efficient and effective way to cut down the 100-plus-animal goat herd, which dwells in Cascade and Snowshoe canyons and beyond.

Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid, of La Barge, said Thursday he doesn’t buy the urgency argument. The park, he said, dragged its feet for years after proposing to eradicate its mountain goats, during which time the population exploded.

“That’s laughable to me that they want to get this done as fast possible,” Schmid said.

Schmid said he would agree to aerial gunning if it came last as a measure to clean up lingering goats after hunters had their opportunity over a year or two. But as the go-to option, he said, it doesn’t sit well.

“I think overall it flies in the face of Wyoming values, shooting stuff and leaving it lay on the mountain,” he said.

Allowing an impromptu hunt on National Park Service lands — where the activity is generally prohibited — is not without controversy. The federal John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, passed last year in Congress and signed into law by President Trump, contains a provision that opened the door for Grand Teton to authorize volunteer hunters. Some Park Service watchdogs at the time were disappointed.

“We believe this amounts to an ad-hoc hunt,” National Parks Conservation Association staffer Sharon Mader told the Jackson Hole Daily. “We supported the park’s preferred alternative, which said that the lethal removal would be done by ranger sharpshooters. Given that was the park preference, it was unusual that they decided to go with volunteer hunters.”

Grand Teton’s Germann contends that “hunting” is not a fair description of what would happen. “Cull” is a better term, she said. The specifics of how a “skilled volunteer” program might work were never sorted out.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has otherwise supported the goal of removing the Teton’s nonnative goats, even authorizing an extremely aggressive hunt just outside park boundaries to assist in the effort.

It’s the method that is proving to be the sticking point.

“The Commission strenuously urges the National Park Service to immediately cancel plans to kill the mountain goats via aerial gunning,” Rael wrote to Noojibail, “and implement a plan allowing the mountain goats to be removed by skilled volunteers.”

Game and Fish does have company in calling for the aerial shoot to be called off. The issue has made strange bedfellows out of the state agency and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has called for the park to employ only “humane” population-control methods.

Unlike Game and Fish, however, PETA is asking instead for “non-lethal methods” of eliminating the goats, according to a report in Pocatello’s Idaho State Journal.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(6) comments

Byron Baker

The WY G&F supports mass poisoning of trout in Yellowstone Lakes. Reason, Grizzlies prefer Cutthroat over other trout. The planting of non-native, invasive species Canadian Wolves has caused a mass slaughter of Elk, Moose and other species. G&F will say that Elk/Moose populations are declining. I wonder why. It's not about CWD. It never has been, Last, they want to stop Elk feeding throughout the state. G&W believes that this would reduce Elk herd sizes by 50%. So we have starving, pregnant cow elk becoming easy prey for the wolf slaughters.

After the NPS did nothing to stop the catastrophic fires that destroyed Yellowstone they did noting to replant or harvest the dead trees. Global Warming is not the biggest threat to the USAs National Parks. It is the Park Service themselves.

Dan Davis

So,, what is the value of a sheep over a goat???? Oh, Special hunts and big bucks maybe???

William Addeo

Funny how the left kills animals when they want to and thinks hunting is bad. It's sad that we have become idiots and the non-thinking public does drugs to dumb themselves down to silence.

jeff muratore

I applaud the Commissioners in this decision, but would also like to see them support keeping the goats in that range.They are native to the Rocky Mountains and that's all that should count.

Jim Olson

I still think it's barbaric, science be damned!

How about trapping and relocating them..........just an (expensive) idea, but more humane.

Jody Garland

Since the Wyoming State Fish and Game Commission also thinks its OK for fur trappers to continue their inhumane and dangerous activities on our public lands, I have lost faith in their ability to have good judgement in this or any decisions regarding the public trust.

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