The room was full of conversation as over 30 volunteers from six states introduced themselves. In the front, a half dozen college students from Nebraska State College socialized. To their left, a 74-year-old Alaskan outfitter examined a data sheet. Behind him, a local 11-year-old, home-schooled girl and her mother relished in the possibility of sighting there first mountain goat ever. The colors of the team of volunteers were nothing short of bright.
Breakfast, coffee, data sheets, and maps circulated around the room while everyone took their seats. Total strangers assembling in the name of conservation. The task at hand was no easy one. Our goal was to survey the resident mountain goat population of the Black Hills, a search area over 100 square miles. Novice and experts alike teamed up into five search teams. By 8:30am, with scopes and cameras in hand, we were off to divide and conquer the Black Hills.
Partially cloudy skies proved to be a blessing and provided us with some perfect “sweatshirt-weather”. As my team rounded a corner near the Needle’s Eye, an amazing geological feature in the Black Hills, a local volunteer, Kari Filipi, alerts the crew: “Goats!”. Sure enough, a family group of nine mountain goats, accompanied by a fully mature billy, basked in the broken sunlight. We spent over an hour documenting our find, making absolutely sure our gender and location records were correct.
As the weekend continued, all of our volunteers had similar experiences, whether right off the road at Mount Rushmore or several miles up the trail on Harney Peak. Our evenings were filled with bonfires, bar-b-ques, hunting stories, and laughs. Our best count was Saturday, April 26th with 53 different mountain goats documented in one day. This went on for three days until some terrible weather swept in on Sunday afternoon and concluded our survey.
The RMGA wants to sincerely thank all of our members for helping make this trip financially possible. Your commitment to the Alliance put boots on the trails and eyes on the hills. We also would like to thank all of the volunteers who donated their time and great attitudes to this fantastic study. Our findings will become the baseline of data South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks will use in the year ahead to manage these elusive creatures as they see fit. We hope you join us on our next adventure and help us play a vital role in mountain goat conservation.