On August 9th & 10th of 2014, the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance rallied the troops for a weekend of volunteering in the Madison Range of southwest Montana. For years, Montana’s mountain goat HD-326 has produced harvest successes below the states target of 80%. As harvest success often relates to mountain goat population size, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks worried the population had declined. The area under investigation currently offers six tags every year.
Three teams of Goat Alliance volunteers distributed themselves across the search area for a two day census. The terrain was steep, the temperatures were high, and the goats proved to be few and far between. We took advantage of the district’s towering peaks for optimal glassing. Two full days were spent scouring the landscape for the white ghosts. As the sun set on Sunday afternoon, our three search teams had documented a grand total of 21 mountain goats, a population far smaller than we anticipated.
The following week, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks took to the skies for an aerial, fixed-wing count to follow up our ground based efforts. After a thorough scanning of the district from above, they had only located a dozen animals. Needless to say, the area’s population of mountain goats was far smaller than previously documented in 2009.
The Madison range is divided into six hunting districts that, as a whole, make up a robust and growing population of mountain goats. The range was divided into smaller hunting districts years ago to distribute harvest across a larger area. In an effort to let the resident population of HD-326 grow, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will likely reduce future hunting opportunities in the area. The Goat Alliance is in full support of the removal of hunting licenses and are proud to have been a part of the beginning of this population’s revival.