Reintroduced in 1994, the resident mountain goats of the Willard Peak unit have pioneered alpine habitat to the north and south of their original release site at Inspiration Point. Utah first reintroduced mountain goats back into their state on Lone Peak in 1967. Those first goats came from Wenatchee, Washington. The Lone Peak herd was later used in 1994 to seed the Willard Peak unit with five animals (one billy and four nannies). In 2000, the Willard herd was augmented with four more mountain goats. Our main objectives of this project were to determine just how far these mountaineering ungulates had traveled, as well as how many goats currently call this area home.
Our project began at 8:00am on Friday June 19th at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource’s Northern Region Office where volunteers assembled for a morning meeting with regional biologist, Chad Wilson. We were briefed on project objectives and goals while we dispersed search area maps and data sheets. Day one was spent surveying the habitat south of Ogden Canyon Road and north of Highway 39. Hot temperatures and low goat numbers made locating animals difficult. Two mountain goats, one nanny and one kid, were documented in this search area.
Day two took our teams of volunteers to our most southern search area, the habitat between Highway 39 and Interstate 84. This pocket of mountains is home to Snowbasin Ski Resort where all volunteers were kindly issued complimentary gondola passes by Mountain Manager, Chris Westover. With teams remaining on the roads below with spotting scopes, as well as others traveling the ridges, we documented 11 animals in the search area. While the search was taking place, Chad Wilson received a call from a motorist on Interstate 84 reporting a nanny goat traveling south, crossing several lanes of traffic. This sighting further proved these animals were successfully exploring habitat far from their 1994 release sight.
Late afternoon on day two took teams of backpacking volunteers to the heart of the Willard Peak unit. Over the course of the final hours of the day, 161 individual mountain goats were documented from Inspiration Point to south of Ben Lomond Peak. This quickly became a Goat Alliance volunteer effort record. Teams of surveyors spiked out that Saturday night to repeat their counts the following morning. With a second count of 158 animals on Sunday morning, we were confident our survey was conducted thoroughly. Our project commenced Sunday at lunch when all volunteers headed home after three full days of vital goat documenting.
We want to deeply thank everyone who took the time to lend a helping hand in this project. Several of our volunteers traveled from out of state and invested a great deal of time, effort, and gas money to this project. Without the generosity of RMGA volunteers, this project would not have happened. We would also like to spend a special thanks to Chris Westover or Snowbasin Ski Resort for our free gondola passes, as well as Nathan Long and Chad Wilson of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for spending countless hours helping orchestrate this project and bringing it to fruition. We plan on returning in the summer of 2016. Stay tuned for our project video.