Mountain Goat Seasonal Dispersal Research

Peter Muennich

Mountain Goat Seasonal Dispersal Research
By :: Krystal Dixon

British Columbia is home to over 50% of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) that are found globally, with an estimated half of those residing in the Skeena region (MOE 2010). Mountain goats are not only an iconic symbol of rugged wilderness, they are a key indicator species for healthy mountain and canyon environments. Mountain goats have important linkages to First Nations cultures, hunters, and nonhunters in the Province of British Columbia and elsewhere, thus conservative management is critical for their continued well-being and persistence on the land.

Mountain goats must be managed at an appropriate biological scale for the species, while ensuring that conservation values are appropriately considered, and the long-term stewardship of those wildlife resources is achieved. A population management unit (PMU) can be described as a metapopulation; a metapopulation is defined as a group of several local populations that are linked by immigration and emigration (Levins 1970; Caughley and Gunn 1996).

While most populations of mountain goats undertake some seasonal movement (Festa-Bianchet and Côté 2003), little is known about dispersal patterns in mountain goat populations (MOE 2010). Using the appropriate scale to manage populations ensures that conservation measures and human impacts are considered, while balancing other potential negative impacts on those populations (resource extraction, access, recreation, harvest, etc.).

Mountain goat PMU’s were derived for the Skeena region based on expert opinion and anecdotal information which generally aligned the PMU boundaries with major watershed boundaries that were likely barriers to mountain goat movement. Having biologically meaningful PMU’s will improve the management of goats, ensuring conservation values and appropriate considerations of development risk are applied when evaluating activities and harvest opportunities at appropriate scales.

Beginning in 2018, Skeena region partnered with Dr. Aaron Shafer of Trent University to examine movements and genetic relatedness of specific populations of mountain goats. A total of 22 GPS collars were deployed in 2018. The following year, three mortalities were detected, and the collars were retrieved, 2 of these collars were redeployed on other mountain goats within the same PMU, while one collar was not safely recoverable.

All collared mountain goats had a full suite of biological samples taken and all have tested negative for the presence of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, this is a good thing! However, of the nanny goats that were collared (n=12), 50% of them were pregnant (a much lower percentage than anticipated). This is extremely valuable information as before this, there was no information on pregnancy rates of mountain goats in the Skeena region. Trent University continues to work on the project with MSc student Jesse Wolf.

Preliminary genetic results are showing that there is genetic mixing between mountain ranges. Whether or not this will have implications to harvest management is yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more findings and publications on this in the future! This project has benefitted from financial support provided by the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, the British Columbia Mountain Goat Society, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, and the Province of British Columbia, taking mountain goat management in Skeena to the next level!

The findings from this project will allow myself and my team, to manage mountain goats at a biologically appropriate scale. This collaring project is currently the largest and most comprehensive study on mountain goats in the province of BC. The contributions from the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance allowed us to purchase one additional collar, adding substantial value to the research. Increasing the research, profile and conservation of mountain goats in BC will undoubtedly lead to better wildlife management practices, ensuring that these majestic and iconic species persist in varied and rugged landscapes within BC.

As a wildlife manager, I am truly thankful for the conservation efforts and financial support from the RMGA. Keep up the good work!

References: Caughley, G., and A. Gunn. 1996. Conservation biology in theory and practice. Blackwell Science, Cambridge, MA. Carpenter, L.H., and J.I. Innes. 1995. Helicopter Net Gunning: a successful moose capture technique. Alces 31: 181-184. Festa-Bianchet, M. and S.D. Côté. 2003. Variable age structure and apparent density dependence in survival of adult ungulates. Journal of Animal Ecology 72: 640-649. Levins, R. 1970. Extinction. In M. Gerstenhaber (ed.), Some Mathematical Questions in Biology. Lecture Notes on Mathematics in the Life Sciences, pp. 75-107. The American Mathematical Society, Providence, R.I. Mountain Goat Management Team. 2010. Management Plan for the Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment Victoria, BC. 87 pp.


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