By Peter Muennich, Founder, President on July 31, 2017 in Goat Alliance News
Kenai Mountains Mountain Goat Research Project Update
Mountain goats inhabiting Alaska’s Kenai Mountains represent the westernmost naturally occurring goat population in North America. Mountain goats inhabit most areas within the Kenai Mountains including parts of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Chugach National Forest, and Kenai Fjords National Park. Goat densities are highest in coastal areas and lower in the interior mountains, where goats coexist with Dall sheep and caribou. Relatively little is known about this unique goat population and, in an effort to improve our understanding of goat ecology in this mountain range, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Chugach National Forest, and Kenai Fjords National Park have partnered to initiate a cooperative research project focused on mountain goats. Financial contributions from the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance to purchase additional radio-collars were instrumental in getting the project up and running this year.
During July 2017, researchers from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska Department of Fish & Game captured and fitted goats with radio-collars using aerial darting methods and an MD500 helicopter. Capture efforts were very successful, especially given the relatively low densities of mountain goats within the study area. Collared goats were distributed throughout several key areas in the Kenai Mountains that provide study animals in a variety of available habitats throughout the mountain range. Future captures during 2018–2019 will increase the number of collared individuals to more than thirty and expand the project into new areas if funding allows. These initial sixteen goats were fitted with radio-collars that allow researchers to track their movements and identify marked individuals during surveys. GPS collars collect several GPS locations per day and transfer this information via satellites providing real-time information on goat movements, survival, and habitat use. These GPS collars are also outfitted with a remote release mechanism that releases the collar as battery power wanes after several years of collecting intensive location data. Goats were also fitted with micro VHF radio-collars that will allow researchers to continue monitoring goat survival, reproduction, and observation data after the GPS collars have released.
The primary objective of this study is to develop a sightability-model to provide improved information on population abundance and trends. Collared goats provide a ‘marked’ or known segment of the population that allows the development of sightability models based on the numbers of marked individuals either observed or missed during surveys. Researchers also collect additional information from these marked individuals during surveys such as habitat type, group size, climatic conditions, and other factors that can influence the probability of detecting or missing goats (i.e. sightability). These data are used to adjust basic survey data for the proportion of undetected individuals during surveys and, ultimately, to provide improved estimates of mountain goat abundance and trends and set appropriate harvest limits.