"In North America there is one large animal that belongs almost entirely to the realm of towering rock and unmelting snow. Pressing hard against the upper limit of life's possibilities, it exists higher and steeper throughout the year than any other big beast on the continent. It is possibly the best and most complete mountaineer that ever existed on any continent. Oreamnos americanus is its scientific name. Its common name is mountain goat." -Douglas H. Chadwick
On July 15, 2017 at approximately 8:05am, I found myself in a conference room located in the Ogden branch of the Utah DNR surrounded by Mountain Goat enthusiasts. Leading the instruction and pre survey meeting was Chad, a DNR Biologist who’s area we were about to enter in search of a pioneering herd of mountain goats. “Some counts give us 10-15, and some give us 25-30 goats on that range” he said highlighting areas of a ridgeline partially leased by Snowbasin Ski Resort. “Our goal today is to find out how many are actually there.” Chad continued, “If we can locate enough, we can open another Mountain Goat unit in Utah.” After passing out waters, granola bars, aerial maps and survey papers, we split into 6 groups of 2-4 volunteers and set out to locate as many goats as we could.
The “Snowbasin Herd” began about 20 miles North, in the Willard Peak area. The Willard herd has continued to grow throughout the years allowing for some expansion of their range. The goats we were tasked to survey had wandered through two canyons, crossed a busy canyon road, traversed a small mountain range and onto property partly leased by Snowbasin Ski Resort. While riding the gondola up the mountain, you crest a ridge and begin to see why the goats are making this country home. The cliff walls and ruggedness of the terrain screams Mountain Goat habitat with protection found in the cliffs, food and forage in the ravines and basins, and water still collecting from snow.
Reaching the top, the groups split up into areas such as peaks, basins and drainages, trying to turn up any goats we could. It became apparent quickly that the heat that was affecting my group would push any goats deep into shaded cover and potentially out of view from our optics. The heat had the opposite effect on the local population of rattlesnakes. After a couple close encounters we had camp set and a couple Billies in the scopes. These two monarchs looked to be well into their mature years with large bodies and sporting horns with both excellent length and mass. We enjoyed watching them dust themselves and move locations with the setting sun, watching for any movement or sign of others.
The next morning the Goat God’s smiled down on Group 2 and showed us four more goats, two Nannies and two Kids. The Kids never left one Nanny indicating to us that they were this year’s twins. We found one of the Billies from the night before and got watch him a little closer until the sun became too much for the goat and us to handle. We broke camp and made our way back to the gondola careful with foot placement and on high alert from anything that remotely sounded like a rattle.
The latest number I had received on our count was 8 goats; 4 Billies, 2 Nannies, and 2 Kids with the possibility that one Billy was double counted. Though we were short of opening a new unit, RMGA volunteers backed up data that was obtained by aerial surveys in the past showing areas that goats like to frequent. Volunteers helped show that this herd is sustaining growth with at least 2 kids this year and the potential for future growth.
A special thank you is needed for all 20 of the volunteers, some traveling from Nevada and Idaho to help locate a herd that might not have been there. Thanks to those at Snowbasin that donated gondola passes for us to use. Thanks to Chad and Nate at the Ogden DNR for directing the survey. RMGA volunteers demonstrated their continued commitment to Mountain Goat conservation and research with this project. I look forward to seeing them again as well as some new faces next year.