Mountain Goat Research
Kenai Mountain Goats
Mountain goats are an iconic species of the Kenai Peninsula. They are enjoyed by wildlife viewers and hunters alike and Kenai populations can be credited with providing the founding stock for the now thriving Kodiak herd. In the 1980’s, it was recognized that goats faced significant threats to their habitat and survival. As such, ADF&G researcher Lyman Nichols began studies on the Kenai to help us better understand these elusive creatures. Much of the original work, like today, focused on animal movements and the development of census methods to insure that habitat could be adequately protected and harvest maintained at sustainable levels. Early methods included the use of VHF radio-telemetry collars and aerial paint marking (Nichols 1980 and Nichols 1982). More recently, ADF&G partnered with the U.S. Forest Service in 2006, to deploy the first GPS collars on mountain goats on the Kenai. Unfortunately, the majority of the collars used for this project failed and data were only collected from 5 adult females from an interior population (Bohara et al. 2011). Since this effort, we have learned a good deal about mountain goat habits from other studies and realize that there are significant movement and habitat use differences between regions, interior and coastal animals, and different sexes and age classes (White 2006, Rice 2008).
Currently, Kenai mountain goat research is limited by funding. We continue to collect horn growth measurements from harvested animals as a proxy for fitness within our herds. We also collect tissue samples for genetic studies. To manage harvest levels, minimum counts are conducted on a 3 year maximum rotational schedule. We are focusing on improving the timing of these surveys in order to obtain more accurate counts. To determine seasonal timing for surveys, paired minimum counts are being conducted in several goat management areas during the traditional count season (July and Aug.) and during the fall (Sept. and Oct.). Surveys are flown during optimal survey conditions during each period by a consistent pilot/survey team. These surveys are being conducted in collaboration with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Preliminary data suggests that fall survey timing is more likely to return accurate counts than traditional summer surveys.
One of the most significant problems wildlife managers of sheep and goat populations are facing in the continental United States is the introduction of disease into wild populations from domestic livestock. Such diseases are known to cause significant mortality events in wild populations. The Alaska Board of Game has taken the initial step to ban the use of domestic sheep and goats as pack animals for hunting but this does not address the issue for other user groups. ADF&G is currently working with land management agencies within the state to address this issue and managers on the Kenai are looking into the feasibility of a disease monitoring program within our herds.
Other significant threats facing mountains goats on the Kenai are due to an increase in winter recreation activities such as backcountry skiing, heli-skiing, snowmachining, and helicopter touring. These activities can increase stress to these animals during critical times of the year affecting overall fitness and survival.
Future research on Kenai mountain goat populations needs to focus on seasonal habitat use by all sex and ages classes differentiating between our two ecotypes of interior and coastal goats. Such studies will require the deployment of numerous GPS collars and should be conducted in conjunction with population surveys to calculate survey correction factors for missed animals. Basic disease monitoring of all captured animals should also be included. Additionally future research should examine the effects of winter recreation on habitat use by mapping available habitat use versus actual habitat use in high recreation areas.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
For more information please contact: Jason Herreman (email@example.com)