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2016 Spanish Peaks Flight Report - Montana

In 2016, Joe Rahn and Julie Cunningham conducted an aerial survey in the Spanish Peaks area in Montana.



DATE: 7/21/16

PILOT: Joe Rahn

OBSERVER: Julie Cunningham

AIRCRAFT: Hughes 500

DURATION: 2 hours

OBJECTIVE: Count and classify mountain goats in the Spanish Peaks area

CONDITIONS: We started just after sunrise (6:15am) and headed into the Spanish peaks along Highway 191 and the Gallatin River. Skies were clear, winds were calm, and temperatures low (began at 55F, warming to 62F), excellent conditions for a summer flight. 

COUNTS: We counted 126 mountain goats total. Of these, we classified 33 nannies, 18 billies, 4 yearlings, 41 unclassified adults, and 30 kids. The kid:adult ratio was 31 kids per 100 adults. We searched all areas of recent goat sightings from Table Mountain on the east to Chiquita Lake to the west. Though we did not see goats on Wilson Peak, we did see goats in similar locations all around Blaze Mountain, Beehive Basin, etc. 

We counted 126 mountain goats in 20 groups. In 2010, we counted 71 goats in 17 groups, and in 2005, we counted 57 goats in 27 groups. In 2012, we noted the relatively poor flight conditions, yet still estimated a population growth rate of 1.05. Give the 6 years between the 2010 and 2016 counts, and using the population growth formula, we estimate about a 10% annual growth rate. However, part of this increase could be attributable to greater observability as we used a helicopter for this survey compared to a fixed-wing aircraft for prior surveys. Nonetheless, the population is healthy, with good reproduction, and likely growing. 

Hunter harvest data have shown high success rates, with 91% success and an average of 4 days of effort per hunter over the last 10 years. MFWP raised licenses from 4 to 6 in 2011. These 6 licenses represent 4.8% of the total count of this survey. Nanny harvest has been 33% of the total harvest over the last 10 years. Over the last 9 years, harvest has included at least 4 billies with 10" horn length (9 with horns 9" or greater), and an average age of 6.6 years old. 

Other species observed on this flight included 56 bighorn sheep (33 ewes, 15 lambs, and 8 rams - including 5 rams with 3/4 curl or better). 

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