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2021 Conservation Review

September 14, 2021

The RMGA experienced rapid growth in 2021. From doubling membership, conducting our first online auction, and reaching new areas with our regional representative program; the RMGA had quite the task at hand to deliver in the name of mountain goat science and conservation. With that, Lee MacDonald covered what we accomplished in 2021.

 By Lee MacDonald

If you’ve been following us for some time, it is no secret that the RMGA has experienced rapid growth in the last twelve months. From doubling membership, conducting our first online auction, and reaching new areas with our regional representative program; the RMGA has quite the task at hand to deliver in the name of mountain goat science and conservation. With that, let me cover what we’ve been up to so far.

Firstly, thanks to some new partnerships with several state and regional agencies, our volunteer ground survey efforts expanded into four new areas that previously had either not had a ground survey effort or aerial methods had not been conducted for several years. The Bitterroot Mountains in western Montana, the Cheam and Chilliwack areas of southeastern British Columbia, and the Gore and Ragged ranges of central Colorado all received a valuable dose of citizen science and insights. However, that is not to say that challenges were not had this volunteer season. Blizzards in the Bitterroots, record heatwaves in southern BC, and smoky and dry conditions in the Bridgers and Willard Peak; several of our surveys were severely impacted by weather. This resulted in fewer of the proposed areas observed, lower counts than expected, and less time spent in the field due to safety concerns. Still, these obstacles (as out of human control as they may be) should not be viewed as failed attempts. They are simply a data point to consider. If you have ever attended one of our surveys, you likely have heard the phrase “no data is still data.” If you missed out this year, don’t worry. We are already planning for 2022 and many of these places will get a second attempt. We will have plenty of opportunities for you to get out with us.

Next, I’d like to go over the bigger projects that we have going on this year. During the planning of our ground survey in the Cheam area of British Columbia, we received some disappointing news: the initial budget for an aerial survey that was requested by the team to the agency was denied. That meant that our ground survey data would be the only data point for a troubled mountain goat population. Fortunately, the RMGA was able to provide that funding. The area was surveyed within the month of the ground survey and had results within a margin of error of our ground survey. This not only provided a starting point for more discussions about future opportunities in the area, but also showed the validity of ground survey methodology where appropriate.

In partnership with Utah State University, we are hoping to learn more about the behavioral interactions that mountain goats play with other species outside of other mountain ungulates. We are hoping to gain some insight that will help inform the planning of future mountain goat transplants as it aligns with our mission. We are hopeful that as this project is conducted over the next year, it will dovetail into discussions that are already happening about imperiled mountain goat populations. Stay tuned for more to come on this effort.

Finally, multiple projects in eastern Alberta and central Montana needed assistance to ensure that ongoing efforts were able to continue. As the only mountain goat population to have been consecutively studied in Alberta for nearly 30 years, the Caw Ridge Mountain Goat Project started in 1989 to provide insight to management agencies. Valuable insights into habituation, added pressure, and habitat has come from this project and the RMGA is proud to help continue that body of work.

Like many places, central Montana has witnessed a significant increase in outdoor recreation and development. Ongoing studies in some of the most heavily trafficked and human-impacted mountain goat habitat are critical to understanding how disruptive any human impact can have. As longtime partners in mountain goat science and conservation, Montana FWP is hoping to delineate seasonal habitat ranges and evaluate the effects of recreation on mountain goat habitat use. The results of these projects over the next several years will be used to develop recommendations regarding recreation and habitat management for the benefit of mountain goats.

As you can see, we’ve been busy. But we could not have done it without our members, supporters, and volunteers. For more information on these updates and a peek into what’s in store for 2022, please listen to episode 166 of Hunt Talk Radio with Randy Newberg as well as episode 300 of Beyond the Kill - The Journal of Mountain Hunting. Both can be found on your favorite podcast platform.

Until next time.

Photo credit: Shaun Durkee of Alpen Fuel

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