Survey finds increased mountain goats in Sekirks
| March 24, 2020 1:00 AM
In February 2020, Panhandle Fish & Game biologists completed an aerial survey of mountain goats in Unit 1. A total of 57 goats were counted in the Selkirk Mountains, up from 34 goats seen during the last survey in 2001.
The small portion of the Cabinet Mountains in Idaho held 11 mountain goats at the time of the survey. The majority of mountain goat habitat is in Montana and goats move back and forth between the states. Population estimates on both sides of the state line have ranged from 50 to 80 animals. In the 2001 survey, 16 goats were counted on the Idaho side.
In 2018, 155 sportsmen and women provided input on statewide mountain goat management. Comments specific to the Panhandle requested more up-to-date information on the status of the Selkirk and Cabinet populations. In response, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission prioritized flights in Unit 1, ending a 19 year data gap.
Biologists flew the Selkirk Crest from the Canadian border to Harrison Peak. Of the 57 individuals, six were young mountain goats, called kids. With a ratio of 13 kids to 100 adults, the Selkirk herd is estimated to have a slightly less than average recruitment rate for Idaho mountain goat populations.
Pristine conditions provide stunning views, accurate counts
After a wet, gray January, the skies cleared and the peaks of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains were finally visible. Wildlife biologists flew some of the most rugged terrain in the Panhandle, over rocky outcrops, cliffs and ridgelines.
Weather was ideal for counting wildlife, with sunny skies and calm, smooth air for flying. A fresh layer of snow gave a clean slate for spotting tracks. Mountain goats tucked in to caves or tree wells at the sound of the approaching helicopter.
Fresh snow helped cover old tracks and led the biologists to where goats were hiding out. Rarely were there tracks from other animals in the steep, rocky habitat aside from the occasional snowshoe hare.
The total mountain goat count and kid-to-adult ratio provide the vital statistics wildlife managers need to measure the health of the herd and ensure a harvestable surplus is available to hunters.
The Idaho Mountain Goat Management Plan recommends a hunting season when populations are at least 100 mountain goats with a June kid ratio of 15 kids to 100 adults or better.
Hunters can apply for moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat permits from April 1-30. For more information see 2019-20 Moose, Bighhorn Sheep and Mountain Goat seasons and rules booklet.
Wolf is a wildlife regional biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game.