Grand Teton Cull Ends With 58 Mt. Goats Killed, Primarily in Park’s North End
According to the article below, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to exterminate wild mountain goats in the Teton-Yellowstone Parks because they (1) are non-native, (2) “compete” with bighorn and (3) might infect them with diseases.
NPS claims to follow the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (the Model), which pledges to use science in all decisions, to give hunted animals a fair chance to escape, to never waste game, and to manage land and animals so that the public can use and enjoy them.
NPS’s actions violate these promises, and the results are devastating, as discussed in the remarks following the article.
Grand Teton National Park has concluded a cull of invasive mountain goats, killing 58 with an aerial gunning operation aimed at preventing the goats from competing for habitat with and potentially spreading disease to the Tetons’ isolated native bighorn sheep herd.
“Operations to remove non-native mountain goats from the park are complete,” Grand Teton Chief of Staff Jeremy Barnum told the Jackson Hole Daily on Friday.
The backcountry closure from Cascade Canyon to Berry Creek lifted Friday afternoon.
“Given the terrain it is hard to determine precisely how many mountain goats remain in the park,” Barnum said. “Every mountain goat that was located was removed, but we assume there could be a few remaining in the range.”
Mountain goats, which migrated to the Tetons from the Snake River Range, compete with the bighorns for limited high-elevation alpine habitat and carry diseases that can threaten the native bighorns, which are already cut off from their traditional low-elevation winter range by human development.
The bighorns, also under pressure from backcountry recreation, have lived in the Tetons for thousands of years. The park and its affiliated Bighorn Sheep Working Group have closed certain areas of the park to wintertime recreation and recently asked skiers to avoid other areas where bighorns dwell.
Last week marked the second time Grand Teton contracted helicopter gunners to fly into the park, targeting the invasive mountain goat herd.
The first was in 2020, but that operation halted after half a day when Gov. Mark Gordon, Wyoming Game and Fish Department commissioners and then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt intervened, asking the park to give hunters a chance to shoot the goats.
The park did. “Qualified volunteers” were given two opportunities to hunt goats in the park, killing 63. The half-day aerial operation in 2020 killed 36.
Gordon did not comment on the gunning operation this year.
Park officials said they coordinated planning with the Department of the Interior, now headed by President Biden’s appointee, Secretary Deb Haaland.
Park officials estimated there were a little more than 100 goats in the park before removal operations began in 2020, and 25 to 35 remaining when they started again last Wednesday. But, after two days of flying, Barnum said gunners found and killed significantly more, primarily in the more remote, northern region of the park.
He chalked the underestimate up to the relatively inaccessible terrain in the north and the limited success of hunters on the ground in that area.
Last Wednesday, Grand Teton closed an area stretching from Cascade Canyon to Berry Creek, and east to west from the base of the range to the park’s western boundary. That was where the primary operation took place, but helicopter crews also flew south over the more-trafficked part of the park, looking for goats that may have been in the area. The southern part of the park, which includes popular backcountry ski lines, was not closed.
All told, 56 goats were killed in the northern stretch of the park.
Only two were killed in the south, where Barnum said “qualified volunteers had been more successful.”
Although still being tallied, Barnum estimated the gunning operations could cost the park up to $60,000.
The “Rest of the Story”
Over the last 40 years, the forest and wildlife agencies increasingly have accepted the fake science of “Invasive Species Biology.” Here are some specifics:
What is the definition of “native?”
- Goats are native, depending on when we look for them. As the National Park Service (NPS) knows, fossil digs establish that mountain goats were once common in the Park . Goats predate other species considered native in the Park, and they predate humans by 60,000 years. While the current population of goats are descended from populations re-introduced in the Greater Yellowstone Area in the 1940s and 50s, this species, technically known as Oreamnos americanus, has been native to, and moving around within North America for more than 75,000 years. The process is dynamic: in any given area, species come, leave and return as global climate fluctuates, as for example when the Park was—not that long ago—under ice sheets 1-mile thick. Apparently NPS has selected a date at which to look for goats: What is the date? What science justifies that date?
- If hunting contributed to species disappearance, does that change the “non-native” status of the hunted-out species? What is the distinction? What science justifies the answer?
- If NPS is correct that regardless of the reasons for the goats’ disappearance, they were no longer native once they disappeared, then what about mule and whitetail deer, moose, elk, turkey, pronghorn, bighorn, black and grizzly bear, wolves, alligators, whooping cranes and so many others that after being hunted out were reintroduced or augmented on the Park and across North America? What are the distinctions? What science justifies these?
- Must the reintroduced animals be genetically identical? No one says that many if not most of the animals listed above aren’t genetically different than those they replaced. NPS seems untroubled by these differences where bison, elk and wolves are concerned. What distinctions are drawn by Park managers in these many contradictory cases? What science supports their distinctions?
Is biodiversity good or bad? Aren’t humans part of biodiversity?
- What is the objective, measurable scientific definition of “competition?” Can this definition survive blind testing, explain observations and predict outcomes?
- And what about other scientific-sounding terms NPS uses to justify goat eradications? Are “alien, native, invasive, aggressive, unnatural, harm, integrity, eco-system health” defined? If not, they can’t be tested or used to develop operating rules for practices. They are useless in predicting outcomes. What science is NPS using that makes these anything more than empirically hollow buzzwords that are constantly redefined by those who use inflammatory, arbitrary jargon to promote the war on weeds and wildlife?
- We know, based on science and the living examples of the Serengeti and elsewhere, that biodiversity works. Wild systems do best when there are lots of nomadic grazers like bison or wildebeest, lots of different prey, and lots of predators—including human hunters. We also know that before humans arrived in North America, there were many times the number of wild animal species as remain today. Yet, NPS maintains Yellowstone has too many species even though in previous epochs it supported many more; in effect, NPS says we must destroy biodiversity to save biodiversity. What distinctions are being drawn to justify this belief? What science justifies them?
- Do goats and sheep “compete?” NPS only says they might, whereas, common sense says that 200 goats and 200 sheep on 6 million acres of national parks, forests and wildlife areas don’t threaten each other or anything else. What definitions, what evidence and what science are relied on to justify their total eradication?
- Physiologically, goats are complementary—not competitive—with many wild animals including sheep. Private landowners who like ourselves—sometimes at great expense—use domestic goats and cattle to control leafy spurge and other weeds, reduce brush, open forests and stimulate the growth of grasses, are praised for helping habitat and wildlife including sheep, whereas wild goats which are physiologically similar animals doing something similar for free in the parks are said by NPS to pose an existential threat to sheep. What are NPS’s distinctions? What science supports them?
Same Facts, Opposite Conclusions
- If goats “compete” with sheep, do sheep likewise “compete” with bison or other animals? Do reintroduced bison “compete” with elk, sheep or other animals? Do wolves, bears and other predators “compete” with prey? Why are identical outcomes of “natives” and “aliens” good when caused by “natives” but “harmful” if caused by “aliens”? What are NPS’s distinctions and what science supports these?
- What evidence supports the belief that we must kill what we do not like to help species we favor? In the above list, which animals shall we kill to “help” which others? What are NPS’s explanations and distinctions? What science supports them?
What about Fair Chase, game wastage, and the public’s right to use wildlife?
- As NPS surely knows, Yellowstone’s animals and habitat were shaped by hunting and other human impacts. Goats are wonderful game animals. Why not manage goat and other species numbers by hunting? Yellowstone bison are being shot on sight by state and federal game managers if they leave the park: why not limited public hunts on the park instead? Permit sales would generate badly needed revenues. What rationales justify blanket hunting prohibitions and other measures intended to eliminate the ancient role of humans in nature? What science justifies these? How can NPS’s bias against people and hunting be reconciled with the Model?
- NPS justifies its methods as efficient. But, how can gunning goats down with automatics from helicopters—then leaving them to rot—square with the Model’s Rules of Fair Chase and prohibition of game wastage, to say nothing of the public’s disgust and dismay? What distinctions are drawn here, and what science justifies these?
Shall every species that carries or might spread disease be eradicated?
- Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the scourge of deer, elk and moose, is spreading throughout the West. How many people know that CWD was born at a Colorado agency experimental station, or that practices of the same agencies that are being funded to fight CWD are spreading CWD?
- The Yellowstone-Teton bison and elk herds have virtually all been infected with brucellosis, a serious threat to wild and domestic animals, and humans. Yet NPS while seeking the total eradication goats without any proof of disease transfer, will not take obvious steps like testing and vaccinating to control brucellosis on parks it manages, even though it knows these are transferring diseases.
- And as the article points out, sheep carry their own diseases which also might pose a danger to wild or domestic animals. Hardly a species can be named that does not pose a disease potential to other animals. Which of these species should be eradicated, to protect which others? What distinctions are being drawn, and what science justifies them?
Be careful whose ideas we borrow.
The following discussion of invasion biology’s origins is not intended to attribute political affiliations or personal convictions to any person or group.
- Ecology as a formal science was born in Germany in the early 1800s. Though visionary in many ways, it was deeply influenced by xenophobic nationalistic beliefs: a pervasive fear of outsiders, which made genetic purity a priority. As a sociopolitical policy prevalent in the 19th Century even in the United States, it favored the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants.
- Incalculable misery came from these ideas when they were used against human groups. People have tried to remove this nativist thinking from our social and political venues but have failed to address similar beliefs in ecology. As a result, biological bigotry continues to survive in ecology as an authoritarian green movement, which in alliance with big government, agribusiness and education has spread across the world as the dubious basis for what today is called “invasion biology.”
- Reflecting its nativist origins, and using its pseudo-scientific jargon, invasion biology rests on the suspect belief that the world is threatened by thousands of “aggressive alien invaders.” Any living thing that is not “native” is, by definition, “harmful.” While only “natives” are good, if they too are “invasive” or “aggressive,” then “natives” like “aliens” also are “unnatural” and guilty of doing “harm” to “integrity” and “ecosystem health.”
- A symptom of invasion biology is growing hostility to public use. As small Idaho landowners surrounded on three sides by public land, we know that the federal agencies and courts have increasingly denied the public, ranchers and adjoining private landowners access to public forests. Why? Because they accept invasive species dogma, which says humans are the most invasive of all species. Since the early 1970s these beliefs have become so widely-held as to be considered common “knowledge.” As discussed above they often have little or no basis in empirical, scientific evidence. Also, they reflect political, bureaucratic and academic agendas. Examples include hostility to cattle grazing, logging, hunting, and motorized vehicles. These beliefs see virtually all human activity as harmful; some are tolerated while others increasingly are prohibited.
- Forty years ago, the emerging environmental movement rallied around a discussion of the effect of chemicals, antibiotics, poisons and bullets on habitat, wildlife and biodiversity. Today, the most discussed environmental issue after climate change is invasive species. And, in a complete turnaround, the solutions increasingly offered by an environmental movement which has embraced the invasion beliefs are those things it organized to oppose.
- Combined with environmentally harmful industrial farming methods, which invasive species dogma justifies, practices that respect nature are rejected in favor of quick fixes that attack nature. Lip service is paid to The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation while in practice it is ignored.
Rethinking wildlife management.
Many decades ago, William Albrecht, often called “The Father of Soil Fertility” warned, “It is not the overpowering invader we must fear, but the weakened condition of the victim.”
- Have goats, bison, elk, sheep, skunks, beavers, and species ad infinitum just recently begun carrying and spreading disease? Aren’t increasingly disease-prone populations and their epidemics symptoms of declining wildlife health? Big Wildlife blames its usual suspects—climate change and “invasive species” including goats and doubles down on its war on weeds and wildlife. Yellowstone’s goat eradications—sincerely intended to help declining sheep—are part of a vicious cycle that started with the unintended consequences of attacking nature, followed by inappropriate responses leading to more unintended consequences in a downward spiral.
- However good the stated intentions, actions must be judged by results. Why are our vast and productive national forests money-losing firetraps? The uncontrolled and unmanaged regrowth in the 80s burns in Yellowstone have reduced the animal populations that lived there before the fires, and the animals themselves are diseased. How do these outcomes reflect on wildlife and habitat “management”?
- There are plenty of dedicated agency foresters, biologists and managers who could fix this, but they are marginalized or eliminated altogether from the ranks that set policies and strategic direction on range, forest and wildlife management.
In keeping with Albrecht’s advice, holistic thinking rests on the insight that the unwavering objective of all farming, ranching, forest and wildlife practices should be to protect and restore the health of these habitats and their animals. This starts by protecting and building soil fertility. Keeping these healthy requires doing many things differently. Avoiding the chemicals, antibiotics and poisons we increasingly release into the environment: These devastate soil life. Fostering biodiversity because so-called competitive species – like goats – often turn out to be complimentary, and their “invasions” are often nature’s way of healing damage caused by humans. Allowing people their role: Doing nothing is often the most harmful of all human actions. Planned grazing of cattle and intelligent logging can reduce fire hazard, improve habitat by stimulating grass and reducing brush, build soil, and create income. Using modern science and medicine to fight disease is both common sense, and easier in healthy populations than in weakened populations.
Restoring wildlife health will require big changes in the mentality of wildlife “management”. As discussed above, dogma must give way to science. Instead of assaulting nature with arrogant certainty, she must be approached with humility, mindful that we have – at best – a superficial understanding of how these unimaginably complex systems work. The new attitude must respect the public. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation tells us how to do this. It is time to go back to following it, instead of merely invoking and misusing it as justification for poor decisions and failed management.