Counting Beasts the Color of Winter

Panhandle wildlife biologists were in the air counting mountain goats this spring. On May 8th and 9th, we flew helicopter surveys of Units 7 and 9 to see how many of the shaggy white animals we could find.

Helicopter survey Unit 9
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Idaho Department of Fish and Game

This year, we counted 48 mountain goats in the Snow Peak vicinity including Canyon, Sawtooth, and Foehl Creeks of Unit 9. We also saw 18 goats in the Fishhook and Sisters Creeks of the Upper St Joe. Mountain goats were not regularly found in Unit 7 twenty years ago, but likely moved over from Snow Peak which is about 10 miles away.

Snow Peak mt goat survey large group
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Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Historically Unit 9, particularly the Snow Peak area, has been a hub for mountain goat activity. Mountain goats were plentiful enough that between 1960-1994 at least 90 mountain goats were trapped and translocated to other parts of Idaho and beyond to help boost struggling populations.

Because mountain goats can easily be overharvested, Idaho like most states and provinces has a guideline that states a minimum of 50 adults must be in a population before a controlled hunt tag can be offered. Currently, the Panhandle has one mountain goat tag offered in Units 7 and 9 and another one in Unit 1.

Look closely at the photos and see if you can find the mountain goats hiding among the rocks and trees!

Snow Peak mountain goat survey
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Idaho Department of Fish and Game

To find these beasts the color of winter*, biologists search steep and rocky areas for billies, nannies, and kids. Males and females both have curved black horns so they are difficult to tell apart. Kids (now 1 year old) are about half the size of the adult nannies. Even the 2-year olds are noticeably smaller than the adults.

*See “A Beast the Color of Winter: The Mountain Goat Observed” by Douglas H. Chadwick for a great read on mountain goat ecology and behavior.

Snow Peak mt goat survey
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Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Mountain goats are easily spooked by helicopters and take off at full speed jumping from rock to rock in search of a place to hide. They are amazing rock climbers and can scramble up surprisingly steep rocky cliffs. Sometimes you have to follow tracks in the snow to find a mountain goat tucked in a cave or hidden up against a tree trunk.

Snow Peak mt goat survey May 2017
Creative Commons Licence
Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Besides goats, we spotted a few black bears cruising newly green hillsides and elk weaving in and out of the trees.