British Columbia is home to over 50% of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) that are found globally, with an estimated half of those residing in the Skeena region (MOE 2010). Mountain goats are ranked S3 and are Blue Listed in British Columbia, indicating they are a species of special concern (BC Conservation Data Center 2016), for management. Mountain goats are not only a species that need to be conservatively managed; they are also a symbol of rugged wilderness and have important linkages to First Nations cultures, hunters and non-hunters, in the Province of British Columbia and beyond.
Managing populations of mountain goats at an appropriate biological scale for the species is important to ensure conservation values are appropriately considered and long-term stewardship of those wildlife resources is achieved. A population management unit (PMU) can be described as a metapopulation; a metapopulation is defined as a group of several local populations that are linked by immigration and emigration (Levins 1970; Caughley and Gunn 1996). While most populations of mountain goats undertake some seasonal movement (Festa-Bianchet and Côté 2003), little is known about dispersal patterns in mountain goat populations (MOE 2010) in general. Using the appropriate scale to manage populations ensures that conservation measures and human impacts are appropriately considered, while balancing other potential impacts on those populations (resource extraction, access, recreation, harvest, etc.).
Mountain goat PMU’s have currently been derived for the Skeena region based on expert opinion and anecdotal information, which generally align the boundaries of major watershed boundaries, likely creating a barrier to animal movement. Having biologically meaningful PMU’s will improve the management of goats, ensuring conservation values and appropriate considerations of development risk are applied when evaluating activities and harvest opportunities at appropriate scales.
This year, Skeena region wildlife biologist, Krystal Dixon, partnered with Dr. Aaron Shafer of Trent University to examine movements of specific populations of mountain goats. This project has benefited from financial support provided by the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, the British Columbia Mountain Goat Society and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation of B.C., taking mountain goat management in the Skeena region to the next level.
It was a cold morning on February 5, 2018, a balmy -20°C, when the study hit the ground running with a goal of collaring twenty-two mountain goats in just a few days. The capture crew got together and met at the hangar and made a plan before heading off towards the mountains. We were successful in getting five collars out on the 5th. The next day, we were ready to get down to work, but Mother Nature had a different idea; it snowed 52 cm over the next two days effectively grounding the capture crew! It wasn’t until February 8th that work could start again. At that point we were able to bring Dr. Helen Schwantje, British Columbia’s Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian, up so she could provide hands-on training to Provincial biologists; we were successful in collaring and collecting samples from nine additional mountain goats. The following day, February 9th we were successful and got all the remaining eight collars deployed. In total, we were able to collar twelve nannies and ten billies, primarily focusing on mountains northeast of Smithers, BC
In addition to collaring, we collected a number of health samples, providing the opportunity for the largest baseline health collections of mountain goats to date in the Province. We examined and sampled the captured mountain goats according to a standard protocol that includes assessing for: age (incisor eruption, staining and wear and counting horn annuli), body condition, external parasite presence and prevalence, lactation and presence of kids. From each goat, we take blood to facilitate serum testing for Protein B levels and serological screening for selected pathogens using a modified protocol initially developed by the WAFWA Wild Sheep Working Group. We use nasal swabs to sample for Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae and obtained fecal samples for parasitological assessment. Each mountain goat was ear-tagged with a unique identifier tag, and a 6 mm punch biopsy of the ear will be air-dried for genetics. We also collected hairs with roots from each mountain goat (shoulder) for genetic or other studies (e.g., stress assessment through cortisol levels).
In this study we will use collaring information from both nannies and billies on the three adjacent mountain complexes along with making genetic comparisons, to help refine the PMU’s. The collection of the data will not only enable the opportunity to delineate PMU(s) for these mountain complexes, but will allow us to make inferences to support further genetics work to help determine more biologically based PMU’s for mountain goats in the rest of the Skeena Region. All good news for mountain goat management, research, and conservation!
It has now been a couple weeks since the goat captures and so far all the goats are doing well and the collars are working! Working together as conservationists who are passionate about mountain goats is certainly a recipe for success in the future. Thank you to Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance for putting your conservation dollars where it counts.
Caughley, G., and A. Gunn. 1996. Conservation biology in theory and practice. Blackwell Science, Cambridge, MA.
Carpenter, L.H., and J.I. Innes. 1995. Helicopter Net Gunning: a successful moose capture technique. Alces 31: 181-184.
Festa-Bianchet, M. and S.D. Côté. 2003. Variable age structure and apparent density dependence in survival of adult ungulates. Journal of Animal Ecology 72: 640-649.
Levins, R. 1970. Extinction. In M. Gerstenhaber (ed.), Some Mathematical Questions in Biology. Lecture Notes on Mathematics in the Life Sciences, pp. 75-107. The American Mathematical Society, Providence, R.I.
Mountain Goat Management Team. 2010. Management Plan for the Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment Victoria, BC. 87 pp.
Photo contributors :
Ben Burukoff, Canadian Wildlife Capture
Krystal Dixon, Wildlife Biologist, BC Government
Mike Bridger, Wildlife Biologist, BC Government
Jennifer Atkins, Biologist, BC Government
Claire Hinchcliffe, Wildlife Assistant, BC Government