Oregon Places GPS Collars on 2 Elkhorn Mtn. Goats

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State and federal wildlife biologists collared and released 14 Rocky Mountain goats in the Elkhorn Mountains last week and relocated another five goats to the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in the Umatilla National Forest.

Two of the goats were collared with a GPS collar, a device that automatically records a location every five hours and emails the information. This marks the first time ever an Elkhorn goat has been fitted with a GPS collar. A third goat should be GPS-collared later this year.

"Elkhorn’s Rocky Mountain goats are the source population for our reintroduction efforts throughout the state, so it's important that we know as much as possible about them," explained Nick Myatt, ODFW Baker District wildlife biologist. "The GPS collars will tell us much more about the daily and seasonal movements of the goats, which is particularly useful during the winter when we cannot get into the mountains due to heavy snow."

The rest of the adult goats were fitted with conventional radio collars, which require biologists to search for their location using a radio. The kids were collared with a special radio collar that will fall off as their necks expand.

GPS collars cost $5,700 apiece while radio and kid collars cost $250 each. "Thanks to contributions from sportsmen conservation groups, ODFW is able to use these expensive but critical devices in Rocky Mountain goat research and reintroduction efforts," explained Myatt.

The Oregon Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS), the Capitol Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association and the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation each purchased a GPS collar. Oregon FNAWS purchased the kid collars while the High Desert Chapter of Safari Club International pitched in for a radio collar. The raffle of a Rocky Mountain goat tag at the Oregon Hunters Association annual convention, which this year generated $17,866 in sales, also helped pay for radio collars. Finally, a grant provided several years ago by Oregon FNAWS continues to fund the aerial monitoring of radio-collared goats in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

Rocky Mountain goats are attracted to salt during the spring and summer so the goats were trapped using a drop net baited with salt. To protect and monitor the goats' health, biologists and veterinary staff obtained blood samples from and administered inoculations to the animals.

Rocky Mountain goats were likely extirpated from Oregon prior to or during European settlement in the late 19th century. The rarest game animal actually hunted in the state today, only eight tags are available for the 2008-09 season, including two for the Elkhorn population. A third Elkhorn goat tag may be available next year.

The present statewide Rocky Mountain goat population is estimated to be 600-700, the result of efforts like the one that occurred this week. The Elkhorn Mountains wild goat population is estimated to be over 200.

This year's project was the 16th since efforts to reintroduce Rocky Mountain goats to Oregon began in 1950. That year, five goats were transported from Chopaka Mountain in northern Washington to the Wallowa Mountains by the Oregon State Game Commission (now the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife).

Under ODFW's Rocky Mountain goat and bighorn sheep management plan, the department transplants animals to help reestablish populations in historic habitat.