Right now, park scientists are tracking and monitoring 10 mountain goats in Glacier as part of a multi-year study on overall goat populations in the park.
Your donations to the Glacier Conservancy are making this important research possible for one of Glacier’s most iconic animals. Support from donors like you helps safeguard the handling of mountain goats in the study, and gives the park access to cutting-edge technology in order to implement the research.
Glacier’s Mountain Goats
The overall goal of this project is to provide park managers with the ability to make better predictions about how a changing climate will affect goat populations in Glacier. The research will also apply to mountain goats in other alpine environments.
Habituation to humans is also a main concern for mountain goats in Glacier, especially at Logan Pass. Previous scientific observations discovered that goats tend to abandon their migrations to natural salt licks in favor of human salt. This salt occurs in human urination on sides of trails, sweat from handrails, and even antifreeze that leaks from vehicles.
Watch the video below to learn more about how park visitation is impacting mountain goat ecology and behavior in Glacier.
Video: NPS, Forest Clay Productions
2018 and Beyond
The park began the current 3-year study in 2018 in order to better understand the precise behavioral patterns of Glacier’s goats. To date, park staff have safely outfitted GPS radio collars on 12 goats at Logan Pass, Lake Ellen Wilson, Sperry Chalet, and Goat Lick in Glacier.
Thanks to this research, park staff are documenting goats’ unique and – until now – unknown movement patterns. Throughout the study, two collared goats have died due to unknown natural causes. This is not uncommon, and the deaths were not related to the goats’ capture and handling during the study.
The remaining 10 goats are still currently collared. After three years, the radio collars will be programmed to fall off so park staff can retrieve them.
Mountain Goats On The Move
The 7-month timelapse below shows the movements of 8 goats from the study from August 2018-February 2019.
Larger movements, shown earlier in the timelapse, show the goats’ trips to backcountry mineral licks. As time goes on, their movement decreases. According to park staff, this corresponds to a drop in temperatures, an increase in snow pack, and decreased travel during that time.
Results from the study are already helping the park and the state of Montana manage goat populations in a more effective and collaborative manner. The more the park understands what areas are important to mountain goats and when, the better informed their management decisions can be.
There have also been many surprising findings throughout the study. The project manager, and Glacier’s Natural Resources Program Manager, Mark Biel, comments on one of the most interesting findings:
“We have continued to document large movements of goats from areas of refuge, like cliffs, to areas of apparent mineral lick locations. The most interesting was the 14.7 mile movement of two collared goats from Goat Lick to the top of Great Northern Mountain this past summer.”
The reason behind this journey from Goat Lick to Great Northern remains unknown. This summer, the park hopes to find more meaning behind the goats’ ambitious migration.
Year 3 Continues This Summer
Park staff will continue fieldwork this spring and summer during the final year of the study. The park plans to collar up to 20 goats total, while expanding to new areas of the park.
Once the study is complete, the park plans to develop an innovative distance learning presentation catered to students of all ages.
Your Support Makes A Difference
This project and many other critical projects would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy.
Learn more about how your support is making other scientific research projects possible in Glacier National Park!