In Our Backyard: Mountain Goat
The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is a remarkable creature with beautiful, white fur lining its body and sharp, black horns rising up from its head. Assumed to be an adaption to living in the snow-covered peaks, the mountain goat’s white fur provides both warmth and camouflage that help it survive. The pointed horns are used by both male (billy) and female (nanny) goats to battle each other over their mates – the bigger the horns, the higher the rank the mountain goat has in its herd.
With their large forequarters, strong shoulders and short legs, mountain goats are built for mountainous terrain. These risk-takers are avid climbers that prefer steep, rocky terrain in their home ranges. Around 50% of all mountain goats in North America call BC their home, and their herds can be found along the various mountain ranges across the province, excluding most coastal islands. Of the estimated 3000 goats found across the Thompson-Nicola Watershed, approximately half occur in near Lillooet, due to the high mountains found in this area.
There is a compelling difference between coastal and interior BC mountain goats regarding their ranges causing researchers to recognize “coastal” and “interior” ecotypes of the species. In coastal areas, mountain goats tend to spend winter months in forested habitats of low to moderate elevations while interior mountain goats winter in drier areas at higher elevations.
Mountain goats’ diet consists of fresh vegetation such as grass, wildflowers and lichen. During the spring and summer months, mountain goats tend to travel into vegetated areas around the mountains they scale to feed, but only travel as far as 100-200m from their mountainside ranges. Along with vegetation, mountain goats also enjoy salt licking. Salt on road surfaces makes mountain goat sightings common along major highways and passes.
Although globally a stable species, mountain goats are a provincially Blue-listed species in BC, meaning they are of special concern. The following are major threats to the species:
Regulated and unregulated hunting is the primary threat to mountain goats in BC. Mountain goat hunting in BC is regulated through distribution and seasonal restrictions based on population and trend estimates.
Hunting is allowed in many Provincial Parks and Protected Areas in BC where a more conservative harvest is generally set. National parks, on the other hand, are protected from resident and guided hunting, but these lands only account for 0.6% of all land in the province. General access to wilderness areas due to industrial or recreational developments creates a greater risk to the mountain goat because there is increased access for hunters.
Road construction, forest harvesting, mines, and other industrial development in mountain goat home ranges results in habitat loss. Timber harvest greatly affects the mountain goat, specifically in the winter months, because mountain goats use forests to provide shelter from the cold.
Habitat fragmentation is also a concern for mountain goats. Habitat loss due to industrial developments can lead to isolations of herds, reductions of suitable habitat, loss of connectivity, and increased predation.
Human disturbances cause a high level of stress to mountain goat populations, much higher than most ungulates. Disturbances such as helicopters, industrial activities and recreational activities all negatively affect mountain goats causing decreases in populations, abandoning of habitats, and increased stress levels to the animals.
The Mountain Goat Management Team from the Ministry of Environment prepared the Management Plan for the Mountain Goat in British Columbia which states the management goal of mountain goats is to “maintain viable, healthy and productive populations of mountain goats throughout their native range in British Columbia.” Although the threats to mountain goats may seem of lower importance, when put together, the threat impact value is high due to cumulative effects on the species and the ecosystems they are a part of. Management objectives for the conservation of mountain goats include:
- maintaining functioning, suitable and connected mountain goat habitats;
- implementing adaptive management approaches to improve the mitigation of threats to mountain goats; and
- to maintain and conserve resilient populations of Mountain Goats that protect opportunities for Indigenous cultural and traditional uses, as well as for other non-consumptive and consumptive users.
To support these objectives, the Government of BC has protected important habitats, established conservative harvest management procedures and policies, and developed partnerships with academia, researchers and non-government organizations.