OLYMPIA - Wildlife biologists are scaling remote areas of the Cascade mountains to determine why Washington's population of mountain goats is declining.
The mountain goat research project is detailed with color photos in an updated version of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) online Fish and Wildlife Science magazine on the department's website.
The website chronicles scientists' outings last summer to locate mountain goats in the Cascades and outfit some of the animals with special global positioning system (GPS) collars. By recording exact locations every three hours, the collars allow wildlife scientists to track the animals' movements and determine in detail where the goats travel. Besides helping the biologists better identify the animals' habitat needs, the highly precise collar data is expected to help scientists improve their wildlife population survey procedures.
In addition, health exams conducted while the goats were briefly sedated for collaring offered biologists a rare opportunity to assess the reclusive animals' health.
Biologists plan to use the newly gathered data to guide them in developing plans for rebuilding mountain goat populations. Although certain the Washington mountain goat population is dropping, wildlife scientists are unsure of the reasons for the decline. Possible factors include past overharvest, habitat change, predation or a mineral deficiency in the goats' diet exacerbated by acid rain.
WDFW wildlife biologists are collaborating with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Sauk-Suiattle and Stillaguamish tribes on the multi-year mountain goat study.
Besides highlighting the mountain goat project, the WDFW online science magazine also features a photo essay on the recent elk relocation project conducted by WDFW and Point Elliott treaty tribes. In that project 41 elk were captured on WDFW's Mt. Saint Helens Wildlife Area in Cowlitz County and transferred to the North Cascade Mountains between the Skagit and Nooksack rivers. The move was intended to bolster the dwindling North Cascades elk herd, which has declined in recent years, despite hunting closures and other measures aimed at restoring elk numbers.
The electronic magazine also includes updated information on other fish and wildlife field research studies on species ranging from spotted frogs to pygmy rabbits.