Story last updated at 9/5/2012 - 1:16 pm
The sportsmen of Southeast Alaska enjoy hunting mountain goats as do enthusiastic hunters from "Outside."
"Wouldn't increasing hunting opportunities be possible?" lobbied many local hunters. The method of moving mountain goats to replenish dwindling stocks or to start a herd was already being used in the West in the 1920s. Alaska's entry into mountain goat transplants began in 1923 and continued until 1991.
Mountain goats thrive on steep, isolated terrain in mountains that tower around 6,600 feet above the ocean on the mainland of Alaska. Thus, hunters find access restricted. One has to be as "nimble as a mountain goat." So why did the Territory and U.S. Fish and Wildlife approve moving animals from one place to another? Several reasons over the years have been given: species diversity, supplementation of herd that is in decline, and re-establishing a population that no longer exists. Beneficial purposes for the public include viewing, increasing harvest of food sources, and providing materials for Native traditional art objects.
The first recorded movement of Alaskan goats took place in 1923. My sources do not indicate who initiated the transplant to Baranof Island. Oscar Oberg, a hunting guide from Douglas, was in charge of the capture party in Tracy Arm, south of Juneau. Today, their process of capturing the animals seems primitive and cruel. This was before development of drugs to sedate animals.
When the party arrived, about 36 goats were seen near the beach. Several men went ashore to circle behind the animals. Dogs drove the goats up the mountain where the first men herded them into deep snow. Eighteen goats were roped, tied, and dragged to the beach. About half the goats raced around and ended up falling from the cliffs to their death. Sixteen of the goats survived the boat trip to Redoubt Lake on the west side of Sitka and were released.
Was the transplant successful? Word got around town that one billy stayed close to the lake and was poached in 1927. A Sitka trapper saw a lone billy but didn't report its location. Nearly fourteen years elapsed before 41 goats were observed on the slopes of various Baranof mountains.
By 1950, those 16 transplants had multiplied to 165 and by the middle of the year 2000, the population was estimated to be 1,500. The range of the goats expanded to all available summer range north of Port Herbert and Snipe Bay by 2005. Since there is not much feed in the part of the island south of Gut Bay and Whale Bay, migration to that area has been slow.
Definitely a success story. The first goat hunting season in 1949 allowed a bag limit of two goats. By 1975 the limit was one. In 1976, a registration permit system was initiated. Alaska Fish and Game estimated within a period of 20 years, sportsmen had taken 1,056 goats. Oberg and his group would be proud.
The next proposed goat transplant was to Revillagigedo Island. In 1962, the USFS chose a site at Swan Lake on Mt. Reid. However, there was no compelling reason, the cost was high, and there was a lack of coordination with ADF&G.
It was not until the early 1980s, that the plan came to fruition. Work began to open a molybdenum mine at Quartz Hill in Misty Fjords National Wilderness. USFS officials opened discussions with the owners of the mining project to discuss a mitigation measure for the effect of the mine on the habitat of the goats. It was suggested a transplant be established as a new population at Swan Lake. Nothing came of the company's participation in the project, since the mine was never developed.
Meanwhile in the spring of 1982, the Alaska Sport and Wildlife Club (later the Ketchikan Sports and Wildlife Club) proposed to increase hunting opportunities and began fundraising. Over the next few months, club members lobbied Fish and Game and legislators. As public interest and pressure for the transplant grew, the club advocated for immediate action.
The site advocated in the 1962 plan was chosen. There is a remote ridge complex at Swan Lake and Mt. Reid that connects with other high country on northeastern Revillagigedo Island, the island where Ketchikan is located. Using the resident population near Quartz Hill between the Blossom and Keta Rivers, 17 goats were released at Swan Lake. This time the goats were sedated and flown two or four at a time between 12 and 46 miles away. Once at the site they were injected with a drug that woke them. By March 1983, all were known to still be alive.
Another transplant took place in 1989 when eleven goats were transplanted from the Whiting River area to Mt. Juneau. This operation was carried out largely by Fish and Game personnel on a volunteer basis and funded wholly by the Juneau chapter of the National Audubon Society. Hunting goats in that area had been closed around 1983, and the primary motivation was to re-establish goats near town for viewing.
The first viewing took place at the release site at Gold Creek at the foot of Mt. Juneau. More than 150 spectators drove or walked up the road to watch. One goat eluded handlers after being released, and startled the crowd by pushing through it, climbing into an Fish and Game truck, then leaping out, crossing the road and a stream and escaping into the woods. Since the nanny had a radio collar, later monitoring showed she joined the rest of the goats. The goats disbursed away from Mt. Juneau, but several years later returned.
The last transplant took place in 1991 initiated again by the Ketchikan Sports and Wildlife Club. This was to establish mountain goats on Deer Mountain, accessible from Ketchikan for viewing and hunting. The same procedures for immobilizing and transporting the goats were used. Ten flights were needed to move 15 goats to the Mahoney Lake release site. With radio collar signals, it was learned that all but one nanny survived the first winter. By 1996, 39 goats were in the Deer Mountain area. By 2002, biologists reported the goats' range had extended to occupy nearly all the suitable habitat. The population was at a minimum of 120 goats by 2004. Twelve permits were drawn in 2006, and seven hunters were successful.
Only one release did not establish a population of goats. This took place in 1952 to Chichagof Island. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife offered to purchase live goats at $200 per male and $400 per female. Five were purchased, two died before release and the others were females. Another offer was made and two males and two females were released in Basket Bay on November 11, 1954. This is on eastern Chicagof Island. It is not known where more goats were captured but eventually 25 were released. Nine were kids and hand-raised until five or six months old. Three adults were later found dead at the release site.
In 1956, one was seen on the peak between Trap Bay and Kook Lake. In 1964, Ken Loken of Channel Air saw a goat between Basket Bay and Tenakee. The last report was in 1978 when a brown bear guide reported 15 goats on a mountain above Klag Bay on the western side of the island. Apparently this was the last sighting of any of the Chicagof Island transplants.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.