In the late 1920’s a handful of Canadian mountain goats escaped a small zoo in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Flash forward several decades and the area is home to a booming population of over 100 animals. This healthy and sustainable population is the easternmost population of mountain goats on Earth.
Five years ago, the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance (RMGA) first partnered with South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks for their annual mountain goat census in the Black Hills. Hunting opportunities had been closed for the previous decade due to low recruitment and total counts. After back-to-back successful surveys in 2014 and 2015, the state of South Dakota re-implemented their mountain goat hunting season with two permits annually.
On April 27 and 28 of 2018, the RMGA hosted their 5th annual goat survey in beautiful South Dakota. We made the short drive east spent the weekend donating our time and spotting scopes to this yearly conservation project.
Volunteers from six states converged in Custer State Park on Friday morning for a volunteer briefing where we received date sheets, maps, and instructions. We divided up into search teams and spending the day scouring the Black Hills for goats.
Day one we hiked Harney Peak, the highest point between the Rockies and the Pyrenees mountains in Europe, and spotted a handful of goats along the way. A bonfire and volunteer BBQ wrapped up what was a great kickoff to the weekend.
The next few days were filled with similar situations of new friends and mountain goat sightings. All and all, the survey teams documented over 40 mountain goats. Mount Rushmore National Monument provided our most intimate encounter with a band of five animals.
As we drove home across Montana, we discussed our new found respect for South Dakota’s most unlikely ungulate. As long as the population remains healthy and generous volunteers continue to donate their efforts to conservation, South Dakota will hunt and enjoy their mountain goats for the foreseeable future.