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Grand Teton goat shoot suspended after stern governor letter

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Grand Teton National Park officials have suspended efforts to shoot mountain goats from a helicopter after criticism from Wyoming’s governor prompted Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to intervene.

Bernhardt told park officials to suspend the shooting Feb. 21, hours after the effort began and Gov. Mark Gordon called the helicopter shooting a “farce” in a letter to acting Grand Teton Superintendent Gopaul Noojidail.

“I have long appreciated Grand Teton National Park for the treasure it is to all our citizens. Now I hope I will not have to remember it as an example of federal disregard for the sovereignty of the states,” Gordon, a Republican, wrote.

Gordon said he looked forward to a “more fruitful conversation” about ways to address the mountain goats more cooperatively with the National Park Service.

The Park Service suspended the flights since Feb. 21’s initial effort, which was “effective toward meeting our objective,” park spokeswoman Denise Germann said Feb. 24.

“We are taking a pause in operations and will continue our conversations with our partners at the state,” Germann added. She said she didn’t know how many goats had been killed. She said Gordon’s letter contributed to the decision to stop the flights, but didn’t mention Bernhardt’s role.

The Park Service seeks to eradicate about 100 nonnative mountain goats for the benefit of about 100 native bighorn sheep, saying the goats compete with the sheep for food and habitat and can spread diseases including pneumonia to the native animals.

The Park Service released a plan in January to use a combination of shooters on the ground and on contracted helicopters before goats become too plentiful to be easily eliminated from the craggy mountains.

“The National Park Service has a legal responsibility to protect native species and reduce the potential for the local extinction of a native species within the park,” Germann wrote Feb. 24.

Foul weather postponed a previous plan for aerial shooting in January but on Feb. 21 weather in the Teton Range was clear and calm. Park officials closed off large portions of the mountains to the public in preparation.

Gordon’s letter came after Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik voiced last-minute objections by phone with Noojidail.

“I will remember your blatant disregard for the advice of Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department,” Gordon wrote Noojidail. “I am simply at a loss for why the Park Service would ignore an opportunity to work toward a solution upon which we could both agree and can only take it as an expression of your regard for neighbors and the respect you apparently do not have for Wyoming or our professionals.”

State officials said they objected from a hunting-ethics perspective: Shooting from helicopters leaves the meat to waste. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets the state’s hunting and fishing rules, passed a resolution in January condemning the plan.

The National Parks Conservation Association also objects out of concern the program could lead to a “de facto” goat-hunting season involving private citizens. So far, no public goat hunt is planned in Grand Teton.

Grand Teton, located in western Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park, is unusual in that the 1950 law establishing the park provides for an “elk reduction program” in which members of the public with hunting licenses hunt elk in the park each fall.

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