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Nonnative goats bunking at Yellowstone

According to a new study, mountain goats are taking hold in Yellowstone National Park. Park officials are unsure how to handle the presence of the nonnative animals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A new study shows mountain goats are taking hold in Yellowstone National Park, but park officials aren't sure how to handle the presence of the nonnative animals.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Tom Lemke found in the study that goats are "colonizing" the northwest and northeast corners of the park. He published his findings in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, state officials transplanted mountain goats from western Montana into the Beartooth, Absaroka, Madison, Bridger and Crazy mountains. Descendants of those goats have gradually begun to wander into Yellowstone.

Park Service policy considers nonnative species as something that should be managed "up to and including eradication."

"There's been no discussion about control of mountain goats at this point," said P.J. White, a park wildlife biologist.

Some nonnative species are considered more tolerable than others, both in and out of the park. Brown and rainbow trout, for example, are deemed acceptable while Norwegian rats and spotted knapweed are not.

Outside the park, Montana wildlife managers are trying to maintain huntable goat populations. Lemke believes Yellowstone could sustain up to 300 goats, a number that appears to be growing fast.

The park recently earned a $200,000 grant to study the goats and what impact they may have in the park. The study is slated to begin in 2006.

"The park needs to do some monitoring and research," said Amy McNamara of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "I don't think anybody would want to take a position until we know what's happening on the ground."