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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Golden age for goats

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Golden age for goats

If you spend much time poking around in the Elkhorn Mountains near Baker City you’re apt to get a misleading impression about Oregon’s abundance of mountain goats.

The majestic mammals are indeed plentiful in the Elkhorns. The population there numbers about 400, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But with the exception of the nearby Wallowas, which harbor most of the rest of Oregon’s estimated herd of 800 goats, the state’s other major mountain ranges have few goats or none at all.

It has not always been so.

Based on historical records and the more recent opinions of wildlife biologists, the consensus is that mountain goats as late as the 1800s lived in parts of the Blue and Wallowa mountains, as well as the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascades as far south as the Three Sisters, near Bend.

By 1905 the animals were absent in Oregon with the possible exception of the Wallowas.

During the past three decades, though, the mountain goat has made a remarkable recovery.

The Elkhorns play a prominent role in this turnaround. From a modest start — 21 goats released along Pine Creek between 1983-86 — the Elkhorn herd has multiplied 20-fold.

Our local goat herd is so healthy that ODFW has trapped about 200 animals in the Elkhorns over the past decade and released them elsewhere in the state. The most recent operation, moving 45 goats to Mount Jefferson in late July, ended the animals’ 100-year-plus absence from the central Cascades.

The story of Oregon’s goats pleases us. It proves that even when society treats some part of the natural world like a child’s disposable plaything, redemption is sometimes possible.

We also find it refreshing that the recovery of both the goat and the bighorn sheep, another once-common species that suffered greatly from human activities, has happened without the level of rancor that has attended the recent return of another native Oregonian: the gray wolf.

Although the goat and the sheep, it must be said, have certain advantages over their carnivorous counterpart. Most important, neither sheep nor goats eat cattle, sheep, deer or elk.

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