Goat trappers worth their saltknow what'll shake out prey

July 26, 2007 12:00 am
Nets are necessary, but salt's the key to trapping mountain goats — they can't get enough of the stuff, wildlife experts say. (Submitted photo).
Nets are necessary, but salt's the key to trapping mountain goats — they can't get enough of the stuff, wildlife experts say. (Submitted photo).


Baker City Herald

To catch a mountain goat, simply set out some salt.

Well, you'll also need a net.

And a crew of strong goat-wranglers.

Plus several short sections of garden hose.

The salt, though, is the key ingredient.

"The goats need that salt enough that they don't mind walking under a big ugly net," said Nick Myatt, the district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Baker City office.

So great is the goats' affinity for salt, in fact, that several years ago hikers and campers in the Elkhorns reported that goats chewed on sweat-soaked backpack straps and T-shirts. ODFW has since satiated the goats by setting out salt blocks in the Elkhorns.

Myatt oversaw a three-day goat-catching operation in the Elkhorn Mountains near Baker City last week that netted 13 goats — 10 nannies and three billies.

"It went really smoothly," Myatt said.

ODFW workers installed the net, and set out the salt, about five days before trapping was scheduled to start, on July 16.

An employee releases the net, which is suspended by poles, by pushing a button that triggers electronic solenoids attached to each of the poles. The net — "basically a heavy-duty volleyball net," Myatt said — falls onto the salt-licking goats.

Workers immediately try to control, and calm, the goats.

The top priority, Myatt said, is to get hold of the goats' heads. Male and female goats both have horns with sharp — "extremely sharp," Myatt said — tips.

Wranglers slip sections of rubber garden hose over the horns. They also blindfold the goats and attach hobbling straps to the animals' legs — both of which actions help settle the goats.

"We don't have to inject them with sedatives," Myatt said. "It's a pretty low-stress capture method."

Workers pour water on the goats to prevent the animals from overheating. Biologists take blood samples and inoculate the goats against disease.

ODFW captured 10 goats on July 16 and three more on July 17.

Workers loaded each goat into a separate plywood crate, then placed the crates into pickup truck beds and drove the trucks to Baker Valley. There, the crates were transferred onto a flatbed truck that hauled the goats to their new home in the Strawberry Mountains.

All 13 goats were released the same day they were trapped, Myatt said. The goats were let go at the High Lake trailhead on the south side of the Strawberrys, a couple of miles southeast of Strawberry Mountain.

So long as the Elkhorns goat herd remains healthy — ODFW will conduct their annual goat count there next week — the agency will continue to trap goats at Goodrich each summer and truck the animals to goat-friendly habitat, Myatt said.