Colorado Mountain Goats

There are few better symbols of alpine wilderness than the mountain goat; besides, their kids are downright adorable. For these reasons, this sure-footed resident of the alpine tundra appears on Colorado travel brochures and his image is utilized by a wide range of companies and organizations that cater to Colorado nature enthusiasts. Unfortunately, unlike Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the official State mammal, mountain goats are not native to Colorado; their natural range extends from Alaska and Canada to the mountains of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

In 1947, prompted by hunting organizations, a herd of mountain goats was transplanted from Montana to Mt. Shavano, in the Collegiate Range of central Colorado. Over the next two decades, additional groups were introduced on Mt. Evans, west of Denver, and the Gore Range, east of Vail. Well adapted to survive in the harsh environment of alpine ecosystems, the goats thrived and have since spread to nearby ranges. Controversy arose as biologists became concerned about their impact on native populations of bighorn sheep, elk, pikas and other species that share the Colorado alpine habitat; competition for limited food resources and the potential for introduced disease have been the primary concerns. Nevertheless, against the objection of wildlife biologists and despite the lack of convincing physical evidence, the Colorado Wildlife Commission officially recognized the mountain goat as a native species in 1993.

The reintroduction of extirpated native species, lost to overhunting or habitat destruction, has long been an important tool for wildlife conservationists; in Colorado, the reintroduction of lynx, river otters and moose offer excellent examples of such programs. But the introduction of alien species, often encouraged by groups with little interest in ecology, courts potential disaster. It is best to support natural diversity by restoring and protecting native habitat, reintroducing species that humans have annihilated and then letting nature take control. Mountain goats are fascinating animals that deserve protection across their native range; however, they do not belong in Colorado and a vigorous, unpopular control program will likely become necessary in the near future.