The Mountain Goat – A key species in the Great Bear Rainforest

Publication - October 19, 2010
The mountain goat is a large hoofed mammal that is widespread throughout North America and found in the mountainous terrain of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is probably best known for its quick and nimble climbing through steep and rocky terrain. However, what is perhaps less known is that the mountain goat greatly relies on old growth forests for its survival.

 

It is estimated that British Columbia supports over half of the world’s mountain goat population. Winter habitats are a critical factor in determining the survival of the mountain goat. Due to the mountainous terrain it inhabits, the perils of cold, harsh winters inherent to that terrain can cause mortality exceeding 50 per cent of a local population. Therefore, old-growth forests are essential for more than just the important shelter they provide during cold winters. They are also critical as winter ranges particularly because large, old trees and closed canopies limit the amount of snow that can accumulate, thereby increasing the availability of winter forage foods in the understory. This also enables mountain goats to use less of their limited energy to move through deep snow. Lichen that fall from older trees are a major winter food source. It is important to note that lichen do not exist with younger trees, so old growth forests provide an essential source for the mountain goat.

Mountain goats are matriarchal, with females living in “nursery groups” with their young during most of the year. Nursery groups occupy habitats that are critical for the survival of the population. These areas are typically found adjacent to steep, rocky terrain. These groups return year after year to the same small areas of winter habitat and, because of this pattern of returning to the same place, they can be negatively impacted by even small losses of habitat.

Relative to other hooved species mountain goats reproduce slowly, and there are signs that populations are declining in parts of B.C. The mountain goat is listed in the B.C. government’s Conservation Framework as a very high priority for conservation under the goal of “preventing species and ecosystems from becoming at risk.”

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

 The white colour of the mountain goat's coat allows it to blend into the snow and thus protecting it from predators. They shed their thick fur in the warmer months by rubbing up against trees.

 Adult mountain goats have beards, which are actually the long hairs under their throat that can grow up to five inches long.

 Mountain goats are not really goats — although they are close relatives. Rather they are part of the antelope family.

 Mountain goats grow to between three and four feet tall — larger than a St. Bernard dog, but smaller than a pony.

 The hooves of mountain goats are similar to the soles of hiking boots — they have special soft, rubber-like pads underneath a hard outer lining. These specialized hooves help them climb rugged cliffs and quickly escape a mountain lion or other dangers.

SOURCES

Bob Ulrich Mountain Goat Facts and Background Information, online, http://www.bobulrich.com/goats/mountaingoat.htm

H.L. Horn, P. Arcese, K. Brunt, A. E. Burger, H. Davis, F. Doyle, K. Dunsworth, P. Friele, S. Gordon, A. N. Hamilton, S. Hazlitt, G. MacHutchon, T. Mahon, E. McClaren, V. Michelfelder, B. Pollard, S. Taylor, F.L. Waterhouse. 2009. Part 1: Assessment of Co-location Outcomes and Implications for Focal Species Management under EBM. Report 1 of the EBM Working Group Focal Species Project. Integrated Land Management Bureau, Nanaimo, B.C. [online] URL: ilmbwww.gov.bc.ca/slrp/lrmp/nanaimo/cencoast/ebmwg_docs/ei02c_report_3.pdf

National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-goat/

Washington Nature Mapping Program, online at http://depts.washington.edu/natmap/facts/mountain_goat_712.html

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