A proposal to open a new mountain goat hunting area in the Tenmile Range goes before the Parks and Wildlife Commission next Thursday.
It's been in the works for a few years, district wildlife manager Sean Shepherd said. This summer, he and his Summit County partner, Shannon Schwab, hopped in a helicopter to do a census of the goat population. That count would help them finalize a recommendation for goat management through hunting.
The Parks and Wildlife Commission will consider whether to issue five resident mountain goat licenses for the proposed Unit G10, which encompasses the areas of Summit and Lake counties bounded on the north by Interstate 70; on the east by Colorado Highway 9 and Boreas Pass Road; on the south by the Continental Divide; and on the west by Colorado Highway 91 and Interstate 70.
The licenses would permit rifle hunting for the designated five on weekdays between mid-September and the end of October, which is consistent with the other three units existing in Summit County. If approved, the revision would be printed in regulation books and brochures, and licenses could be available this fall. It's not the only one on the table - another unit is proposed near Aspen, Shepherd said.
Some raise their eyebrows at opening a unit in a well-used area in the heart of Summit County. Bob Radocy, a Front Range resident who owns a second home in Dillon, questions why the recommendation isn't more narrow, to preclude rifle hunting.
"I'm personally not opposed to the wildlife management of these goats, if necessary, but I believe that allowing rifle hunting poses serious risk and disturbance to all the hikers that frequent the Tenmile (Range), especially on the Colorado Trail. There are other means of take, like archery, that are much less intrusive, yet effective," he said.
He added that Division of Parks and Wildlife officials have previously limited methods of take in more sensitive areas.
Shepherd said he welcomes input from the public, but explained that considerations were taken to try to minimize user conflicts, such as the weekday provision.
"None of our units are open on weekends just because of the number of people that visit the High Country," Shepherd said, adding that the rifle license opens the door to as many hunters as possible. Archers aren't prolific, he said, though the license does allow that type of hunting.
There are also provisions in place for the licensed hunters. All hunters are required to know their targets and what's beyond, Shepherd said, adding that there's a seminar for those holding goat licenses to learn about mountain goats, their biology, how to hunt them, identify their sex and more. At that time, Shepherd gets personal contact with the hunters and maintains that contact throughout the season.
The hunting season is consistent with the rest of Summit County, Shepherd said, so people on the trail - particularly those using livestock like horses or llamas - should know to wear bright orange.
Shepherd said the population estimate for goats in the unit is around 50. That's nearly double what it was about 10 years ago, and it continues to be mostly centered around Quandary Peak.
The growing population made goats seem more prevalent to recreationists in the area. Goats tend to like to be around humans, because they lick salt and minerals from the ground. However, some people felt they've been aggressive and reported them as such, though Shepherd maintains goats are rarely aggressive unless highly agitated. Nevertheless, the complaints brought the goats into the spotlight, and game managers started taking a closer look at their population and effects on the land.
Hunting is used as a tool - often, the only tool - for controlling wildlife populations. The Division of Parks and Wildlife officials must balance a healthy mountain goat population with competing animals in the region. In this case, it's the bighorn sheep herd located south, along the Mosquito Range near Fairplay.
"It's a sensitive population we want to maintain," Shepherd said. "We want to be sure (the goats) don't emigrate further south. They can be faithful to an area they like, and they're pretty good about sticking around Quandary. But as their population increases, we know they'll be leaving and populating other areas."