HELENA — Glacier National Park and the University of Montana plan to start a new mountain goat research program this summer, three years after the deaths of two animals halted a previous study, park officials said Monday.
The new $150,000 project is part of the park service's Going-to-the-Sun Road management planning, as park officials seek to learn more about human interactions with the little-studied animals.
The aim of the project will be to figure out why mountain goats go to Logan Pass, one of the top visitor attractions at the peak of the Going-to-the-Sun Road that bisects the park, said Mark Biel, National Park Service natural resources program manager.
"Are they drawn there by the attractants — people feeding them or the antifreeze on the road?" Biel said. "Or do they see that densely populated area as a refuge from predators?"
Researchers with the park and the university are looking to find out if the mountain goats in the Logan Pass area are there year-round, or if they wait until the road is clear and the people arrive in the spring. They also want to know if the same goats appear at the pass each year or if different ones wander in.
Researchers plan to dart and collar between 20 and 25 goats by the end of the summer, and then track their movements through the collars. From that data, they hope to glean more about the goats' interaction with people and develop a message that resonates with visitors who may be tempted to come too close, he said.
There are between 1,500 and 2,100 mountain goats in Glacier National Park. The program would collar about 2 percent of that population, Biel said.
In 2010, a research project into how climate change affects the park's mountain goats ended suddenly when two mountain goats died after being struck by tranquilizer darts and researchers could not figure out why.
Based on necropsies of the animals, researchers determined the drug combination used to sedate the goats may have cause their deaths, Biel said. This time, the researchers plan to use a different drug that has been successful in sedating goats in Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
"We've been consulting with those researchers and biologists to get the methodology and dosages," Biel said. "They've treated literally hundreds of goats using this drug."
There are no immediate plans to re-start the climate-change study.