New mountain goat in Dry River Canyon

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin
Published Jan 28, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Jan 28, 2014 at 03:48PM

More than three years after drawing attention and visitors to the Dry River Canyon east of Bend in 2010, a lone Rocky Mountain goat continues to roam Newberry Crater.

The billy goat has been in the crater east of La Pine since the summer of 2010 — about three and a half years — and doesn’t appear to be planning to leave.

Meanwhile, there’s a new goat in the Dry River Canyon. Another billy goat arrived there about three weeks ago, said Corey Heath, Deschutes district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said it’s unclear how long the new goat will stay in the canyon.

“If I had to guess, I would say it is probably going to winter in the canyon and this spring it will move on,” Heath said.

That’s what the goat in 2010 did before finding his territory in Newberry Crater, which is home to Paulina and East lakes. Whether the goats end up in the same place remains to be seen.

It’s likely the billies have already gone through a similar trek to bring them to Central Oregon, Heath said, dispersing as young males from a herd of mountain goats in the Elkhorn Mountains near Baker City. The goat in Newberry Crater is now nearly 6 years old, while the new goat in the canyon is likely about 2½ years old. Full-grown billy goats can be about 3½ feet tall at the shoulder and weigh as much as 250 pounds. The new goat is still growing and likely weighs about 150 pounds.

Rocky Mountain goats were wiped out in the area by the late 1800s as settlers moved into Oregon, according to ODFW. Since 1950, state wildlife officials have been reintroducing the animal around the state.

The herd of mountain goats in the Elkhorns, now numbering in the hundreds, started with 21 transplant goats from Idaho, Washington and Alaska, according to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. They were let loose between 1983 and 1986.

More recently, ODFW and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs teamed up to release mountain goats onto Mount Jefferson. They released 45 goats in July 2010 and another 24 goats in July 2012.

Those goats are closer to Dry River Canyon than the Elkhorn herd. Mount Jefferson is about 60 miles to the northwest and the Elkhorns are more than 120 miles to the northeast, but Heath said the two billies that have shown up at Dry River Canyon are likely from the Elkhorns.

He says this because the goats didn’t have an ear tag or radio collar. All the goats released onto Mount Jefferson have ear tags and many carried radio collars.

While the billy from 2010 didn’t enter the canyon with a collar, he left with one. He’s had it since March 2010. Heath said ODFW officials haven’t decided whether to collar the new goat. Doing so disturbs the animal, which the agency is trying to avoid.

Heath asked the public to also give the goat his space.

His advice to people who want to see the goat in Dry River Canyon: “Just stay as far away as you can,” he said. “Look at it through optics.”

He does expect the goat to draw interested visitors to the canyon.

“People aren’t used to seeing mountain goats in this part of the state in modern times,” he said.

Among the people excited about another goat in the canyon is Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. The Bend-based nonprofit helped lead the designation of the Badlands Wilderness, which is adjacent to Dry River Canyon. The canyon is on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and is subject to a closure from Feb. 1 until Aug. 31. The closure, which covers the 3.2-mile trail on the canyon bottom, is to protect sensitive wildlife while they breed, according to the BLM.

While just a white speck among the dark rocked cliffs, the goat might be spotted from the canyon overlook off U.S. Highway 20 by Horse Ridge. The goat from 2010 was also often seen from this vantage point.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to drive up to an overlook and see a mountain goat,” Fenty said.

Locals in 2010 called the goat “Witty,” in honor of Jim Witty, The Bulletin’s longtime outdoors reporter who died in 2008 at age 50, he said. The new goat doesn’t yet have a name.

“I’m sure some people will want to put out some ideas,” Fenty said. “We’ll see what comes up.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com.

Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin A Rocky Mountain goat walks along the rim of Dry River Canyon east of Bend on Monday.