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Ice age goats lived on Alaska's Baranof Islands

Sitka wildlife biologist Phil Mooney with a Baranof island mountain goat being tracked with a GPS collars. Photo by Kevin White, ADF&G
A helicopter over Baranof Island assists in the goat study. Photo by Kevin White, ADF&G

SITKA -- Data collected by Alaska wildlife biologists reveals that Baranof Island had an unknown native mountain goat population dating back to the Ice Age.

DNA samples taken while tracking the elusive goats shows there had been a population of goats more closely related to an Ice Age goat population that once inhabited the Haines area than the 18 goats that were transplanted onto Baranof from Tracey Arm in 1923, reports Emily Forman at KCAW in Juneau ( http://bit.ly/1fAe5u7 ).

Southeast Alaska was covered in hundreds of feet of glacial ice 10,000 years ago, except for a few isolated pockets called "refugia." Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof islands were once such refugias. The transplanted goats bred with an unknown goat population that was already on the island.

"They were only expecting to find the Tracy Arm DNA in there," Phil Mooney, Sitka's wildlife management biologist told the Sitka radio station. "And lo and behold there was other DNA in there that comes from a relic."

The ABC islands, as the three islands are known, have been the center of recent studies into their bear population as well. ABC brown bears are more closely related DNA-wise to polar bears than to mainland brown bears. Researchers believe this is due to the islands' isolation during the Ice Age.

Baranof Island was swarming with prospectors and miners in the late 1800s and 1900s looking for gold and silver. None of them reported seeing mountain goats, Mooney said.

The desire for more big game hunting options by residents led the territorial government to relocate goats from Tracey Arm onto the island in 1923 in order to start up a local population, he said.

To protect the transplanted population from overhunting, wildlife biologists have been studying the goats using aerial surveys, GPS tagging, and tissue samples -- which Mooney described as "a piece of flesh the size of a pencil eraser."

Part of the state's efforts in monitoring Baranof's goat population is to avoid what has taken place at Yakutat, Mooney said. There, the goat population has declined to such a degree that the area has been closed to hunters for 15 years.

Mooney and other biologists are focused on protecting the nannies. He says it is the reason why there are goat hunting zones and why the shooting of a single nanny will close a zone to hunting.

 



Associated Press