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last update: October 8, 2003

                                                                           by Cliff Rice

Tracking mountain goats in Washington with GPS collars

GPS collars are used to track 32 mountain goats in Washington, USA.  The GPS collars take fixes all 3 hours. The location data are gathered by remote download while the GPS-collars is still on the goat. The GPS-GSM collar is supplied with a VHF beacon. Over that activity-, temperature- and mortality sensors are integrated into the GPS collar to uptake multiple data.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (USA) initiated a research project on mountain goats in 2002.  Partners include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. National Park Service, Western Washington University, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, and the Stilliguamish Indian Tribe , with additional funding provided by a grant from Seattle City Light.

This research has 2 main objectives:

  1. To evaluate and standardize procedures for estimation of mountain goat population.

  2. To investigate the causes of decline in mountain goat populations in Washington.

Fig. 1:  Location of the investigation area in Washington, USA (red symbol)

Because of the lack of detailed information on mountain goats in Washington, our initial objective is to gather background information on mountain goat movements and habitat use.  To date, we have captured and collared 32 mountain goats in the Cascade Mountain Rage in Washington by darting them from a helicopter or on the ground.  Most of these captures took place in September 2003.  Each goat was fitted with a GPS-Plus 4 D collar for tracking movements. The collars are programmed to attempt GPS location every 3 hours.

Fig. 2: Immobilized mountain goat shortly before collaring, September 2002


Fig. 3:  Location of mountain goat captures to date in Washington, USA (red symbol)

















We have had mixed success downloading locations from a fixed-wing airplane (Cessna 182) in that communication between the collar and the handheld unit is not always continuous. However, because the Vectronic communication includes error checking, blocks that are received with errors are resent, so a complete data set is obtained.


Fig. 4:  Obtaining downloads from mountain goats on the slopes of Mt. Baker, Washington, USA













Initial fixes from 10 collars around Mt. Baker in northern Washington showed considerable variability in the amount of range occupied by various animals.  We anticipate interesting results over the winter months because the winter range of most of our mountain goats is not known. We also hope to further investigate the relationship between altitudinal movements, habitat, and weather by linking collar data with local weather models.



Fig. 5:  Initial locations for 10 mountain goats in northern Washington. Mt. Baker (elev. 3,286 m) is on the right, Mt. Shuksan (elev. 2,782 m) in the upper right. This images is as if viewed from 57,000 m elevation.  Most animals were captured on 03-04 September 2003 and data were downloaded on 30 September.


We also plan to use these mountain goats to develop a sightability model for aerial surveys and in investigate the reactions of mountain goats to helicopter survey activity. For this we will take advantage of the capability of Vectronic collars to receive new fix schedules remotely by changing the fix period to 5 minutes during survey periods.


Fig. 6:  A band of mountain goats observed during a helicopter survey in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington, USA



For more information please contact:

Cliff Rice









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