February 7th When fresh, chest-high snow lies deep on Nettleslide, Jánwu mostly forages under conifer forest, unobservable. But pickins are slim there. Sometimes, she ventures onto sheer, snow-shedding cliffs in little, low-elevation, southwest-facing forest gaps where spotscopes can find her. There aren’t a lot of these openings, so although they sprout rich rampart-gardens each summer, these, too, get cleaned off pretty thoroughly when goats descend to winter range.
Today, ADF&G goat researcher Kevin White sent extraordinary aerial pictures of goats foraging right under ‘headwalls’ of recently-triggered glide avalanches, at 3,000 feet above Chilkat River. Tundra plants were exposed there, while everything else lay buried in 6 feet of snow. But how much do goats “understand” about avalanche danger? Surely, over millennia of mountainside residence, Oreamnos has evolved strategies to reduce death and injury from bad things coming downhill. But what are their cues? When do these prove inadequate?
I’ve been trying to assess this by comparing Goatlandia activity to the Urban Avalanche Advisory’s danger-level, updated each day. This photo shows a small, grass-uncovering sluff in one of the Nettleslide gullies. It’s also the most dangerous part of the slidezone to linger in.
On days ranked 2-Moderate danger, I sometimes find goats in these dicey locations. So far, at 3-Considerable, or higher, Jánwu either abandons Nettleslide entirely, or sticks to ‘fernrib’ buttresses, probably a little safer from minor snow releases.
Background, and links to more slideshows, are on the mountain goat category page.