Fish and Game workers began aerial surveys last week to count the number of mountain goats on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a population that has only been partially surveyed in the past.

Another aerial survey will be conducted March 16 to track the bighorn sheep population in the Lost River Range. Both surveys will take 15 to 20 days to complete.

“We’re hoping to see a population increase so we can maintain hunting tags, or maybe increase them,” Fish and Game Biologist Mike Demick said. According to Demick, data from the surveys helps determine the number of tags that will be issued to hunters to help maintain stable populations.

Demick said it has been difficult to track goats on the Middle Fork because of its large size and the cost of an aerial survey. This effort is the first survey since 2012 and the first complete survey.

“It’s pretty labor intensive,” Demick said. “It’s a big area and one of the most remote parts of the state.”

A complete survey of the entire goat population will provide more accurate data of population trends including kid-to-adult ratios and sex ratios. Demick said the age and sex ratios are important in calculating whether a population will increase or decrease.

“It gives us a better picture of what’s going on on the ground,” Demick said.

Hunters shouldn’t get too excited, Demick warned, because Fish and Game surveyors expect only a slight increase in sheep and goat populations. Unless the new surveyors report big population increases at the end of the month, the number of tags available for sheep and goats will be sparse.

“We’re not talking hundreds of tags, maybe one or two,” Demick said. “Hunting these animals is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”