Unbiased estimates of mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) populations are key to meeting diverse harvest management and conservation objectives. We developed logistic regression models of factors influencing sightability of mountain goat groups during helicopter surveys throughout the Cascades and Olympic Ranges in western Washington during summers, 2004–2007. We conducted 205 trials of the ability of aerial survey crews to detect groups of mountain goats whose presence was known based on simultaneous direct observation from the ground (n = 84), Global Positioning System (GPS) telemetry (n = 115), or both (n = 6). Aerial survey crews detected 77% and 79% of all groups known to be present based on ground observers and GPS collars, respectively. The best models indicated that sightability of mountain goat groups was a function of the number of mountain goats in a group, presence of terrain obstruction, and extent of overstory vegetation. Aerial counts of mountain goats within groups did not differ greatly from known group sizes, indicating that under-counting bias within detected groups of mountain goats was small. We applied Horvitz–Thompson-like sightability adjustments to 1,139 groups of mountain goats observed in the Cascade and Olympic ranges, Washington, USA, from 2004 to 2007. Estimated mean sightability of individual animals was 85% but ranged 0.75–0.91 in areas with low and high sightability, respectively. Simulations of mountain goat surveys indicated that precision of population estimates adjusted for sightability biases increased with population size and number of replicate surveys, providing general guidance for the design of future surveys. Because survey conditions, group sizes, and habitat occupied by goats vary among surveys, we recommend using sightability correction methods to decrease bias in population estimates from aerial surveys of mountain goats.
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Vol. 73 • No. 3