The number of helicopter flights used to gain access to backcountry has increased in recent years. Biologists, land managers, and the public have expressed concern about disturbance impacts to mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) resulting from helicopter activity. We recorded behavioral responses of 122 groups of mountain goats from 347 helicopter overflights at 4 geographic areas in Alaska and analyzed responses in relation to distance and angle from helicopters to mountain goats, reproductive class, season, and area of study. We used multinomial logistic regression modeling combined with a bootstrap randomization procedure to identify factors associated with increased probability of mountain goats being in 1 of the 4 behavioral response categories during helicopter overflights. The probability of a goat group being disturbed was inversely related to distance of the helicopter from the group. Odds of disturbance increased by a factor of 1.25 for every 100-m reduction in approach distance. Approach distances resulting in >90% probability of maintenance were significantly larger where mountain goats had received less prior exposure to helicopters. When mountain goats were disturbed during overflights, a second analysis (i.e., gamma regression model with inverse link function) estimated elapsed time until mountain goats returned to maintenance behavior. The length of time that a goat remained in a disturbed state following overflight did not depend upon any of the covariates; mountain goats remained in a disturbed state for an average of 30.7 seconds (95% CI, 25.7–35.9 seconds). The results offer land managers an opportunity to evaluate risk for permitting helicopter activity.
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