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Life on the Rocks

A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat

by Bruce L. Smith

Publication Year: 2014

The American mountain goat is one of the most elusive and least familiar species of hoofed mammals in North America. Confined to the remote and rugged mountains of the western United States and Canada, these extraordinary mountaineers are seldom seen or encountered, even by those who patiently study them. Life on the Rocks offers an intimate portrayal of this remarkable animal through the eyes and lens of field biologist and photographer Bruce Smith.

Color photographs and accounts of Smith's personal experiences living in Montana's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area accompany descriptions of the American mountain goat's natural history. Smith explores their treacherous habitat, which spans the perilous cliffs and crags of the Rocky, Cascade, and Coast mountain ranges. The physical and behavioral adaptations of these alpine athletes enable them to survive a host of dangers, including six-month-long winters, scarce food sources, thunderous avalanches, social strife, and predators like wolves, bears, lions, wolverines, and eagles. Smith also details the challenges these animals face as their territory is threatened by expanding motorized access, industrial activities, and a warming climate.

Life on the Rocks showcases the elegance and charm of this little-known creature, thriving in some of North America's harshest wilderness. Smith's volume will appeal to wildlife enthusiasts, wildland travelers, and conservationists interested in the future of the American mountain goat.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xii

Far above where most humans venture, where the upthrust peaks embrace the heavens, a gentleman dressed in a shaggy white cloak roams the heights. Trimmed in beard, baggy pants, black nose, and stiletto horns, he rambles the ridgetops amid...

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Part I

Like a ghost that drifts among clouds and cliffs, in defiance of gravity itself, abides this improbable beast of the peaks. From the loftiest vantage of any large mammal on the continent, it has watched...

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Chapter One: Beginnings

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pp. 3-12

From American Indians, the Corps of Discovery first heard about a white beast that dwelt among the peaks. They marveled at the shaggy hide purchased from Chinookan Indians along the Columbia River. In 1805 Captain...

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Chapter Two: How to Build a Goat

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pp. 13-30

The mountain goat is defined by the suite of traits that permit it to defy gravity twelve months a year. Specialization starts with the feet. The hard outer walls of the hooves surround a rough yet pliable, convex pad. The animal world’s equivalent of...

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Chapter Three: Behaving Appropriately

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pp. 31-54

The mountain goat is one of the ruminants—the even-toed, hoofed mammals with complex stomachs where food is fermented by bacteria and protozoans to wring sparse nutrients from plants. Their digestive efficiency permits mountain goats to eat a variety...

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Chapter Four: Rewards and Risks

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pp. 55-78

life spent living on ledges and peaks comes with both rewards and risks. Few other hoofed mammals spend significant time where the mountain goat roams, finding life easier on more forgiving terrain. During my observations I found that only mule deer and more rarely elk shared the Bitterroot haunts...

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Chapter Five: Among the Goats

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pp. 79-100

During three decades of field studies of North America’s large mammals, the environmental and logistical challenges of none—not deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, or bears—compared with those I encountered learning about the mountain goat. The chasms and ramparts, the...

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Part II

It would be satisfying to leave you with this blithe image of North America’s alpine athlete, or regale you with more stories about the life it lives, the feats it performs, or my own experiences among...

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Chapter Six: Across the Continent

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pp. 103-124

Mountain goats are found in ten of the United States and four Canadian provinces and territories. To learn how many animals roam the continent, in 2011 I sent a questionnaire to wildlife managers in each of those fourteen jurisdictions. Based upon their responses and a 2011 report...

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Chapter Seven: Conservation: Local Challenges

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pp. 125-144

Beyond the hazards of severe weather and gravity— environmental constraints by which the animal has been shaped through the diligent fine-tuning of natural selection—North America’s mountain goat faces a host...

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Chapter Eight: The Global Challenge

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pp. 145-168

Even as some threats to species may be regulated and ameliorated at the local level, others cannot. A growing global challenge now confronts alpine environments and their wild residents, including the mountain goat...

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pp. 169-172

Only by spending intense time can you know and develop real intimacy with a place. In so doing, you begin to discover features, relations, and worth that casual visitors seldom see. The place—whether a Midwest marsh or New England...

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pp. 173-174

Although the seed remained dormant for many years, writing this book is something I’d always known I would do. That seed was the animal itself and the way time among them enriched my education and launched my career. My graduate studies...

Suggested Reading

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pp. 175-176

Other Works

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pp. 177

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322924
E-ISBN-10: 1607322927
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322917
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322919

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 107
Publication Year: 2014