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Now There’s a Plan to Relocate or Kill the Olympics’ Non-Native Mountain Goats

Mountain goats in the Olympic Mountains could soon be a thing of the past.

May 4, 2018

Mountain goats in the Olympic Mountains could soon be a thing of the past. The non-native goat population has rapidly grown over the past 14 years — to a point where it now could put hikers at risk and damage sensitive vegetation in the subalpine landscape.

Federal and state agencies announced Friday their plan to relocate most of the mountain goats from Washington’s Olympic National Park to the North Cascades forests, where they have lived for thousands of years. They would "lethally remove" the remaining goats in the park.

Mountain goats are attracted to salt sources, which naturally occur in the North Cascades. In the Olympic National Park, the only salt sources are humans.

“We see them approaching people because they are attracted to salt in sweat and urine and food,” said Penny Wagner, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park. “These can create dangerous interactions if people don’t realize that mountain goats are going to be approaching them.”

In 2010, a hiker was killed in the park, but officials said that was not yet a cause for concern.

Mountain goats entering a campsite in Olympic National Park.
Maureen Ryan

The Methow Valley News reports that biologists wouldn’t relocate any goats that are too used to people.

It's not just the goats' interactions with people that prompted the plan to remove them from the Olympics.

"We also have to preserve the wilderness character and the unique vegetation," Wagner said, referring to the goats' tendency to wallow near unique vegetation in the Olympic Mountains.

In 2016, biologists found mountain goat numbers in the Olympic Mountains had increased by 8 percent each year since 2004. Now, there are 625 goats — and those numbers could approach 1,000 by 2023.

“Most of the time they’re found out on the steep crags and as we come around the corner we can see them pretty easily,” U.S. Geological Survey biologist Kurt Jenkins told EarthFix after a population survey in 2012. “Sometimes they’ll work their way into a crag in the cliffs or move under some dense trees nearby so oftentimes we just see white movement.”

Mountain goats in the North Cascades have been on the decline. Biologists hope relocating the goats to these areas will help grow and diversify the population there.

The government held public meetings last August about its plan and received nearly 2,300 comments.

“Federal and state agencies are poised to begin the effort that will help grow a depleted population of mountain goats in the Cascades and eliminate their impact on the Olympic Peninsula,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum in a news release.



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Photo from July 9, 2008 shows wild mountain goats atop a boulder in Washington's Olympic Mountains.

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I'm among the few people not involved in compiling the 284-page Mountain Goat Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement who have actually read it.  Despite the number of footnotes,  appendices,  etc.,  both the science and the history in it are quite flimsy.  Reality is that the National Park Service has been floating various schemes to get rid of the goats since 1972,  but did not get around to mentioning the alleged threat to rare native plants until five years later.  More than 40 years later,  the plants are still there,  through many ups and downs of the goat population,  while the major threat to them & indeed the entire ecology of Olympic National Park is global warming,  which has pushed the snowpack up the mountains,  warmed the streams,  etc.,  & may be harming the goats as well.  Notably,  the Mountain Goat Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement says almost nothing about this.