It’s been a deadly year in Washington State’s Olympic National Park. For humans and for animals.
Last fall a 63-year-old man named Bob Boardman was attacked by a 370-pound male mountain goat. Boardman was gored in the thigh and bled to death and the goat that killed him was shot soon after the incident. But when pathologists examined the goat, suspecting perhaps some sort of neurological abnormality or disease, they found no such evidence.
The blame, according to NPS officials, is likely simple habituation — the 300 or so goats in the park are used to a human presence. They’re also attracted to human urine because of the salt in it. And until now the park has had no policy restricting peeing near trails, but a new policy will change that. Visitors are advised to constrain urination to at least 200 feet from any marked trail, to prevent what officials there call “linear salt licks”. Yep, nasty. But the corridors that humans follow are splashed with their excretions and since goats will be goats, they’re attracted to them.
In addition to peeing elsewhere, further measures include:
- Always staying at least 50 yards away from goats.
- Closing trails where goats decide to gather or persistently follow people.
- Closing trails for up to two weeks where goats have shown to be aggressive (followed by park service staff hazing the animals by throwing stones, making load noises and making life unpleasant enough that the animals move on.
- There are also contingencies to kill goats, in the event that becomes necessary.
What hasn’t been as widely commented on is that the incident this past fall occurred during the rut, when males grow much more aggressive. But it’s clear this isn’t the only cause. On June 14 a hiker was stalked by a male goat as well, though the incident luckily ended without injury.
The new guidelines will hopefully reduce human and goat interactions and, more broadly, human-animal interactions as well, since on June 17 park officials had to shoot an adult elk that was exhibiting aggressive behavior, charging a tent and park patrol truck, and stalking park rangers.
The National Parks Conservation Association Study that came out on July 1 spotlighted Olympic National Park as one of the more threatened in the nation. Clear cutting on the edge of the park has been so stark that the entire peninsula is pocked by deforestation, which crowds large animals into the park where they are less threatened. In the NASA image above all of the red areas represent clear cuts. Only deep green represents standing, older and denser woods, and all of that forest is within the park’s boundaries. It’s never easy (and often impossible) to connect a given animal-human interaction to habitat loss, it’s also clear that with more people using parks and development or extraction chewing at the edges of wildlife’s range, such incidents will only be more common.
This environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.