NPS Proposes Killing and Relocating Olympic Range’s Mountain Goats

The animals are non-native and destructive to the area.


Washington’s Olympic National Park, a designated UNESCO heritage site, is home to astounding biodiversity. It encompasses a wide array of ecosystems, including the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the United States and one of the best examples of an intact temperate rainforest. It’s also home to a particularly unruly population of over 600 mountain goats, which are non-native to the area and hazardous to both their environment and hikers.

On Monday, Olympic National Park officials released a proposal to curtail the population of mountain goats in the Olympic Range. Their proposed methods include lethal removal of mountain goats, a capture and translocation program that would move the goats to the North Cascades, or a combination of the two. The preferred option is the combined use of lethal removal and translocation, which would bolster dwindling native populations of mountain goats in the Cascades while maintaining the simpler and less expensive option of lethal removal when capture is logistically or financially impractical .

Mountain goats were introduced to the area in 1920 by a sportsmen’s group who brought the animals down from Alaska prior to the park’s creation in 1938. Due to isolation, the Olympic Range has markedly less diversity of mammalian fauna than the nearby Cascade Range, and the goats quickly colonized the entire range. The majority of the population lives inside the bounds of the park, but they extend into the Olympic National Forest as well.

The goats’ unfettered grazing and tendency to wallow (aggressively roll around in the dirt destroying any plants in their path) has greatly impacted the flora in the Olympic Range, contributing to soil erosion and destroying habitat for native species. Their affinity for salt, which occurs naturally in their native ranges but not in the Olympics, has led the goats to seek salt from human sweat and urine. This learned behavior has translated into nonchalance and aggression toward hikers, including the death-by-goring of a Washington man in 2010.

The proposed action plan is not the first effort by the park to curb the goat population. In the 1980s, the Park Service relocated 407 Olympic National Park goats, but halted the program due to concerns about employee and animal safety. Following the 2010 hiker death, they instated a program to mitigate the risk posed by hazardous goats on a case-by-case basis, using methods ranging from lethal removal to area closures. A continuation of their current approach to mountain goats is offered in the proposal as a no action alternative.

Despite the fact that the goats are definitively destructive to the Olympic Range’s native species, mountain goat management in Olympic National Park is controversial. It raises questions about the park service’s responsibility to aid species at the expense of others, what qualifies a species as “alien,” and, of course, how to safely and humanely deal with the goats themselves. The public is invited to weigh in on the proposal, which can be read in its entirety here and contextualized here, during a two month comment period ending September 26.

Photo by Lawrence S. Smith, courtesy of USFWS.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Bill
    Reply

    In addition to the measures described in this article, why isn’t the NPS seriously considering the reintroduction of predators, such as the wolf? This would serve to help other imbalances in elk and coyote populations.

  • Mike Flatt
    Reply

    I’m not 100% sure where I land on this one but my first thought is that white people are not native to North America and we too have been quite destructive to the area.

  • Michael Michael
    Reply

    Like human entitlement programs, once implemented, nearly impossible to take away… the same animal lovers who insist on neutering feral cats, as opposed to simply exterminating them, even tho these same cats continue to decimate song bird populations, will scream bloody murder…

  • JJ
    Reply

    Hmm, most of the human visitors aren’t native to the park either (unless they are Native American, from a tribe indigenous to that area of course).

  • DAVID COSSA
    Reply

    THE GOATS OF OLYMPC NATIONAL PARK SAGA
    Back in the 1980s, I remember reading a headline in our local newspaper that stated the mountain goats were not native to the Olympic Mountains and that the Park officials were planning to remove them. So began a decade long theater of the absurd. The Park had to prove three things in order to justify removing such a high order of mammals from a Park it was sworn to protect. One was that the goats were not native. 2. They could not be controlled by any other means than total removal and 3. That they were doing irreparable damage to the alpine ecosystem of the Olympic mountain range
    Now I have some understanding of scientific method, having taken college lab course in both biology and chemistry. So as I read the way the studies were conducted to prove the goats were bad for the Olympics, red flags went up. It just seemed to me that there was a lot of bias in the studies and that a conclusion had been reached – the goats were doing harm – and that evidence had been twisted to support that conclusion. Pictures of areas showing terrain both before and after goats congregated in an area were shown to prove that harm. It just seemed too simple and unnatural to me to deliberately congregate goats around a salt lick, let the salt leach into the soil and then to say this is the fate of Olympic National Park if we don’t eliminate the goats – a large horse pen denuded of vegetation. So when I read that the Park service was holding public meetings on the issue, I decided to go. It soon became apparent that the meetings were to inform the public of a policy already decided and that the public “input” meetings were just a sort of lip service. I never felt so patronized in my life! The attitude was were are the learned scientists and you are the ignorant, emotional public whose opinions are in our goat policy implementation’s way. In short, it was a show for presumed sixth grade intellects
    This went on for several years with the Park Service gaining the support of such organizations as the Sierra Club and the Mountaineers. The National Forest Service that abuts the Park refused to remove their goats as requested to so they would not wander into the Park and damage it.They stonewalled saying they thought the goats were native. Finally the decision was made to move ahead with the goat removal plan and to shoot old Billy right between the eyes, as one member of the outdoor club I belonged to stated, . I was considered a bleeding heart to some and basicially told to take things unemotionally, and just let the NPS do its job
    The Park service then decided to play tricks with statistics. In order to placate the public outcry somewhat, they agreed to remove only half of the goats. But they inflated the number of goats in the Olympic mountains. They claimed 1000 were there instead of the actual 500. So removing half of the fake 1000 was in actuality removing the entire goat population of 500. They were caught in this lie by me at a public meeting and had no valid explanation, and instead quickly changed the subject by saying errors could easily be made in a goat population survey
    But alas for the Park Service, somebody opposed their plan that had just as much money for lawyers as the Park service did and a representative there heard what I had to say about spinning statistics. The Fund for the Animals put a juggernaut into the plan by getting a long time local politician to step in and give a stay of execution to the goats pending an independent scientific review of the park’s conclusions- that the goats were not native and doing irreperable harm top the Alpine Ecosystem of Olympic National Park.
    Over one year later the findings of the independent scientific study came to some conclusions. When the Park read it they rushed to put a headline on their website stating that they were vindicated! The study agrees the goats were not native! So with a heavy heart I downloaded the independent scientific review and prepared for more chortling from my peers. But as I read the study it dawned on me that the Park was actually being condemned by the study, albeit with soothing language
    As to the native issue, the study said that they could not disprove the contention by the Park that the goats were not native, but they noted that does not necessarily mean they were correct in the non native status contention. They said imagine the outcry if sometime in the future, evidence was produced to show the goats to be native after all. Therefore the conclusion was that goat removal should not be decided on the native -non native issue because neither could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt
    The independent study also stated that the contention that the goats were doing irreparable damage to the alpine ecosystem of Olympic National Park to be “unnecessary alarmism”. It further stated that the studies done by the Park Service to prove that “unnecessary alarmism” was, just as I had first suspected, “bad science at its worst”
    And just to put the icing on the cake, one scientist stated that the mountain goats were actually doing more good for those rare plants the park was worried about getting munched or trampled to death, than bad. She noted that just because a plant is eaten or trampled, doesn’t mean that it won’t come back from the roots. She also noted that the sleeping wallows the goats made allowed for rare plant species to get a hold in the otherwise impenetrable mountain heather, so removing the goats would do more harm than good to them
    THAT was the end of that. Not so much as a peep from the Park Service about mountain goat removal since!
    In retrospect it is easy to laugh at the Park’s goat removal policy logic. After all, Goat Rocks wilderness is only 50-75 air miles from the Olympics, and there are ten times the number of goats there than in the Olympics in a far far smaller area — and not a peep about them damaging the nearly identical alpine ecosystem that exists there.
    Yeah I rubbed it into those who insisted the goats be removed, what can I say. Goat killers!

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