Washington’s Olympic National Park is so overrun with non-native mountain goats the National Park Service has elected to buy 375 of the majestic ungulates one-way airfare (via helicopter) to the North Cascades where they are native.
The “effort will relieve issues with non-native mountain goats in the Olympics while bolstering depleted herds in the northern Cascades,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.
Mountain goats can disturb vegetation that did not evolve in their presence, and, habituated to hikers and campers, can mix with humans with poor results for both species. The goats will gather in the presence of human sweat, attracted to the mineral scent in tents, backpacks, clothes, on people. Tensions can erupt. Back in 2010, a hiker was even killed after being gored by a mountain goat in the Olympics. So park authorities have decided it’s long past time for them to go.
The animals were introduced into the park back in the 1920s where their numbers have grown steadily since. They’ve even been the subject of removal by air before.
For this operation, wildlife biologists sit perched in helicopters, armed with net guns and tranquilizer darts which they can fire into goats from above. Once sedated, the scientists give the goats a checkup and prepare them for their journey, which involves a helicopter, ferry, and truck transport on the way to their new homes. Many of them will be fitted with collars for future monitoring. They’re blinfolded and further sedated to keep them calm during their first-ever flights.
“We’ve got a lot of unoccupied habitat out there right now [the North Cascades] because of past hunting pressure and in some cases timber management has had some impact on winter habitat,” said USFS biologist Jesse Plumage. “So we’re trying to put them in places where they haven’t recovered yet since we stopped hunting them. The idea is to grow it back to historic levels.”
It’s expected to take about a year to capture and move the hundreds goats out of the park, saving them from a fate that would likely have involved culling.