For the second summer in a row, mountain goats will be taking helicopter rides out to their new homes away from the Olympic Peninsula.
Beginning on July 8, a number of state and federal agencies will come together in an effort to capture and relocate mountain goats, which are not native to the Olympic Peninsula, to the North Cascades, where they are a native species. The caprine capture efforts will take place within both the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest.
Mountain goats, which aren’t technically goats at all, were introduced to the Olympic Peninsula by government agencies in the 1920s. Since that time, they have acclimated a little too well and their numbers have grown exponentially. A goring death of a hiker several years ago brought the issue to the forefront of the public, wildlife managers and legislators. An estimate in May 2018 put the total Olympic Peninsula population at 725 animals.
“A project of this magnitude would be impossible without our partner agencies and the expertise and cooperation of hundreds of people,” said Olympic National Park Wildlife Branch Chief Dr. Patti Happe, in a press release. “The interagency collaboration and the support from everyone involved is extraordinary.”
The action, which includes roundup helicopters and tranquilizer darts, is also supported by numerous Native American tribes including the Lummi, Muckleshoot, Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip and Upper Skagit. In September of 2018, a two-week effort to remove mountain goats successfully removed 115 animals. A third round of removal efforts is planned for Aug. 19-30.
“Mountain goat relocation will allow these animals to reoccupy historical range areas in the Cascades and increase population viability,” added Jesse Plumage, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, in the release.
While mountain goats have returned to several areas of the North Cascades over the years, the animals are still missing in many parts of their historic range area. Mountain goats are attracted to salt deposits that can lead to interactions with hikers who unintentionally create an invisible trail of salt along popular routes by sweating and urinating. Experts believe that those conflicts will be diluted in the North Cascades due to its nature.
“The North Cascades has natural salt licks, while the Olympic Peninsula has virtually none,” explained Dr. Rich Harris, a WDFW mountain goat specialist, in the release. “We’d expect salt hunger to be lower in goats that have natural sources available to them.”
Several roads and recreation areas will be temporarily closed during the removal efforts. Hurricane Hill Road, beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot, will be closed to all access during operations. However, Hurricane Hill Road will remain open up to Picnic Area A on July 5 and July 6 during the setup of the staging area. The road will then be closed beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center again from July 7-20. That closure includes the Hurricane Hill Trail, Little River Trail and Wolf Creek Trail. The Klahhane Ridge area will also close temporarily on July 8-9. Elsewhere, the area of Seven Lakes Basin/High Divide/ Heart Lake/ Hoh Lake/ to Cat Basin will be closed to hiking and overnight camping July 7-11. The area of Lake of the Angels, accessed from Putvin Trail #813 off Forest Road 25 in Olympic National Forest, will be closed at mile 3 at the park boundary from July 9-18.
Access will also be impacted in the Cascade range when the mountain goats are released. On the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, land adjacent to the roadway at the junctions of Forest Service Roads 49 and 4920 will be closed from July 9-21. The Mount Ellinor trails system and Forest Road 2419 to Mount Ellinor, as well as Forest Road 2464 leading to Forest Road 2419, will be closed to the public from August 18-30.