Mountain Goat Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
What is the mountain goat management plan/EIS all about and why is it needed?
The plan’s purpose is to allow Olympic National Park to reduce or eliminate the environmental damage done by non-native mountain goats and the public safety risks associated with their presence on the Olympic Peninsula.
What is the plan?
The plan is to reach a zero population level of mountain goats in the park and adjacent Olympic National Forest lands through capture and translocation and then lethal removal. Our top priority is capture and translocation; however, once capture operations become impractical or hazardous due to steep terrain the remaining goats will be removed by lethal means.
These activities will remove approximately 90 percent of the mountain goat population, or approximately 625 to 675 mountain goats. The remaining 10 percent will be addressed through ongoing maintenance activities which will involve opportunistic ground- and helicopter-based lethal removal of mountain goats, with a focus on areas near high visitor use and areas where goats are causing resource damage.
Why can’t fertility control measures be used?
Fertility control would not be effective due to the extreme difficulty in accessing the animals and the fact there is no approved chemical contraception for mountain goats.
Why can’t the park just introduce wolves to take care of the goat population?
Reintroduction of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) would be ineffective in meeting the plan/EIS objectives for two reasons. Wolves are not effective predators on mountain goats. Typically wolves are unable to attack mountain goats because of the terrain they live in. The reintroduction of wolves would have more impact on elk and deer than on goats. In addition, the reintroduction of wolves would require extensive planning, public engagement, and cost and would be controversial. It is not something that is likely to occur in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile the goat population continues to grow.
Why can’t the park use salt blocks for long-term management?
Placing salt blocks strategically to attract mountain goats away from areas of high visitor use or sensitive habitats would not meet the plan/EIS objectives. Mountain goats would continue to impact natural resources and human safety in the park.
Why doesn’t the park just allow public hunting of the goats?
Hunting is illegal in Olympic National Park and allowing public hunting of goats would require Congressional action to change federal law. Doing so would represent a major change to longstanding policy regarding hunting in national parks.
Doesn’t Olympic National Park already manage mountain goats?
Yes, the 2011 Mountain Goat Action Plan addresses mountain goat behavior in visitor use areas and seeks to minimize potential for hazardous goat-human encounters. While this plan addresses individual mountain goats and their behavior, it does not address mountain goat impacts on natural resources in the park.
Does this plan mean I can look forward to seeing more mountain goats (or having more hunting opportunities) in the Cascade Mountains?
Over time we anticipate that mountain goat populations in the National Forests of the North Cascades will increase, enhancing the natural value of these ecosystems and providing additional opportunities for viewing mountain goats in their native habitats. As local populations increase to the point where they can be sustainably hunted, WDFW anticipates being able to provide additional hunting opportunities.
What is the current population of goats in the Olympic Mountains? How have the numbers changed over time?
The non-native mountain goat population of the Olympic Mountains more than doubled over the past 12 years, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released in 2016. The population in 2016 was estimated to be greater than 620 mountain goats. Based on the calculated average annual growth rate of 8% from 2004 to 2011, the population was estimated at around 725 mountain goats before capture and translocation operations began in September 2018. If the rate of population growth were to continue, the population would increase by 45% over the next five years. Update: 326 mountain goats were removed from the national park and national forest population over the three capture and translocation operations from 2018-2019.
What is the current status of goats in the Cascade Mountains?
In Washington, as in most all jurisdictions with mountain goats, harvest was excessive, and likely the most significant factor leading to population declines. About 20 years ago, management agencies began adopting a more biologically-based approach to goat hunting, resulting in much more conservative limits.
How do you know that goats are not native to the Olympic Mountains but are native to the Cascades?
The Olympic Mountains have long been geographically isolated from the Cascade mountain range. Consequently, several mountain-dwelling species that are found in the Cascades were never able to colonize the Olympics–these species include pika, bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, and mountain goats. Historical newspaper stories and other records recount the release of approximately 12 mountain goats to the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Crescent from 1925 to 1929, prior to establishment of the park. An independent review of mountain goat management in Olympic National Park, conducted by the Conservation Biology Institute, concluded “the preponderance of evidence supports the view that the mountain goat has never been native to the Olympic Peninsula” and establishes that the probability is low that mountain goats could have colonized the Peninsula naturally.
What kind of impacts do goats cause on the Olympic Peninsula?
Mountain goats threaten visitor safety and damage the unique vegetation of the Olympic Mountains. Because many of the areas inhabited by mountain goats are popular destinations for park and national forest visitors, there is high potential for mountain goat-human interactions. Mountain goats can be a nuisance along trails and around wilderness campsites where they persistently seek salt and minerals from human urine, packs, and sweat on clothing. They often paw and dig areas on the ground where hikers have urinated or disposed of cooking wastewater. The nature of mountain goat-human interactions can vary widely, from humans observing mountain goats from several hundred meters away across a ridge, mountain goats approaching visitors, hazing events and hazardous interactions such as the October 2010 fatality of a park visitor on a popular hiking trail.
Will mountain goats cause the same problems in the Cascades?
No. Because mountain goats are native to the Cascades Range, the area is more suited to them.
Capture and Translocation
How do you capture the mountain goats? Aerial capture operations are conducted through a contract with a private company that specializes in the capture and transport of wild animals. Mountain goats are captured using immobilizing darts or net guns and transported in specially-made slings customized for mountain goats. They are flown to the nearest staging area where a team of veterinarians will care for and process the animals. For 2020, there will only be one staging area for the final capture and translocation operation. The staging area will be located on Hurricane Hill Road beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park. The staging areas are closed to public access.
How will the mountain goats be transported and released? The mountain goats are transferred to the care of WDFW after they are flown to the staging area. Once they have been processed by the veterinarians, WDFW will secure the animals in specially-made crates which are loaded into refrigerated trucks and transported to the staging areas in the north Cascades. The animals are then released the following day. To maximize success, goats will be airlifted in their crates by helicopter directly to alpine habitats that have been selected for appropriate characteristics.
What is the purpose of translocating goats to the Cascades?
The objective of translocating mountain goats from the Olympic Peninsula to selected areas within the North Cascades forests is to bolster the native populations, particularly in regions where habitat conditions are appropriate but native populations have remained low. The long-term goal is to provide demographic and genetic connectivity, such that the North Cascades forests will support close to the number of goats controlled by its habitat capability. Relocating goats to the Cascades preserves wilderness character by conserving a species indigenous to the wilderness areas where a majority of the release sites are located.
Where will goats be released?
All release sites are at high elevations and are within areas currently or historically occupied by mountain goats. For the summer 2020 operation, WDFW plans to release the mountain goats at 12 sites in the North Cascades national forests this round. Nine sites are in the Darrington, Preacher Mountain, Mt. Loop Highway, and Snoqualmie Pass areas of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Three release sites are in the Chikamin Ridge, Box Canyon, and Tower Mountain areas of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
How did you decide where to release the translocated goats?
Sites selected for release in the national forests of the North Cascades were subject to an extensive analysis that integrated several factors including habitat quality, past history of goat populations, current goat numbers, and connectivity to other goat populations. An inter-agency interest group consisting of tribal, USFS, WDFW, and other biologists selected the release sites. The group also looked at the logistics of transporting mountain goats, as well as minimizing the short-term impacts to recreationists.
How will capture and release operations impact visitor access and recreation in the park and forests?
Hurricane Hill Road, beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot, will be closed to all access during the operational periods. The closure will be in place beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center through August 9 for mobilization, capture operations, and demobilization. This closure includes the Hurricane Hill Trail, Little River Trail, and Wolf Creek Trail.
No closures will occur in Olympic National Forest or national forests in the Cascades for release activities.
Why are helicopters needed for these operations? Isn’t there a quieter option?
Over 95% of the goats in the Olympic Peninsula occur in remote, rugged terrain that is extremely steep and far away from roads and trails. There is simply no other way to get close to enough goats for capture and transport.
Will I be able to watch live capture and release operations?
Visitors who happen to be in the area during live capture operations may witness project implementation activities.
Will moving more goats into the Cascades increase danger to hikers?
All native wildlife can potentially be a danger to humans, and mountain goats should always be treated as potentially posing a risk to human safety. However, mountain goats generally fear and keep their distance from humans. Hikers using common sense most often can enjoy viewing mountain goats with little chance of an unpleasant interaction. However, some mountain goats on the Olympic Peninsula have become conditioned to seek a reward (generally salt from bodily fluids) from humans. Goats that we believe have become aggressive will not be translocated. Further, goats that have lost their natural wariness will be translocated only to locations with few human visitors, where they are likely to regain their typical fear of humans.
Mountain goats can become particularly habituated to people where 1) goat habitat is excellent and particularly concentrated, and 2) human use is particularly heavy. These conditions exist in Olympic National Park, Mt. Ellinor on the Olympic National Forest, and the Enchantments section of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Elsewhere, goats are tolerant of humans and allow observation from a respectful distance, but have not caused appreciable concern. WDFW has partnered with USFS staff to provide an ongoing system of monitoring public reports of mountain goat interactions with people. WDFW has also developed a step-down plan with the Olympic National Forest that guides a joint response to mountain goats reported by the public as being a nuisance. These responses include simply monitoring, to lethal removal, depending on the severity of the situation.