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 would be removed by lethal means.
These activities would remove approximately 90 percent of the mountain goat population, or approximately 625 to 675 mountain goats. The remaining 10 percent would be addressed through ongoing maintenance activities which would 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 has 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 current population is estimated at around 725 mountain goats. If this rate of population growth continues, the population would increase by 45% over the next five years.
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.
Won’t 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 will you capture the mountain goats? Aerial capture operations will be conducted through a contract with a private company that specializes in the capture and transport of wild animals. Mountain goats will be captured using tranquilizer darts or net guns and transported in specially-made slings customized for mountain goats. They will be flown to the staging area at Hurricane Ridge where a team of veterinarians will care for and process the animals.
How will the mountain goats be transported and released? The mountain goats will be transferred to the care of WDFW after they are flown to the staging area at Hurricane Ridge. Once they have been processed by the veterinarians, WDFW will secure the animals in specially-made crates which will be loaded into refrigerated trucks and transported over night to the staging areas in the north Cascades. The animals will then be released the following day. To maximize success, goats will be brought directly to alpine habitats that have been selected for appropriate characteristics. To access these areas, goats will be airlifted in their crates by helicopter.
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. In 2018, mountain goats will only be released in non-wilderness release sites. WDFW plans to release the mountain goats at five selected sites in the Cascades this month. Two release areas are near mountain peaks south of the town of Darrington, on the Darrington District of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS). The others are near Mt. Index, on the Skykomish Ranger District of the MBS, Tower Peak in the Methow area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and the headwaters of the Cedar River Drainage, which is land owned by Seattle Public Utilities.
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?
For 2018, all capture operations will be located within Olympic National Park only. The capture activities are scheduled to occur over a two-week period beginning September 10 and trail closures around Hurricane Ridge will be in effect for visitor and employee safety.
During this first round, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) will only translocate goats from the park to non-wilderness release sites in the Cascades. There will be no additional closures for release operations in the national forests in 2018.
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.