It’s not the first time mountain goats have posed a threat to hikers in Washington. As the weather heats up and more people head outdoors, the forest service is closing some trails in the Olympic National Forest because some mountain goats are getting aggressive.
Due to reports of hostile behavior by the mountain goats that are “not usually aggressive by nature,” an emergency closure was implemented on the north and south ends of Mount Ellinor Trail #812 in the Olympic National Forest.
Wildlife biologist Kurt Aluzas believes this year’s deep snowpack contributed to the animals’ aggression. “Deep snowpack has confined the goats to trailside areas in combinations with seasonably high demand for minerals (salts,) and their habituation to people,” he said in a news release. “There is also the potential that the Nanny goats are being protective of their young.”
There are about 2,000 to 3,000 mountain goats in the state. Their habitat stretches from the northern border through the Cascade Mountains to the southern border. There is also a small pocket in northeast Washington.
“We’re second only to Alaska in terms of how many goats we have,” Donny Martorello, Special Species Section Manager for the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, previously told MyNorthwest.com.
Based on a 2004 mountain goat census in the Olympic National Park and adjacent forest land, there are anywhere between 250 to 320 animals, a population, according to the National Park Service, that hasn’t changed much since the last census in 1997. A new census was underway last summer.
Dave Reynolds, with the National Park Service, said mountain goats aren’t native to the peninsula. They were introduced in the 1920’s for sport.
“It was only about a dozen animals then and the population grew to over 1,000 in the ’80s,” said Reynolds.
The NPS began relocating the mountain goats to native habitats in Washington state through a live-capture program, but Reynolds said that approach has been abandoned because it was too dangerous for park employees.
While the white, furry beasts might look docile in the zoo, the animals can be deadly when approached on a trail or in a campground.
Visitors should keep at least 50 yards away from goats and shouldn’t urinate on trails, according to a mountain goat action plan. The park said the urine creates a long salt lick, attracting the aggressive animals.
The trail closures in Olympic National Forest are expected to last approximately two weeks.
The increased trepidation surrounding mountain goats follows the death of 63-year-old hiker Robert Boardman who was killed in 2010 when an aggressive goat gored him through the thigh.
Last summer, Washington state handed out 13 permits, to trek out to small, rugged, alpine areas in the Cascades or Olympics and track down an aggressive goat between Sept. 15 and Oct. 31.
MyNorthwest.com’s Stephanie Klein contributed to this report.