Keep distance, don’t urinate: Olympic National Park revises plan in wake of goat-goring death
A mountain goat travels down an Olympic Mountains slope in 2008. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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It’s a new measure park officials are instituting as part of their revised mountain goat action plan.
That plan includes safety-inspired trail closures of two weeks or more and “aversive conditioning” of the animals when they become too aggressive.
The plan, released Thursday by the park, also urges visitors and park staff to keep at least 50 yards distance from all mountain goats regardless of the animals’ behavior.
It was approved Tuesday by park Superintendent Karen Gustin in the wake of the Oct. 16, goring death of Port Angeles resident Bob Boardman, 63, on Switchback Trail near Klahhane Ridge.
It calls for one-week trail closures in areas where goats persistently follow people and repeatedly enter campsites.
It also calls for “approximately” two-week closures when they also exhibit threatening postures when encountered on a trail, and if they will not leave an area without aggressive hazing, such as shouting, arm-waving and throwing rocks to keep them at a distance.
“Closures will be maintained for approximately 14 days, or until no unacceptable goat behavior is observed in an area that has been thoroughly searched in three consecutive patrols covering a period of at least one week,” the plan says.
During those closures, staff will implement “aversive conditioning” such as setting off sirens and compressed air horns, and shooting rubber projectiles and bean bags.
Aversive conditioning will be employed by park staff for all goats that habitually do not move off a trail at a hiker’s approach, even if the animals are easily shooed away.
“The key action to prevent hazardous encounters with mountain goats is to not let them get habituated to human presence,” according to the plan.
The plan includes six levels of response to goat sightings, from solely observation to lethal removal for goats that attack or corner a person.
All six levels include the posting of warning signs as a response.
“If goats are in the area, visitors are going to see signs at one of these levels,” said Louise Johnson, the park’s chief of natural resources management.
Boardman bled to death after a 370-pound male mountain goat followed hi, and gored him in the left thigh.
Boardman — a respected community musician, nurse and diabetes educator — had been hiking with his wife, Susan Chadd, and their friend, Pat Willits, on Switchback Trail, a popular route to Klahhane Ridge near Hurricane Ridge about 17 miles south of Port Angeles.
Other hikers said Boardman died a hero since he positioned himself between the mountain goat and others.
The animal followed within 5 or 6 feet beside or behind Boardman for up to one mile before the goring him, according to the park’s investigation of the incident.
The animal, shot dead the same day by park staff, showed no signs of disease when a necropsy was performed on the carcass, according to the investigation.
Mountain goat warning signs have been posted in the area, known to be roamed by the animals.
“In selected areas of high goat use (e.g. Hurricane Ridge) staff and visitors will be advised to not urinate on trail in backcountry,” the plan says.
“Urine deposits on the trail entice goats to use trail areas, and turn trails into long, linear salt licks.
“In backcountry campsites in goat range, campers will be advised to seek sites 200 feet away from campsites on the trail for urination, or to urinate in the privies.”
Urging that potty breaks not be taken close to trails is “a new concept,” Johnson said.
“We’re trying to get a better understanding of the behavior of mountain goats and their attraction to salt,” Johnson said.
The park wants “to re-instill a pattern of avoidance of humans by goats, and to have them seek salt when and where no humans are present,” according to the plan.
The plan includes inputting goat sightings and behavior data into a park database to spot behavior trends by following a Goat Management Continuum.
Park patrols will be stepped areas in areas where goats are encountered depending on the seriousness of those encounters.
Other than the fatality involving Boardman, no other instances of “hazardous interactions” between goats and humans in Olympic National Park were cited in the report, which was written by park Wildlife Biologist Patti Happe.
She was not available for comment Thursday.
The plan envisions a handout describing mountain goats, the animals’ behavior and recommendations for safe hiking and camping.
Johnson did not know when it would be ready for distribution to park visitors.
Park spokesman Dave Reynolds said the plan will not be made available to the public on the park’s website.
An estimated dozen mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics near Lake Crescent from 1925 to 1929, before the establishment of the park in 1938, according to the plan.
By 1983, there were an estimated 1,300 goats, with 200 estimated on Klahhane Ridge.
More than 325 of the animals were removed in the 1980s, “and the numbers declined significantly,” according to the report.
The latest population estimate — in 2004 — put the number at 300.
Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes has said there have been no reports of aggressive mountain goats in the park this year.
Last month, a Shelton man said he encountered an aggressive mountain goat in Mason County in the Olympic National Forest.
Jim Decker — who was not harmed — said a goat stalked him persistently, in a manner that reminded him of reports of Boardman’s death in the park.
Mike Stoican of Allyn has said he was gored by a mountain goat in the Olympic National Forest near the summit of Mount Ellinor in 1999.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: July 07. 2011 11:27PM