By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Weather permitting, a helicopter census of mountain goats will begin Monday in the first tabulation of the potentially aggressive animals since 2004.
The aerial count in Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest will last up to 10 days, park wildlife biologist Patti Happe said Tuesday.
“We’re shooting for six or seven mornings of flying,” she said.
The helicopter will operate from a landing area at Deer Park southeast of Port Angeles, which may cause traffic delays, park spokesman Dave Reynolds said.
The survey will be funded under a $40,000 National Park Service grant and will be conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The census is essential, Happe said, to manage a goat population that can be so aggressive that the park last week issued strict guidelines for human-goat interaction and for how the park deals with overly intrusive goats that are seen as potentially dangerous.
“How can you manage a population unless you know how many you have and if they are decreasing or increasing and how they are distributed?” Happe said.
The park’s revised 2011 Goat Action Management Plan, issued last week, includes advice for hikers to stay at least 50 yards from all mountain goats and to urinate 200 feet from trails to avoid attracting the animals, which are drawn to the waste and can become aggressive when territorial.
The plan, prompted by the Oct. 16 goring death of Bob Boardman of Port Angeles on Switchback Trail near Klahhane Ridge, can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/pdngoats.
The goat that killed Boardman was shot dead the same day.
The population of goats in the Klahhane Ridge area has fluctuated over the years.
In the last count in 2004, when the population was estimated at between 259 and 320, no mountain goats were sighted at Klahhane, Happe said.
The first subsequent report of mountain goats in the Klahhane area was in 2005, when someone reported feeding them, she said.
“Animals move, so we don’t know where the concentration is right now,” Happe said.
But in 1983, more than 200 occurred there, the highest density population anywhere in the park and more than 15 percent of the more than 1,300 counted.
The park subsequently mounted a live-capture and removal operation in the 1980s that focused on Klahhane Ridge.
There were 325 animals removed from the population, “and the numbers in the park declined significantly,” the report said.
Numerous instances of human-goat interaction were reported in the Klahhane Ridge area in 2010, according to park records.
The mountain goat census will be conducted daily, including weekends, by Northwest Helicopters of Olympia.
Northwest’s MD-500 helicopter will fly “a couple hundred feet, maybe more,” above the ground and “try to check to see if they are male or female or adults or the young ones,” chief pilot Doug Uttecht said Tuesday.
“We try not to excite them to the point where they start moving and running,” he said.
“Once we see that, we’ll just back off and move away.”
Preliminary census results will be released in August, Reynolds said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.