By Peninsula Daily News staff
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Hikers feeding mountain goats and allowing the animals to lick their sweat-stained gear for salt have prompted Olympic National Forest officials to keep closed a popular trail in Mason County northwest of Hoodsport.
The upper and lower portions of Mount Ellinor Trail No. 812 have been off-limits since early July after rangers received a number of reports of goats that have become habituated to hikers and aggressive "in their quest for handouts and salt."
Up to 20 mountain goats have been observed in the Mount Ellinor area, including mother goats with seven kids.
Olympic Forest rangers have ordered hikers to stay away while they try to teach the animals not to approach people.
The rangers are throwing rocks at the goats, shooting them with paintballs, sounding horns and spraying chemical deterrents.
Acting Hood Canal Ranger District Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said in a statement:
“We will reopen the trail as soon as it is safe, but we need to give our strategy time to work.
"People need to become a part of the solution and not the problem; they can do this by not feeding the goats or allowing them to lick salt from their skin or backpacks.
“Co-existence is a two-way street. We want people to keep the goats wild. The goats also need to be taught to respect our personal space and not to approach people."
Violating the closure order could bring a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.
Fatal goat attack
Last week a federal judge dismissed most of a widow's wrongful-death suit against the federal government after her husband was killed by a mountain goat while hiking in Olympic National Park two years ago.
Robert Boardman, 63, of Port Angeles was trying to protect his wife and other hikers when the 370-pound male mountain goat fatally gored him in the thigh on a trail at Klahhane Ridge on Oct. 16, 2010.
The goat is believed to have been one that harassed hikers in the park for years, and although staff tried various techniques for scaring it off and posted signs warning of the danger, they didn't take steps that might have prevented Boardman's death — killing or relocating the animal.
The judge ruled that the park's actions were immune from lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they involved an exercise of discretion related to public policy.
The widow plans to proceed to trial with the portion of her suit that was not struck down by the judge — that “employees of the park failed to act with dispatch [to save Boardman's life]."
Boardman's death was the first fatal animal attack in the history of Olympic National Park, which was established in 1938.
The attack against Boardman two years ago occurred about 75 miles northeast of Mount Ellinor. Olympic National Forest surrounds the national park.
There are about 2,000 to 3,000 mountain goats in Washington state, including about 400 in the Olympic Mountains. They have razor-sharp horns and hooves, and furry bodies covered by long, white hair.
There are no current trail closures in Olympic National Park because of mountain goat activity.
Last September, a ranger operating under new mountain goat management rules shot and killed a mountain goat that had refused to leave a campsite near Olympic National Park's Upper Royal Basin for three days.
After Boardman's death, park rangers warned hikers to keep at least 50 yards away from goats and not to urinate on trails.
The park said the urine creates a long salt lick, attracting the animals.