OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Demanding terrain, hazardous air conditions from wildfire smoke and torrential rain, snow and wind impacted Olympic National Park’s ground-based mountain goat lethal-removal program.
A total of 31 mountain goats were killed by 99 well-qualified volunteers organized in groups of three to six people during three rounds of operations conducted Sept. 9-19, Sept. 22-Oct. 2 and Oct. 5-16, according to the park.
Ten mountain goats were removed in the first round, 18 were culled in the second round and three were removed in the final round.
Nineteen mountain goats were culled from the Chimney Peak/Mount Anderson area, six were killed in the southeastern region of the park, four were culled from Mount Olympus and two from the Bailey Range.
A total of 412 mountain goats have been removed from the Olympic National Park of the 725 estimated on the Olympic Peninsula. Of those, 325 were successfully released into the Cascades during previous translocation efforts in 2018-20.
The plan called for ceasing captures once capture operations were no longer safe or efficient due to the remaining goats residing in terrain that is unsafe for capture operations, according to the park.
Olympic National Park estimated the 99 volunteers, including two who drove cross-country from their homes in Maryland and Virginia, put in 9,000 hours of volunteer service during the operations.
“These folks worked really hard. They put in so much work,” said Patti Happe, Olympic National Park wildlife branch chief.
“From the start, the application wasn’t easy,” she continued. “They maintained communication with us while putting this together during the summer and endured challenging and rigorous conditions out in the field.
“I’m grateful for the level of professionalism that everybody involved exhibited,” she added.
The use of highly skilled, qualified volunteers for ground-based lethal removal was requested by the public in the review process of the Final Mountain Goat Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the park said.
All applications were evaluated and ranked, and more than 100 very highly qualified teams applied, the park said.
A random draw of 40 group applications was taken from that pool. Those teams then were evaluated by staff from the National Park Service and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Twenty-one groups consisting of 118 volunteers were selected on June 1.
By the time the program was implemented, some volunteers were no longer able to participate.
The remaining 20 groups met requirements for physical fitness and passed background checks and a mandatory firearm proficiency evaluation.
COVID-19 tests weren’t required of participants, but volunteers were asked to limit their contact with others for two weeks before they arrived and were not permitted to fly to the area to participate, the park said.
Training was conducted in small groups in a warehouse instead of a classroom, and physical distancing was enforced.
Happe provided more details on two major priorities during the operations.
“The remaining goats are in such inaccessible terrain so we really emphasized during the training that they be safe, that we didn’t want people to get hurt or lost,” Happe said.
“We were really pleased there because there were no injuries, and no groups got lost.
“The second priority was to get close enough to the goats to safely and humanely remove the goats.”
Wildfire smoke impacted line of sight during the initial operation, Happe said.
“In most areas, they were at elevations where they were above it, and it wasn’t as hazardous, but it really impeded their visibility,” she said.
“Those working on the Hood Canal never saw it clear up. Then the air cleared out and we had to deal with torrential rainfall.”
Park Service staff also was stationed in the field to assist volunteers and to explain operations to other hikers.
Volunteers had to prove their proficiency in firing rifles of a minimum .24 caliber using bottle-necked cartridges containing non-lead ammunition.
During qualification testing, sharpshooters were required to group three of five shots in an 8-inch circle at a distance of 200 yards.
“A lot of the shots were taken from much further than that,” Happe said. “There were no wounding losses that I know of. When they shot them, they took them down cleanly.”
Twenty of the 31 carcasses were recovered.
“We tested their DNA to further reconstruct the population of mountain goats and gather data on sex and age structure,” Happe said. “There were only two unknowns that were shot and unrecoverable. One was thought to be a male yearling, but we don’t have certainty.”
Happe monitored groups from Port Angeles.
“My role was to stay nervous throughout the duration,” she joked.
“One of the selection criteria was volunteer experience working with government or a nonprofit dealing with controversial issues and respecting diversity of opinion. And that’s what we had. There were no conflicts with the groups and interactions with the public went well.
“Some of the comments from volunteers were, ‘Thank you for the experience of a lifetime, but I’m never doing it again.’ ”
Lethal removal will switch to aerial operations in 2021.
“What’s next is to finalize plans for next summer through the contracting and selection of a federally approved Aerial Capture Eradication and Tagging of Animals Unit,” Happe said.
“These are sharpshooters, people who are accurate and can safely remove animals as efficiently and humanely as possible.”
Two two-week aerial operations are planned for late July and early September as described in the Final Mountain Goat Management Plan/EIS released in May 2018.
Both the plan and the associated EIS were finalized after an extensive public review process which began in 2014.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be reached at 360-406-0674 or [email protected]