Relocate, kill are among options studied for mountain goats

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SEATTLE (AP) — Olympic National Park officials are weighing several options to remove mountain goats from the park, including a plan to capture and relocate as many of the animals as possible and shooting others.

In releasing a draft environmental review Monday, park officials say the plan will allow them to reduce environmental impacts and protect public safety.

Mountain goats, which are not native to Washington's Olympic Peninsula, have long posed an environmental problem for the park. The fatal goring of a hiker in 2010 raised new concerns.

The park's preferred alternative calls for capturing and relocating goats to national forests in the North Cascade Mountains, where mountain goats are native, and then switching to lethal removal when capturing isn't possible.

Three other options include killing the goats using shotguns and high-powered rifles from helicopters; relocating them; or taking no action.

"It's a real plus to be able to move them from the Olympics, where they're not native, to areas of the North Cascades," said Louise Johnson, the park's chief of resources management.

Taking no action means the park would rely on its current plan, which focuses on hazing or killing individual goats that are dangerous.

The park began studying ways to manage the increasing goat population in 2014, four years after Robert Boardman, a 63-year-old hiker, was fatally attacked by a mountain goat. Boardman was trying to protect his wife and a friend when the goat gored him, severing arteries in his thigh.

Park officials say they want to reduce safety risks as the potential for interactions between humans and goats increase.

Goats can be a nuisance along heavily used trails and around wilderness campsites because they seek out salt and minerals from human urine, backpacks and sweat on clothing, according to the park.

Nearly a dozen goats were introduced to the Olympic Mountains in the 1920s, in an apparent effort to establish a hunting population. Hunting was prohibited after the park was established in 1938. By 1983, however, the population numbers grew to more than 1,100.

In the 1980s, park officials used helicopters to capture and remove goats but that program ended over safety concerns to staff. More than 500 goats were removed during that decade.

In 1995, the park considered eliminating the goat population by shooting the animals from helicopters. That plan was later tabled.

A survey last year found that the goat population had more than doubled between 2004 and 2016. More than 600 goats now graze the park's alpine meadows and roam its rocky peaks.

Johnson said the park has been working closely with the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the proposal to capture and relocate goats to Mount Baker Snoqualmie and Okanogan Wenatchee national forests in the North Cascades.

"There's been ongoing conversation," she said. "Everybody is on board."

Some have expressed concerns to the park about stress and other injuries to goats that are relocated. Some have objected to killing the animals.

Tim McNulty with the conservation group Olympic Park Associates favors the goats' removal. He said there's overwhelming evidence that the goats are harming the natural landscape and plant habitat.

"They're clearly non-native, and restoring the integrity of the alpine areas and protecting other animals is much more important than maintaining a non-native goat population," he said.

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