Interactions of goats, man studied at park

Officials suspect more people are visiting Glacier; research will determine effects of tourism on wildlife

Great Falls (Mont.) TribuneJuly 5, 2014 

Summer is travel season and Glacier National Park is a popular destination.

Take a hike at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass, and you’re almost guaranteed to see mountain goats. You’ll probably spot a bighorn sheep or two as well.

The goats often can be found near, or on, the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, and they don’t seem to shy away from visitors.

“We’ve always kind of been a little concerned about the number of people and goats up there,” said Mark Biel, natural resources program manager for Glacier.

Glacier hasn’t had any bighorn sheep or mountain goat attacks. However, in 2010, hiker Robert Boardman of Port Angeles was gored to death by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park.

Glacier National Park — along with the University of Montana, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks — recently launched a study looking at interactions between humans and mountain goats and sheep and how they affect the animals.

“It’s kind of the poster child up there for human-wildlife interactions,” Biel said of Logan Pass.

Last summer, researchers collared six mountain goats on Logan Pass to track their movements. This summer, they hope to collar more goats to bring the total to 20.

That will help biologists find out whether the same goats are hanging out at Logan Pass day after day and year after year. Researchers also will be able to track animals’ movements throughout the day.

Researchers don’t need to collar bighorn sheep because they can tell the animals apart by their horns, Biel said.

Already, each of the six goat collars has given researchers 3,000 data points.

The collars also will help researchers track reproductive data.

“We’re collaring predominately females,” Biel said.

Biel hopes to find out why sheep and goats like Logan Pass. Is it because the crowds of people scare predators away?

“Are they attracted to the area because of the visitors who go up there and go off into the bushes and use the restroom?” Biel asked.

Glacier’s goats and sheep tend to be mineral-deprived, and urine is a great source of minerals.

Researchers also will study human behavior and track visitor numbers at Logan Pass.

“Who’s initiating the interaction?” Biel said. Is it the wildlife or the humans?

Biel suspects the number of people at Logan Pass is increasing.

“What is that increase doing to the wildlife?” he asked. “Is it good? Is it bad? Is it indifferent?”

So far, researchers have noticed people feeding sheep and goats, as well as approaching them to take photos or try to pet the animals.

“They’re not designed to eat pickles and Cheetos,” Biel said.

Biologists also will try some aversive conditioning techniques, such as waving their arms or yelling at animals that get too close to the trail.

They want to see if this scares the animals away and if it does, how long do they stay away?

If you go

The famed Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park opened to vehicle traffic Thursday, but visitors will encounter plenty of snow in the Logan Pass area.

The Logan Pass Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Restroom facilities and potable water at Logan Pass will be available.

Visitors should expect a snow-covered landscape at Logan Pass, park officials said in a news release. Drivers should be aware of snow walls along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and hazardous snow bridges near the Big Drift. Standing or walking on snow along the road is discouraged.

Trails near Logan Pass are covered in snow and visitors should exercise caution when hiking.

Bicyclists are reminded restrictions are in effect on Going-to-the-Sun-Road due to traffic congestion now through Sept. 1. Bicycles are prohibited between Apgar Campground and Sprague Creek Campground from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. In addition, bicycles are prohibited eastbound (uphill) between Logan Creek and Logan Pass from 11 a.m-4 p.m.

For current information on park roads, weather conditions and visitor services, go to.nps.gov/glac/index.htm or call 406-888-7800.

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service