Mountain goats get a chopper ride as relocation from Olympics begins
Keep an eye out for refrigerated box trucks driving near Olympia in the next couple weeks — they just might be carrying mountain goats from the Olympic Peninsula.
Round three of mountain goat translocation began Friday, according to the agencies leading the move. The National Park Service, Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), and US Forest Service are partnering in the effort, which is supported by area tribes, according to a press release announcing the new round.
The first round of moving goats from the Olympic Mountains to the northern Cascade Mountains launched in September 2018. Since then, 174 mountain goats have been moved, according to the press release.
The dual goal of the move get the goats out of an area where they are not native and causing problems to a place where they are native and the population is depleted.
“It’s a dual benefit,” Olympic National Park spokesperson Penny Wagner told The Olympian. “They’re non-native here. There are populations that have been depleted in the Cascades. By translocating these goats there, we can help to re-establish and assist in connecting those depleted populations.”
In the Olympics, the goats cause damage to the vegetation and threaten visitor safety, according to the National Park Service website. Mountain goats — who were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s — are known to follow hikers for the salt in their sweat, urine, and food, the agencies’ press release reads.
The animals are less likely to stalk hikers in the north Cascades, where hikers aren’t as densely located, Rich Harris, a department of Fish and Wildlife manager who specializes in mountain goats, said in the press release. Plus, the higher number of natural salt licks in the north Cascades should curb their appetite for salt in the first place.
Actually moving the animals gets complicated: A contracted, private aviation company sends a helicopter crew, which uses “immobilizing darts” and net guns to capture mountain goats and transport them in aerial slings to staging areas where they’re cared for by veterinarians, according to the press release.
From there, WDFW spokesperson Samantha Montgomery told The Olympian the goats are put into specially made crates, which are then loaded into refrigerated trucks that keep the animals cool on their trip to the Cascades.
Depending on which of two staging areas the goats are coming from this round, trucks will likely either drive from Olympic National Park on U.S. 101 and across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge before heading toward Snoqualmie Pass or they will drive down to Olympia and up toward Tacoma before heading to the pass, Montgomery told The Olympian.
Wildlife biologists greet them on the other side, according to Montgomery, then at least some go up into the air again.
“To maximize success, goats are airlifted in their crates by helicopter directly to alpine habitats that have been selected for appropriate characteristics,” according to the press release.
The hope for this round, Montgomery told The Olympian, is to move about 100 goats between Aug. 16 and 30. The actual amount captured may vary, though, depending on the weather.
Plus, Olympic National Park spokesperson Penny Wagner confirmed that some goats in areas where captures have happened before have “gotten wise” and might avoid the area when they hear a chopper.
Traveling to the peninsula soon? Be aware of these planned, goat-related closures:
Mount Ellinor area: the Mount Ellinor trails system, Forest Road 2419 to Mount Ellinor, and Forest Road 2464 to Forest Road 2419 will be closed from the evening of Aug. 18 to the morning of Aug. 30.
Olympic National Park: Hurricane Hill Road — including Hurricane Hill Trail, Little River Trail, and Wolf Creek Trail — will be closed beyond the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center from Aug. 16 to Aug. 30. Wagner told The Olympian the visitor center itself, the parking lot, and the hikes in that area aside from the ones mentioned above will still be open.
According to the National Park Service’s website about the effort, the plan is to “reach a zero population level” of mountain goats in Olympic National Park and National Forest through relocation and then lethal removal, once capture is impractical or hazardous.
The press release this week said capture and translocation may continue into 2020 “depending on this year’s results.”