People of Northwest Public Radio
Olympic Mountain Goats
Tue October 2, 2012
Rangers Say Hazing Of Aggressive Mountain Goats Is Working
Forest and park rangers on Washington's Olympic Peninsula say they've reduced the risk from aggressive mountain goats. They did it by hazing the animals for much of the summer. Olympic National Forest reopened a popular hiking trail Monday. Correspondent Tom Banse has the story from Mount Ellinor, near Hoodsport, Washington.
For the past three months, the steep trail up Mount Ellinor has been closed. The reason for that is that multiple hiking parties reported feeling threatened by insistent mountain goats.
One of the few people allowed to go past the closure signs was U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Kurt Aluzas. He's been a regular here.
"I just basically took an old tin can, threw some pebbles in it and put some tape on top," Aluzas says. "It makes a racket there."
Aluzas' assignment this summer has been to reeducate the roughly 30 mountain goats in the area to be afraid of people.
"A progression might be me starting to talk to the animal, 'Hey, hey, hey!' and 'Hey! Hey get out of here. Go!'" Aluzas explains. "Really yelling loud, maybe shaking the can at the same time, maybe doing the [noisemaking garbage] bag, throwing rocks."
More rarely, he's escalated to a slingshot. The most obstinate students get plunked by a paintball gun.
"The ones I have interacted with, it does seem to have made a difference," Aluzas says. "But it's going to take time to get around to all of them. Some of them are going to need repeated encounters to get the point across."
Olympic National Park rangers are using similar tools to drive mountain goats away from their most popular trails. Two years ago this month, a Port Angeles man bled to death after he was gored by a billy goat in the national park.
Forest Service district ranger Dean Yoshina says visitors have to do their part.
Yoshina: "We don't want them to feed [the goats]. We don't them to be letting the goats lick them. We don't want folks letting the goats walk up to them, and mingle around them and surround them."
Also, if you have to urinate, go at least 50 yards off the trail. Goats seek the salt in human pee.
Hiker Doug Knight of Bainbridge Island, Washington has eagerly awaited the reopening of this trail. He passed new signs on the way up, including one that reads, "This is Not a petting zoo."
"I just intimidate them if I can if they're trying to intimidate me," Knight says. "If they get out of the way, I'll just keep going or I'll go around if there's a way around them."
Knight wouldn't mind seeing a special hunting season. The shaggy white mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Mountains. They were introduced in the 1920's for hunters.
But here in the short term, rangers are relying on periodic hazing and public education to keep the peace.