76 goats relocated from Olympics to Cascades

Brennan LaBrie
blabrie@ptleader.com
Posted 7/31/19

Seventy-six non-native mountain goats were deported from the Olympic Mountains to the Cascades during the first of two capture and trans-relocate periods this year.

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76 goats relocated from Olympics to Cascades

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Seventy-six non-native mountain goats were deported from the Olympic Mountains to the Cascades during the first of two capture and trans-relocate periods this year.

In addition to the 76 non-natives returned to their natural habitat, five were killed in capture, one died in transport, three were euthanized, and four were “lethally removed” because they could not be captured safely.

In comparison, out of 115 goats captured last year, nine died in capture, transport, or by euthanization, while six lone kids were sent to a zoo.

The teams involved in the operation were expecting the capture process to be more challenging this year, as many of the more docile goats in open areas had been captured last year, and so the team of ”muggers,” as they’re called, have had to fly over more rugged areas to capture goats more suspicious of humans and who are getting wise to this operation, according to Dr. Patti Happe, Wildlife Branch Chief at Olympic National Park.

Between this year and the first capture period in September of last year, 174 goats have now been captured. This operation has been in the works since 2014, when the National Park Service launched a public review process to examine the rapidly growing goat population in the park, culminating in the 2018 final Mountain Goat Management Plan, in which the NPS outlined their intent to remove the entire population. At that time, the population was estimated to be at 725, and reaching 1,000, as they did in the 1980s before the first removal operation, would wreak “ecological mayhem” Happe said.

The goats’ tendency to “wallow” in the dirt damages native flora and disrupts the activity of native animals. In addition, the goats’ cravings for salt conflicts with the lack of salt licks in the Olympics, and so they turn to humans, a reliable source of salt, for their needs. The Cascades, on the other hand, are rich in salt, and have seen decreasing numbers of their native goats in many areas. The death of former Port Townsend resident Bob Boardman in 2010 from a billy goat attack had a role in the NPS’s decision to launch this operation.

The operation is being done in partnership between the NPS, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Forest Service. Tribal biologists, veterinarians and volunteers from across the Northwest help examine and treat the goats at the two staging areas on Hurricane Ridge and the Hamma Hamma region in the south Olympic National Forest. Leading Edge Aviation is the helicopter contractor whose teams capture and transport the goats.

A team of muggers sets out to locate goats in a specific area, and upon sighting one, disable the goat with either an opioid-laced dart or a net gun. The muggers are lowered down, where they tie the goats into slings, up to three at a time. The goats are flown to a staging area, dropped into a truck and transported to a processing area, where they are examined, given antibiotics, antiparasitics and other drugs, and the adults GPS tracking bracelets. The goats are then given a long-term sedative and placed into their own box, and are transported by truck to the Cascades, where they are once again helicoptered to a selected release area. The release areas are selected based on their current lack of goats, their quality of habitat, proximity to a staging area, and distance from human activity.

Although this year’s translocation periods were scheduled for the summer to avoid the foul weather they were met with last September, weather nonetheless caused the capture crew to not be able to fly on two days, and to end several other days early.

A second capture and translocation period is set to begin in mid-August, with efforts focused on Mount Ellinor in Olympic National Forest. The success of this year’s operation will determine if it is repeated in 2020. After that, the current plan is to destroy the remaining goats who cannot be captured.

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