Quick! Name non-native invasive species in the Olympic Mountains; species that have altered the natural environment. Man, obviously! How about Scotch Broom, purple loosestrife, Robert’s geranium and mountain goats? Mountains goats? Yes, mountain goats, those furry lovable alpinists and members of the cattle family (Bovidae). They don’t belong here.
The mountain goat, indigenous to the Cascades and Rockies was never native to the Olympic Mountains, isolated by the Puget Trough. In the 1920s, before the establishment of the Olympic National Park, a dozen goats from Canada were introduced into the Olympics for hunting purposes. In 1938 the national park was established prohibiting hunting in much of the Olympic Range. The goat population exploded, reaching 1,500 by the early 1980s.
Foraging on plants endemic only to the Olympic Mountains (and never had adapted to munching mountain goats) the furry invasives were now threatening fragile alpine ecosystems. The Park Service called for their removal. Big problem, though; the public loved coming up to Hurricane Ridge to watch them. Park plans for the goats’ removal were often controversial and contentious, calling for such measures as allowing a hunt and sterilizing them. Ultimately a removal program began in which over 400 of the critters were tranquilized and helicopter-evacuated!
The program while successful in its objective (mountain goat removal) fell under budget cuts and some loud (and often misguided) criticism and backlash. Now, let me make this clear. I love Mountain Goats too, but in their natural environment. I love lions and rhinos as well. But in Africa. Not Washington.
Current estimates for invasive goats in the Olympics have recently exploded and now stand somewhere around 600. Meanwhile the native goat population in Washington’s Cascades has plummeted from 9,000 in 1960 to around 3,000 today. It seems to me, like two problems can be solved pretty easily here. Hey you Olympic Goats! They have a whole wilderness area named after you guys in the South Cascades. How about if we help you move? I hear the views are great and the meadows simply succulent.
Olympic National Park has finally begun to address this ecological imbalance once more and they would like your input. Click here to weigh in.
And a safety reminder about Olympic Goats
Olympic mountain goats are non-native and tend to be more aggressive than their Cascades’ counterparts. Always keep a safe distance from them (at least 150 feet). Never follow or crowd them. If a goat approaches you, slowly move away allowing for it to safely pass. If it displays aggressive behavior or continues to approach you, yell at it and throw rocks. Goats love salt—never feed them or let them lick your skin or gear. When urinating, go far away from trails and campsites.
Heading to the Olympic Peninsula? Be sure to pick up a copy of my Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (Mountaineers Books). This book, the best selling hiking guide to the Olympic Peninsula has just recently been updated and expanded and now includes 136 hikes–many not spotlighted in other guides.