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Count planned to assess Olympic mountain goats - the battle continues

01:07 PM PDT on Sunday, July 9, 2006

Associated Press

PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- Park officials hope a count of mountain goats in the Olympic National Park and neighboring Olympic National Forest will help them better manage the herds.

The surveys are part of a statewide interagency and tribal effort to improve census techniques for mountain goat populations in the state.

This would be the park's fifth goat count since 1990, when biologists believe the population stabilized. The last count in 2004 showed the population between 259 and 320, similar to previous census results in 1997, 1994 and 1990.

With dagger-like black horns and immaculate white coats, most mountain goat herds are deep in the park's craggy, remote interior, where they are rarely seen. The animals normally live in groups of three to eight and are led by a dominant nanny. Older billy goats often live alone except during the fall mating season.

For 20 years conservation groups have advocated for removal of the goats, which are said to be a threat to endangered native plants in the parks alpine areas.

Park officials contend mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Mountains and were introduced from British Columbia and Alaska in the 1920s for hunting and to attract tourists.

Animal-rights activists argue the herds are native, and a Missouri professor in the mid-1990s said fossils support that contention. Others cite published reports of mountain goats observed in the Olympics in the 1890s and 1917.

In the 1980s, goat population swelled to between 1,100 and 1,500. Backpackers reported mountain goats nibbling on their leather boots at night and they would steal food from tourists. The sure-footed animals could be seen cavorting on mountain ledges from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.

The Park Service tried to sterilize the goats and relocate many out of state. Goats in alpine meadows areas were lured with salt licks, then shot with tranquilizer darts and removed in nets.

The program ended, though, when it became too difficult to reach goats that occupied cliff faces.

By 1994, a park census showed the population had dwindled to between 225 and 351.

A year later, a draft environmental impact statement suggested shooting the goats over a three to five year period as a preferred tool for removal.

The plan was supported by Olympic Park Associates, the Sierra Club and Washington Native Plant Society, but the Humane Society of the United States didn't approve.

Clallam and Jefferson counties encouraged the park to find an alternative option, but officials have yet to release a final management plan.

Biologists will spend a total of four days this week and the week of July 24 counting the goats from a low-flying helicopter in ice-free areas above 5,000 feet. Surveys will also take place in the Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Parks during the weeks of July 17 and July 31.




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