With hopes of preventing another fatal encounter between a hiker and a mountain goat, Olympic National Park officials will urge hikers not to urinate on trails, as the salty deposits in effect become "long linear salt licks."
Bob Boardman, of Port Angeles, Washington, was gored to death by a mountain goat last Oct. 16 on a park trail near Klahhane Ridge some 17 miles south of Port Angeles. The 63-year-old was protecting other hikers from a goat, estimated at 300 pounds, when it
gored him in the thigh and then reportedly stood over him as he bled to death.
In the wake of the incident, the mountain goat was killed and a necropsy was performed on it to determine if there was an underlying medical condition that might have precipitated its behavior. At the same time, park officials, knowing that mountain goats are attracted to salt, immediately began to spread the word to park visitors about not urinating on or near trails or walking away from your backpack or daypack, as sweaty shoulder straps could also lure mountain goats.
In the months since that incident, park managers reached out to wildlife experts for possible insights into the behavior of the mountain goat that killed Mr. Boardman. In the end, the consensus was some mountain goats can become overly brazen in their search for salt. And in Mr. Boardman's incident, the necropsy on the mountain goat showed it was healthy and "in rut," a highly charged condition during the mating season, a possible contributing factor to its aggressiveness.
Last week Olympic Superintendent Karen Gustin signed off on the park's revised Mountain Goat Action Plan. The 27-page document provides a biological overview of goats, discusses their aggressive behavioral postures, and mentions their affinity for salt and mineral licks.
The document also notes that, "Reports of hazardous interactions between goats and humans are extremely rare. In all reported instances, the encounters were between large, mature males in areas where there was a history of both habituation and salt conditioning."
Regarding Mr. Boardman's fatal encounter, the report notes that the area where the goring occurred was highly traveled by both hikers and goats. "There was a history of habituated goats in the area for over 5 years, with reports of a large male goat (or goats) not yielding way to, following, and occasionally being aggressive to hikers for over 3 years," the paper states.
Because of the many goats in the park (the population is estimated at 300, the paper notes), and the fact that they like many of the same areas hikers do, there is a "high potential for goat-human" encounters, the document said.
Because many of the areas that goats inhabit are also popular destinations for park visitors, both in the front country (e.g. Hurricane Ridge) and backcountry (eg. Glacier Meadows), there is a high potential for goat - human interactions in OLYM. Most notable are the many areas where mountain goats are habituated to human presence have also become conditioned to seeking salts from humans. They can be a nuisance along trails and around wilderness campsites where they will persistently seek salt and minerals from human urine, packs and sweat on clothing. They will often paw and dig areas on the ground where hikers have urinated or disposed of cooking wastewater and chew unattended clothing. The nature of goat – human interactions in OLYM can vary widely, ranging from benign (observing goats from several hundred meters away across a ridge) to, from now what we know from the October 2010 fatality, extremely hazardous.
Management alternatives cited in the report range from simply keeping track of mountain goat locations in the park to closing trails to hikers for up to two weeks and, in extreme cases, killing mountain goats that pose threats.
Park staff and visitors also will be asked to get no closer than 150 feet to a mountain goat.
"If goats approach closer, encourage them to leave the area with loud noises, arm waving, snapping plastic bags, and rock throwing," the report says.