Opinion

Leave Olympic National Park’s mountain goats alone

A mountain goat traverses a slope at Olympic National Park.
A mountain goat traverses a slope at Olympic National Park. National Park Service photo

This summer, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife plan to capture many mountain goats from the Olympic National Park and relocate them to the North Cascades. Those they can’t capture will be shot.

Ravaging the ranks of the only species of its kind in the world would be appalling even if it were based on prudent stewardship, but it’s not. Rather, it’s based on disputed science and peculiar notions of environmental aesthetics.

Reflecting on our environmental stewardship, author Bill Bryson once wrote: “It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.”

The plan concocted to solve the mountain goat problem is a nightmare because relocation is only the first part. According to Olympic National Park Wildlife Branch Manager Patti Happe, they’ll only be able to capture about half of the estimated 600 goats; the others will be shot.

There are three main justifications for this intrusion upon the prerogatives of nature: The mountain goats are not native to the Olympics, they’re harming the local vegetation and they’re dangerous to hikers.

To justify such a nightmarish plot you’d think these justifications would be ironclad, but they are not.

A National Geographic report in 1896 mentions mountain goats on the Olympic Peninsula, indicating they could be native. What’s not disputed is that the goats were introduced to the Olympics way back in 1920.

For almost 100 long years, then, these magnificent creatures have been thriving in the area; indeed, their population is growing about 8 percent per year. Clearly, they are comfortably ensconced in their preferred range of 44 to 63 degrees north latitude.

A second major justification for tormenting the mountain goats is based on an environmental review that accuses the animals of damaging the native vegetation. However, a conservation biologist named Reed Noss concluded that harm to the native vegetation is more likely caused by rain, snow and ice.

Should mountain goats be slaughtered based on a questionable environmental review? Besides, who is ultimately qualified to question why nature made the vegetation so tasty, and so much fun for itchy mammals to roll in?

The third major justification is that mountain goats pose a safety risk. The hiker who was fatally gored back in 2010 was a personal tragedy, but such attacks are so rare that it was the first such recorded incident in Washington state.

Even WDFW biologist Rich Harris acknowledges “fears of killer goats are overblown.” Indeed, hikers themselves seem to appreciate their goat encounters, so much that the WDFW’s website warns people against conditioning goats to be around humans.

In goat years, these creatures have been in Olympic National Park more generations than there have been human generations since the founding of our country. The singular fatal goat attack on a human is an excuse park officials often cite to justify their vindictiveness toward the hardy beasts that they failed to expunge decades earlier.

It seems anti-mountain goat sentiment has long pervaded their groupthink.

Humans have existed for about 0.0001 percent of Earth’s history – barely. We represent only 0.01 percent of known life, but still have managed to destroy about 83 percent of wild mammals.

Let’s not add to that list based upon ill-founded arrogance that Oreamnos americanus doen’t belong in our ecosystem.

It’s time for park officials to end their mountain goat derangement syndrome.

Noel S. Williams, formerly of England, is a 21-year resident of Lakewood, a U.S. Navy veteran, an information technology specialist and an avid hiker.

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