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Of mountain goats and burros

carlson

The National Park Service (NPS), one of the few loved and admired federal agencies, is cruising for a black eye. Set aside that nine months into the Trump Administration the President and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, have yet to name a director for this venerable agency.

Lack of leadership is indeed a problem but the black eye is going to come the Park Service’s way when the public realizes the Park Service has decided the best way to overcome an over-population of mountain goats in Olympic National Park is to start shooting them.

Many Americans have a soft spot for warm and fuzzy animals that look cuddly to them, whether it be mountain goats, wild burros and horses, buffaloes, lynx, wolves or even grizzly bears. Rational thinking goes out the window.

The problem is the goats are consuming too much of the flora and fauna within the park, and are particularly attracted to the salt a person carries around whether it be in the urine discharged next to the trail or the sweat soaked handle of a hiking stick.

Despite their benign look goats can be dangerous also. Attacks on humans are extremely rare but in 2010 a goat gored a 63-year old male severing an artery and then would not allow others to try to assist the hiker who did bleed to death.

The Park Service closed comments on a voluminous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on September 26, 2017. The document appears to favor darting goats from a helicopter, landing the chopper while the goat is tranquilized and moving them across Puget Sound and releasing them in the similar habitat of the North Cascades. However, the plan also allows the NPS to shoot to kill problem goats or those in difficult terrain.

Part of the justification is the fact that the NPS does not believe the goats are natives. They cite stories pointing to the introduction of 12 goats into the park in the 1920s by a hunting group. By the 1990s the goats had grown into the thousands and an open hunting season drew the goat population down to the more sustainable 300 or so. Last year the population was 623 and has been growing at 8% per year. Thus, the goal is to again reduce the number to 300.

A decision is expected in support of the preferred alternative by spring.

Don’t be surprised though if the fuzzy, furry loving Fund for Animals, founded by Cleveland Amory in the early 1970s, doesn’t file suit and seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) that will suspend the program pending a hearing and possible trial.

In 1979 a similar problem existed in the Grand Canyon National Park and at New Mexico’s Bandolier National Monument. The guilty party though was wild burros which had a penchant for finding native American artifacts such as priceless mixing bowls and then stomping them to bits, as well as munching on most of the native grasses.

Since this was the early days of producing impact statements the Park Service did a fairly cursory one to justify its plans to shoot a number of burros. The Fund for Animals filed suit which temporarily stalled the plans. The Park Service then acted on advice from the then Interior Secretary’s office, that it separate out Bandolier, quickly do another EIS, figuring on it escaping notice, and commence shooting the offending burros in Bandolier.

By the time the Fund for Animals realized what had happened the desired number of burros was achieved. This success in Bandolier stands in marked contrast to the Grand Canyon which still is dealing with the burro problem today.

Americans also love birds, even those that are not endangered. Even pigeons that sully statues and are basically an unclean scavenger have a constituency. I found this out the hard way when as Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus’ press secretary I sanctioned and orchestrated a highly visible reintroduction of peregrine falcons into the nation’s capital.

Nests were set up on the Interior Department Building’s roof and a picture of Secretary Andrus holding a peregrine chick with its mother carefully watching while perched on his shoulder made the front page of the Washington Post.

Peregrines of course feast on pigeons. Instead of letters praising the department for the reintroduction of a bird that would help control the pigeon population my office was inundated by angry letters from the pigeon lovers of the world.

Now it’s the turn of the goat lovers. I hope the Park Service is ready.

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