Gruff goats shut popular Olympic National Forest trail

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Stubborn goat spotted in park
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — It’s been a quiet season for aggressive mountain goat activity in Olympic National Park — except for this week.
“The only report we’ve had this season is of a goat that would not get off the trail in the Staircase area,” park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said Wednesday in an email.
“This happened within the past two days,” she said.
“The goat eventually did get off the trail and has not been reported since.”
Maynes did not provide further details and did not return calls for more information.
HOODSPORT — Reports of aggressive mountain goats have prompted Olympic National Forest officials to close a popular trail on Mount Ellinor in Mason County for at least two weeks.

The emergency closure, effective Tuesday, affects both the upper and lower portions of Mount Ellinor Trail No. 812.

Stephanie Neil, recreation manager for the Hood Canal Ranger District of Olympic National Forest, told the Peninsula Daily News that in the past two weeks, rangers have received a number of reports of goats coming within 10 feet of hikers.

“Nobody has been hurt by the goats. But a number of people have felt threatened.”

She said Tuesday that rangers will re-evaluate the closures in about two weeks.

“We want to keep the closure as short as possible, but we also want people to be safe.”

Olympic National Forest wildlife biologist Kurt Aluzas said that although mountain goats are powerful and inquisitive, they generally aren't aggressive.

He said the recent behavior likely is related to the snowpack that has confined the goats to trailside areas close to people.

There is also the possibility that female goats are protecting their young, he added.

Violating the closure order could bring a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

On Oct. 16, 2010, a 63-year-old hiker from Port Angeles, Robert Boardman, was fatally gored in the thigh by a 370-pound mountain goat in Olympic National Park.

It occurred in a mountainous area about 75 miles northeast of Mount Ellinor. Boardman's widow and stepson have filed a suit against the National Park Service.

It was the first fatal animal attack in the history of Olympic National Park, which was established in 1938.

There are no current trail closures in Olympic National Park because of mountain goat activity, Neil said.

Mount Ellinor is in the Mount Skokomish Wilderness. The trail provides sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.

The trailhead is about 18 miles northwest of Hoodsport and about 25 miles north of Lake Cushman. The lower trailhead lies at an elevation of 2,600 feet.

The nearby Upper Big Creek and Mount Rose trails remain open.

After Boardman's attack, officials of Olympic National Forest — which surrounds much of Olympic National Park — said that the only known aggressive mountain goat encounter in the national forest happened in 1999.

Mike Stoican of Allyn said he was attacked and gored by a mountain goat near the summit of 5,944-foot Mount Ellinor.

“The doctor said I was very lucky,” Stoican told the Peninsula Daily News in 2010.

He said he was cut in the thigh by the mountain goat's horns minutes after he left a group of friends on the top of Mount Ellinor.

“It missed the femoral artery by about an inch,” Soitcan had said.

In June 2011, Jim Decker of Shelton said he was hiking in a nearby area, on the Mount Rose trail near Lake Cushman, when he encountered a mountain goat that stalked him persistently before finally backing off.

There are about 2,000 to 3,000 mountain goats in Washington state. They have razor-sharp horns and hooves, and furry bodies covered by long, white hair.

Their habitat stretches from the northern border through the Cascade Mountains to the Oregon border.

They were introduced into the Olympic Mountains from Alaska in the 1920s for hunters. About 400 mountain goats are in Olympic National Park.

After Boardman's death, park rangers warned hikers to keep at least 50 yards away from goats and not to urinate on trails.

The park said the urine creates a long salt lick, attracting the animals.

Last September, a ranger operating under new mountain goat management rules shot and killed a mountain goat that had refused to leave a campsite near Olympic National Park's Upper Royal Basin for three days.

The federal government has denied it was negligent in the 2010 death of Boardman and said his family is not entitled to damages.

The assertions are contained in U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan's Jan. 9 answer to a Nov. 1, 2011, wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Boardman's wife, Susan Chadd; his stepson, Jacob Haverfield; and Boardman's estate against the U.S. government in federal district court in Tacoma.

The lawsuit, which asks for a judgment of an unspecified amount that “will justly compensate them for their losses,” says Olympic National Park was negligent for not removing the mountain goat from the park after it repeatedly harassed and threatened hikers on Klahhane Ridge's well-traveled Switchback Trail, where Boardman was killed.

“The injuries and damages alleged in plaintiffs' amended complaint were not actually or proximately caused by or contributed to by any negligent or wrongful act or omission of any agent, employee or representative of the United States,” Durkan said in her filing.

“Plaintiffs' injuries and damages, if any, were caused by their own negligent acts or omissions, wrongdoing or failure to exercise due care on their part.”

Damages will be determined at trial, a date for which has not been set.

Claims filed by the family last summer with the federal government, which denied the claims, totaled more than $10 million.

Park officials have claimed they cannot identify the mountain goat that killed Boardman as the mountain goat that the park has referred to as Klahhane Billy and that is repeatedly named in the lawsuit.

The animal followed Boardman for about a half-mile before fatally spearing Boardman's femoral artery with its horn.

The mountain goat then stood over Boardman for about 30 minutes, staring and pawing at the ground, making it impossible for Chadd and other hikers to reach him, according to park ranger reports of the incident.

Boardman died from blood loss in about five minutes, the reports said.

A park ranger shot the goat dead the same day.

A necropsy on the animal showed it was healthy and in rut for the mating season, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.

She said it was not known if that was a cause for the attack.

“It certainly could have been a contributing factor,” she said, “but there have been many other goats in rut, and this has not happened.”

Boardman — a musician, registered nurse and diabetes educator — had not acted aggressively toward the animal, according to the park's investigation of the incident.

Witnesses said Boardman died a hero: He positioned himself between the charging mountain goat and other hikers on the trail, warning them to get away.

His widow told a park ranger that Boardman, a frequent hiker in the area, had complained to the park several times about an aggressive mountain goat at Klahhane Ridge “and couldn't understand why the park hadn't taken action with this goat,” according to records of the incident obtained by the Peninsula Daily News under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Chadd said in a subsequent interview that she couldn't be sure if the goat her husband had contacted the park about was the same animal that killed him.

Last modified: July 04. 2012 11:25PM
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