Leave the Olympic National Park's Mountain Goats Alone

This summer, the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the 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.  Ravaging the ranks of the only species of its kind in the world would be appalling even if it was based upon circumspective 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."  What these agencies are conjuring up for the mountain goats in the Olympic National Park represents a nightmare.

We're worthy stewards of the land when we prudently intervene in nature to judiciously manage our natural resources, but the plan concocted to relocate mountain goats is more atrocious than judicious.  That's because relocation is only the first part – according to Olympic National Park wildlife branch manager Patti Happe, they'll be able to capture only about half of the goats.  The others will be shot. 

Louise Johnson, the park's chief of resources management, also estimates that about half will be killed because capture crews can't access their rugged terrain.  That's about 300 mountain goats to be exterminated for offending the sensibilities of supercilious bureaucrats with a vendetta against non-native species. 

There are three main justifications for this absurd interference with 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.

Not native: A National Geographic report in 1896 mentions mountain goats on the Olympic Peninsula, indicating they could be native.  Even if that is wrong, what's not disputed is that mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics way back in 1920.  For almost 100 years, then, the only species of its type in the whole world has been thriving in Olympic National Park.  Heaven forbid that this is outside their "known" historical range.

Life for mountain goats can be challenging; kid and yearling survival may be less than 50 percent.  Despite this, they are flourishing in the park; indeed, their population is growing about 8% per year.  This overwhelmingly contradicts Happe, who insists, "[T]hey're not part of our ecosystem."  But mountain goats are native to the mountains of northwestern North America, which includes Washington State, and they're fond of territory in the 44 to 63 degrees north latitude region – which encompasses the Olympic National Park.  They are part of our ecosystem and have been relishing it long before Happe was a twinkle in her father's eye.

Whether native or introduced by humans 100 years ago, the mountain goats are clearly at home in their Olympic habitat.  Nevertheless, the park bureaucrats seem to have mountain goat derangement syndrome.  The aforementioned Louise Johnson echoes Happe, insinuating that the Olympics aren't their natural habitat.  Revealing her bias, Johnson states that the goats' introduction to the park in the 1920s was "the wrong thing to do, the animals are an exotic species in an area that hadn't evolved to tolerate them."  Actually, it is downright hospitable, given their population growth. 

Harming native vegetation: A second major justification for tormenting the mountain goats is based on an environmental review that is prejudiced against supposed interlopers.  One wonders: instead of mid-level managers succumbing to Parkinson's Law, can't they do something useful and go tidy up the trails?

One specious argument in the review is that mountain goats are damaging the native vegetation.  Not so fast...the Department of the Interior appointed a conservation biologist named Reed Noss to investigate.  He concluded that harm to the native vegetation was more likely caused by rain, snow, and ice.  Should potentially hundreds of mountain goats be slaughtered if the science behind the park's environmental review is sloppy and disputed by an eminent biologist?  Besides, who is ultimately qualified to question why nature made the vegetation so tasty in the first place?  And so much fun for itchy mammals to roll in, too.

There's irony that a state that promotes open borders for needy and ill behaved illegal aliens (this brutal gang member even goes by the moniker "Animal") imposes rigid borders upon an animal that likes to chow down on Piper's Bellflower.

Safety risk: The third major justification for the diabolical plan is that mountain goats pose a safety risk.  One hiker gored back in 2010 was a personal tragedy, but fatal goat attacks are so rare that it was the first such incident in Washington State.  Even Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Rich Harris, who favors transplanting mountain goats to the Cascades, admits, "The fears of killer goats are overblown."  By far the biggest cause of deaths in Olympic National Park are falls, some of which may have occurred when encroaching upon the mountain goats.  Indeed, many hikers seem to appreciate their goat encounters so much that the WDFW's own website warns people to be wary about conditioning goats to habituate with humans.

Officials also went after the goats back in 1980s and 1990s.  Decades later, an animal whose life can be tough is nevertheless thriving is in a suitable environment at its preferred latitude and longitude coordinates.  They could always use a bit more salt, but otherwise, it's a salubrious environment they have roamed for about 100 years (or longer). 

If the length of a generation is measured as the time between the birth of a parent to the birth of offspring, then mountain goats have been in the Olympic National Park more goat generations than there have been human generations since the founding of our country.  The singular fatal attack on a human in the Olympics, now eight years ago, is an excuse bureaucrats often cite to justify their vindictiveness toward the hardy beasts.  It seems that anti-mountain goat sentiment has long pervaded their culture.

Nature's prerogative: Intervention in nature is tolerable if it remedies the dire consequences of certain human activities – for example, deterring sea lions from ravaging delicious salmon that are unnaturally vulnerable due to dams or other human development.  But it's intolerable to contradict nature's dictates by choosing winners and losers among fauna on behalf of flora whose demise may be more due to harsh mountain elements.  The hubris of government zealots who infringe upon nature's prerogative of "survival of the fittest" is disturbing.  Maybe they are burrowed civil servants from the last administration who don't appreciate winning or celebrating success. 

Humans represent only 0.01% of known life but still managed to destroy about 83% of wild mammals.  Let's not add to that list based upon ill founded arrogance that Oreamnos americanus doesn't belong in our ecosystem.

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