Olympic National Forest trail closed by goats

A popular hiking trail in Olympic National Forest has been closed since early July because of aggressive behavior of mountain goats. Rangers have been throwing rocks at the goats, shooting paintballs, sounding horns and spraying chemicals to try to drive the animals away from the trail. Enlarge photo

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ/Peninsula Daily News

A popular hiking trail in Olympic National Forest has been closed since early July because of aggressive behavior of mountain goats. Rangers have been throwing rocks at the goats, shooting paintballs, sounding horns and spraying chemicals to try to drive the animals away from the trail.

HOODSPORT, Wash.– A popular trail in the Olympic National Forest remains closed while rangers harass aggressive mountain goats in an attempt to teach them to avoid people.

It’s really hikers on the Mount Ellinor Trail who are to blame for feeding goats in the past and letting them lick their hands or backpacks for salt, forest officials said.

Up to 20 goats have been observed on the trail, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

The trail has been off-limits since early July while rangers throw rocks at the goats, shoot them with paintballs, sound horns and spray chemicals.

“We will reopen the trail as soon as it is safe, but we need to give our strategy time to work,” acting Hood Canal Ranger District Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said in a statement. “People need to become a part of the solution and not the problem; they can do this by not feeding the goats or allowing them to lick salt from their skin or backpacks.”

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

“Co-existence is a two-way street. We want people to keep the goats wild. The goats also need to be taught to respect our personal space and not to approach people,” McAdams said.

Aggressive goats can be dangerous.

Robert Boardman, 63, of Port Angeles, Wash., was fatally gored in October 2010 by a 370-pound mountain goat on a trail in Olympic National Park. He was trying to protect his wife and other hikers.

The goat is believed to have been one that harassed hikers in the park for years. Although staff members tried various techniques for scaring it off and posted signs warning of the danger, they didn’t relocate or kill the animal.

A federal judge recently dismissed most of Boardman’s widow’s wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government. The judge ruled that the park’s actions were immune from lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they involved an exercise of discretion related to public policy.

Part of the lawsuit might still go to trial on the claim that park employees failed to act with dispatch to save Boardman’s life.

The attack against Boardman occurred about 75 miles northeast of Mount Ellinor. Olympic National Forest surrounds the national park in northwest Washington.

No trails in the national park are currently closed because of goats. Last September, a ranger operating under new mountain goat management rules shot and killed a mountain goat that had refused to leave a park campsite near Upper Royal Basin for three days.

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.

About 400 of the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 mountain goats in Washington live in the Olympic Mountains.