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Urine-fixated goats are being airlifted out of the Olympics

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Low on minerals, goats are going after human sweat and other stuff—so they’re being relocated back to the Cascades

A mountain goat lazes about in Olympic National Park.
Dene’ Miles/Shutterstock

For decades, aggressive goats have been a hazard to hikers in the Olympic National Park. While native to the Cascades, humans introduced about 12 goats to the Olympics in the 1920s—where they’ve been stomping around ever since. At last estimate, more than 700 were living in the park.

The issue is that, because this isn’t where the goats belong, the environment has limited minerals that goats need, especially sodium. So these goats, craving salt, turn to the next most convenient option: sweat and urine from unsuspecting hikers and campers.

“Mountain goats have a high affinity for salts and natural salt licks within their native range,” wrote the National Parks Service (NPS) in a public information packet describing the problem in 2014. “There are no natural salt licks in the Olympic Mountains and mountain goats have learned to seek salts from humans. In high use areas within the park, mountain goats have become habituated to the point that they are a nuisance and may be hazardous to park visitors.”

“When goats drawn to these sources of salt are not deterred, they become habituated to people,” reads a current guide from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They lose their natural avoidance response.”

Since 2014, NPS has been exploring a way to deal with the goats. Back in May, NPS landed on a final plan: Two rounds of relocating goats from the Olympics to their native home in the Cascades, then shooting the rest.

Which brings us to September. The airlifting operation has begun, placing goats in specialized slings with blindfolds, then loading them into trucks to be released in their native environment. An Associated Press (AP) video shows a chain of three tranquilized goats in orange slings and blindfolds being slowly lowered into a truck.

As of late last week, Q13 reports, 115 goats have been removed. 98 were relocated to the Cascades, six kids were placed at the wildlife park Northwest Trek. Eight died in the process and three were euthanized.

Other options explored for goat removal included “fertility control” and introducing wolves. Apparently, there’s not really an effective birth control method for goats—and besides, even if it existed, it would be difficult to administer. As far as wolves go: Wolves aren’t suited for hunting on the rocky terrain where the goats live, and would likely just go after elk and deer. Allowing humans to hunt the goats would have required a change in federal law.

Not everyone is pleased with the decision. In a blog post, the Northwest Animal Rights network called the airlifted goats just a “catchy visual,” and a spokesperson told the AP that the plan is inhumane. The group had originally pushed for contraception—which the NPS says doesn’t exist—over removal.

And so the plan developed by the NPS, the Forest Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife moves forward. While a large-scale removal in the late 1980s brought the goat population from more than 1,000 to fewer than 400, the goat population has bounced back dramatically—so the NPS is trying to achieve zero goat population this time around, or at least 90 percent removal.

If the NPS were to do nothing, the damage from goats would escalate, continuing to “threaten visitor safety,” according to the plan, and have an adverse, escalating impact on threatened an endangered species and vegetation in the park.

Between now and next year, NPS hopes to relocate “several hundred” more goats, the AP reports—and according to the plan, “lethal removal” could start at the end of year two. The parks service hopes that the goat population will dwindle to between zero and 50 by 2028.

In the meantime, the Department of Fish and Wildlife warns, always stay at least 50 yards away from a mountain goat and never feed them—and if you must relieve yourself, do it more than 50 yards off the trail.