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When goats fly: Hundreds of blindfolded goats airlifted out of Olympic National Park in Washington

SEATTLE — Helicopters and trucks are relocating hundreds of
mountain goats from Olympic National Park in an effort
officials said will protect natural resources, reduce visitor
safety issues and boost native goat populations elsewhere in
Washington state.

Professional crews used tranquilizer darts and net guns to
capture the animals from rocky ridges and slopes within the
national park, located about 60 kilometres west of Seattle.

The animals were blindfolded, put into specially made slings
and airlifted to a staging area in the park. They were
examined, collared with a tracking device, given fluids and
then began a journey by truck and ferry to another area in the
North Cascades.

From there, they were flown in crates and released into alpine
habitat.

Goats
are sedated and blindfolded before being put into harnesses as
part of the goat relocation project, on Thursday, September 13,
2018, on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park,
Wash.
Ramon Dompor/AP / AP

A plan approved by park officials in June calls for about 375
goats to be moved to habitat in the North Cascades, where the
animals are native. Park officials estimate between 275 and 325
goats that can’t be caught will eventually be shot and killed.

Introduced to the area nearly a century ago, before the park
was established, goats eat and trample sensitive vegetation,
disturb soil when they wallow and can be menacing to
backpackers and other visitors on trails, officials said. In
2010, an aggressive goat fatally charged at a hiker on a
popular trail who followed him and his companions, renewing
concerns about safety.

The “effort will relieve issues with non-native mountain goats
in the Olympics while bolstering depleted herds in the northern
Cascades,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah
Creachbaum said in a statement.

A
mountain goat dangles from a helicopter in Olympic National Park
south of Port Angeles, Wash., on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.

Jesse Major/The
Peninsula Daily News via AP

Officials have tried for decades to control goats in the park.

They removed hundreds of the animals by helicopter in the
1980s. It proposed shooting hundreds from a helicopter in the
1990s but that idea was scrapped. They also experimented with
sterilizing some animals to control the population.

Between 2004 and 2016, the goat population in the park more
than doubled to 625. There are now about 725 animals.

Goats can be a nuisance along heavily used trails and around
wilderness campsites because they seek out salt and minerals
from human urine, backpacks and sweat on clothing, according to
officials.

So far, they all seem to be doing well

Penny Wagner, a park spokeswoman, said the goal is to relocate
100 by Sept. 24. The hope is that between now and next year,
they’ll be able to relocate several hundred more goats, she
said.

Rachel Bjork, a board member with Northwest Animal Rights
Network, called the plan to kill hundreds of goats inhumane.
She said the goats have been a part of the national park
landscape for decades and likely provide benefits to the
ecosystem that are being overlooked.

She also worried about moving them to forests where they
eventually could be subject to hunting. But Rachel Blomker, a
spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, said that while that could be the case, goat hunting
is very limited, the season is short and requires a special
permit.

Blomker said the agency’s goal is to help boost the number of
goats in the North Cascades to a sustainable population.
“That’s where they should be. That’s their native habitat,”
Blomker said.

“So far, they all seem to be doing well,” said Colton
Whitworth, a Forest Service spokesman. “It should be a fairly
easy transition.”

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