Olympic National Park Mountain Goat Project
The planned dates to capture Goats were September 10 – September 24. The project was nearly ten years’ worth of planning and interagency cooperation with the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Leading Edge Aviation and Highline Helicopters. I volunteered along with 70 others, mostly from the WDFW Master Hunter Program, to drive the Mountain Goats in refrigerated trucks from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park to locations in the Cascades on September 21st and 22nd. The Helicopter capture team from Leading Edge Aviation would be using their special Hughes 500 helicopter to dart or net the Goats then the ‘Mugger’ would exit the Helicopter and secure the goats for transport and fly them to the staging area at Hurricane ridge. There they would get a checkup from the veterinary staff, ear tags, radio collars then loaded into special crates for transport to the release site; they would again be flown to a suitable spot for
release. Due to the bad weather, rain & wind, both days of flying were cancelled so I volunteered for the Sept 23 & 24 shifts in hopes of getting some action.
Sunday Morning September 23rd turned out to be a calm and sunny day, perfect for flying and capturing Mountain Goats. At 7am I made the drive from Port Angeles to the Hurricane Ridge Staging area just in time to hear the Helicopter leave for his first run around Mt Olympus. It was a tough day for capture and the morning only produced 2 Billy’s and 2 Nanny’s. One of the Billy’s was euthanized due to its known habituated and aggressive behavior. I was only supposed to be a driver but was able to be involved in the moving and handling of the goats throughout the day. I helped the Veterinary Staff while they examined, tagged, measured and recorded the Goats’ health and statistics. The next capture produced 3 Goats unfortunately, only 1 survived due to equipment failures. The last capture of the day produced another 4 Goats which only 3 survived. The 4th was a mortality due to a punctured lung making the days net total 8 Goats. 2 Billy’s and 6 Nanny’s. The first Billy had
been loaded into a crate in the back of my truck so throughout the day we could move it into shady spots to keep it cool. Since the Refrigerated truck could not hold all the goats it was decided I would transport the Billy to the release site in my truck which made for a much better story for me.
The ground transport team consisted of Rob, Rob, and Robert, WDFW Biologist’s and ‘myself’ Ron SCINW. Apparently in order to drive that day your name had to start with “R”. Rob 1 and Rob 2 would drive the refrigerated truck with 7 goats, Robert would follow in a pickup truck for support and I would drive with 1 goat in my truck. One of
the other volunteers and his son Logan, a Veterinary student, working with the WDFW would also follow to help at the release site. We left Hurricane Ridge around 6:30pm for
our release site of Swamp Creek on North Cascades Hwy 20 near Washington Pass. We would be stopping every hour for about 15 minutes in a quiet location to open the refrigerated truck door and provide fresh air for our
precious cargo. Our first stop was the rest area on Hwy 101 near Sequim, at this point I realized it was going to be a long night. The Port Townsend Ferries were out of service so
we had to proceed to the Kingston Ferry which was a ½ hour longer drive and an hour wait. Upon arrival at the Kinston Ferry terminal we made them aware of our precious cargo and they graciously allowed us to load first, saying they had seen us on the news. When we arrived at the Edmonds Terminal we disembarked and decided to go to Dicks Drive In for some Burgers before the long trek to Washington Pass. Side note, 27yrs living here and my first trip to Dicks, the Rob’s were amused. Full of burgers and fries we headed out via interstate 5, next stop Cooks Rd in Burlington.
We filled up on fuel and provided fresh air for the Goats and then proceeded on Hwy 20 to the next stop Marblemount. Repeating fresh air for the Goats, leg stretching for us then on to Newhalem, but we decided to drive straight through to the release site. We arrived at the release site near Swamp Creek and Hwy 20 at 3am and hurried to pitch our tents hoping to get some shut eye before the 6:30am planned release. I didn’t get much rest but was eager to get started when my alarm rang. There were other WDFW employees and volunteers camped and we all hurried to get the loading area and landing site prepared for the Helicopter. The clouds were low and we could not see the mountains.
We waited about 30mn before we heard the Helicopter making passes above us, another 30mn passed and it was clear enough for him to land. After the release team and equipment had been flown up on the mountain, the first Goat, the Billy in my truck’s crate, was connected to a long line and off he flew to the release site. All the goats were flown in their crates to the release site high on the mountain and placed side by side with fencing to direct their release path and released all at once. I wish I could have seen that. We were told it was a successful release.
Rich Harris WDFW Section Manager and Project Lead, debriefed us and thanked us for our contribution to the project’s success before we were released. Thereafter, I began the long drive home tired but feeling rewarded by the experience and new friendships I made. I hope to be involved in the future Goat relocations in the coming years.