The skies in Washington State have seen some strange objects flying among the clouds. They’re not birds, they’re not planes, and they’re certainly not Superman. They are mountain goats, being flown by helicopters from Olympic National Park to Washington’s North Cascade mountains.
The National Park Service has initiated this mass move of goats in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Forest Service. These organizations have come up with a plan to move all mountain goats from the park to the mountains in a three to five year period. In recent weeks, more than 75 mountain goats have already arrived in the North Cascade mountains by refrigerated trucks.
Although Olympic National Park may seem like the perfect home for mountain goats, they are a non-native species and have been wreaking havoc on the area’s ecosystem and on the park’s hikers for decades. As goats live in their natural goat way, they’ve trampled delicate plant species, such as the cotton’s milkvetch, a flowering legume unique to Washington state. A major part of the mountain goat diet is made up of sodium and similar minerals, but Olympic National Park does not have natural salt licks. To satisfy this salty craving, the mountain goats harass humans in the park for their sweat and urine.
In 1999, a group of people was having a picnic on the top of Mount Ellinor when a mountain goat stabbed one person in the leg with his horn. In 2010, a hiker was killed after a goat followed him for a mile and then fatally gored him. Since then, park officials have asked visitors to not use the park for a bathroom break in the interest of their own safety.
As the park cannot move the plants native to the area and would have a hard time turning away park visitors, they’ve decided to move the troublesome goats to the North Cascade mountains. Mountain goats are native to this area of Washington state, and the Cascades have recently seen a concerning decrease in goat population. To help re-populate the Cascades, officials will use helicopters to track down and sedate the goats. Handlers then jump down from the helicopters, sedate the goats, and attach them to slings. The goats are lowered into a flatbed truck and then transported to their new home.
Wild animal relocation has contributed to global commercial helicopter sales — which were expected to reach almost $5 billion in 2017 — for years now. Helicopters have been used to relocate bighorn sheep to native ranges in Oregon, endangered black rhinos in South Africa to protected reserves, and rehabilitated grizzly cubs back into the wild. Within a few years, about half of the 700 goats will join those other rehomed animals as they are taken to the Cascades, where they won’t bother any more salty humans.