When the closure of Trail 65 is eventually lifted and hikers are allowed on Scotchman Peak, they might find the North Idaho mountain’s iconic mountain goats wearing colored ear tags.
The popular 3.5-mile trail up to the summit northeast of Clark Fork has been temporarily closed because of recent incidents with aggressive mountain goats, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests announced last week. But the danger posed by the goats, and their potential to head-butt foes with their pointed black horns, has been on the agency’s radar for years.
The ear tags would not be aesthetic, but they would help determine which goats have become threats, said Craig Walker, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional conservation officer.
“We hope public education will work; we might try aversion training, and if that doesn’t work, a goat might have to be eliminated,” he said.
Idaho Panhandle National Forest officials said that despite warnings posted at the trailhead, hikers often entice the goats to come close by offering food, or even allowing the goats to eat from their hands or lick the salty sweat off their arms or legs.
Photos and videos of this unethical behavior can be found on social media.
“Bears aren’t the only animals that get in trouble from being habituated to humans,” Walker said. “When a goat doesn’t get the potato chips it’s learned to crave, it has a way of getting aggressive.”
Forest Service and Fish and Game officials are aware of the 2010 mountain goat goring of a hiker that led to a $10 million lawsuit against Olympic National Park. The suit was filed by the family of Bob Boardman, 63, of Port Angeles, Washington, who bled to death from being gored in the leg by a park goat that had a reputation for being aggressive.
The family lost the lawsuit, but the goat was killed by rangers and a tougher policy toward aggressive wildlife was adopted, even if the animal is spoiled by humans who violated park rules against making food available.
“The Scotchman goats are not on a good trend,” Walker said, noting several reported incidents.
“In June, a goat started licking salt off a hiker and when she tried to move away the goat bit her so hard she needed medical attention.”
A male hiker was head-butted in the leg by a goat, Walker said.
“We were just a day away from going in this summer to try to do some aversion with the goats when wildfires blew up and the Forest Service had to temporarily close the area to all access,” he said.
Fog on the peak canceled another attempt.
Aversion methods for big-game animals that approach humans include shooting them with paintballs that have enough velocity to sting without injuring the animal.
Capturing and fastening distinctive colored livestock tags in the ears of all the goats would help the Forest Service and Fish and Game officials determine if the aggressiveness is limited to certain individual goats.
“The National Park Service has aversion teams that can respond quickly to incidents with aggressive wildlife, but the Forest Service and Fish and Game don’t have that sort of funding,” Walker said.
The agencies are considering placing salt blocks away from the peak summit to lure the goats away from the trail.
“That may help, but we also know from consulting experts that no level of aversion may deter a habituated goat from approaching humans,” Walker said.
“Capturing and relocating goats isn’t a cost-effective solution because mountain goats are notorious for not staying put if they don’t want to. And if it’s a problem goat, it’s just a matter of moving the problem somewhere else.”
Scotchman Peak is within the Idaho Panhandle north of Highways 2 and 200 for which just one mountain goat hunting permit is issued each year.
“We approached the hunter who drew the permit a few years ago about the possibility taking a problem goat off Scotchman and he didn’t consider it for more than a second,” Walker said. “He said that wasn’t his idea of mountain goat hunting or the way he wanted to use his once-in-a-lifetime tag.
“I wouldn’t want to be the hunter who shoots one of those goats just because I had the tag.
“I’d rather be the person that kills a goat because it was my job to protect public safety and the future interest of the other goats.”
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