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Sunday, December 8, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Hikers getting too friendly with Scotchman Peak mountain goats

A hiker allows a mountain goat to lick sweat off her leg on the summit of Scotchman Peak northeast of Clark Fork, Idaho. Allowing wildlife to become comfortable approaching humans could result in aggressive behavior that forces the lethal removal of an animal, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say. (COURTESY PHOTO)
A hiker allows a mountain goat to lick sweat off her leg on the summit of Scotchman Peak northeast of Clark Fork, Idaho. Allowing wildlife to become comfortable approaching humans could result in aggressive behavior that forces the lethal removal of an animal, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Mountain goats are icons on Scotchman Peak, luring hikers up the 3.5-mile trail northeast of Clark Fork, Idaho, to be in the realm of the usually docile white-coated animals overlooking Lake Pend Oreille.

But some hikers continue to act thoughtlessly around the goats, ignoring the signs posted at the trailhead and the educational effort to prevent the elimination of the goats.

The U.S. Forest Service closed Scotchman Peak Trail 65 two years ago after two hikers were injured by goats habituated by hikers who had previously offered the animals food or a chance to lick sweat off their packs or bodies.

Lethal removal of habituated goats was considered by Idaho Fish and Game Department officials.

Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, a non-profit group based in Sandpoint, convinced state and federal agencies that they could have more favorable results with an education campaign aimed at hikers.

But people apparently still want photos of mountain goats licking their friends as though Scotchman is a petting zoo.

The hiker who offered the photo with this story said she felt bad for not reading the educational signs at the trailhead before succumbing to the temptation to let a goat lick her legs and the skin and packs of friends during a hike last week. The photo is posted on Facebook and used with permission.

Another photo shows the goat being allowed to lick the sweat off a hiking pole handle.

This behavior by hikers likely will lead the goat to pester hikers who follow.

Scotchman Peak or other places with mountain goats are not petting zoos. Giving animals handouts can have unforeseen consequences.

Olympic National Park this month proposed the elimination of mountain goats in the park partly for human safety as officials cited the goring death of a hiker that resulted in a $10 million lawsuit against the park.

The Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness has been leading the educational effort for years to gently persuade hikers to behave properly to assure a sustainable relationship between people and goats on the peak.

Rather than attracting goats that hang out near the top of the peak, friends group executive director Phil Hough recommends practicing “goat aversion therapy” – making loud noises, even tossing small rocks in their direction, so the goats stay away.

“Goats aren’t tame,” he said. “They are wild animals addicted to salt and willing to set aside their fear of humans to get salt.

“Unfortunately, no amount of education seems to deter all humans from their ‘selfie’ addiction, in which they set aside good sense and judgment for photo.”

Working with the Forest Service and Idaho Department Fish and Game, Mary Franzel, the friends group’s mountain goat education coordinator, has organized volunteer “ambassadors” to hike Scotchman Peak Trail 65 every weekend and holiday from mid-June through mid-October to educate the public on safe hiking practices in mountain goat country.

“Between five and nine goats at a time have been sighted and reports have been overall positive regarding hiker knowledge and behavior,” she said. “Unfortunately, a few people still allow the goats to get within a few dangerous feet of them to get that ‘perfect’ picture.

“FSPW and IDFG strongly discourage this practice! These are wild animals with sharp horns, both males and females. There are baby goats (kids) as well, and nannies can be very protective.”

A goat stomping its hoof is usually the first sign it’s getting agitated,” she said.

“Our ambassadors encourage hikers to yell, knock their hiking poles together and if all else fails, toss rocks at the goat’s feet,” Franzel said. “We want people to enjoy the goats, but at a safe distance of at least 100 feet and ideally 150 feet or more.

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