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Mountain goat releases underway in North Cascades

September 15, 2018

A helicopter crew boards the aircraft Wednesday on a bridge above the south fork of the Sauk River in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest south of Darrington. Several crew members were placed at the drop site at Stillaguamish Peak to handle the release of mountain goats.

MOUNT BAKER-SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST — Eleven mountain goats were released Wednesday in the North Cascades south of Darrington after being moved from Klahhane Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula.

Dozens more will make similar journeys by truck, ferry and helicopter through Sept. 21 as part of an effort to reduce the impact of the animals in the Olympic Mountains and encourage population growth in the North Cascades, where they are native.

Relocation efforts began this week, with the first goats captured Monday near Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics and released Tuesday in the Cedar River area near Seattle, said state Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Rich Harris.

The Stillaguamish Peak releases Wednesday did not go entirely as planned due to rain and a change in the helicopter landing site.

A team of public lands and wildlife managers, along with a HiLine Helicopters crew and volunteers, had to make day-of decisions about how to safely and quickly get the mountain goats out of tight red crates and into their new habitat.

The goats were males and females and included at least two young goats.

Six of the goats were lifted by helicopter to Stillaguamish Peak. The other five were driven as close to the peak as possible after rain and clouds created visibility challenges for the helicopter pilot.

“We had intended to release all 11 of these goats together, but obviously now we’re not,” Harris said.

When the mountain goats are released, their crates are placed side by side with the doors pointed uphill. Harris said that gives them a sense of comfort in being with other goats, and they are able to immediately follow their instinct to climb.

To get the goats to that point, Harris said they were first captured using tranquilizer darts and nets shot out of a helicopter, then sedated and hydrated using an IV. The goats are also checked by veterinarians and their sex, age and weight are documented.

Fish & Wildlife and area tribes are collaring as many of the relocated goats as possible in order to track their movements and gain insight into their survival.

Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians wildlife biologist Jennifer Sevigny said the collars being used should last about 11 years and record location data once a day. The collars will also alert biologists if a collar has been inactive for 18 hours, which likely means the animal wearing it has died.

“We will know after these guys are released whether they survive or not,” she said.

Those monitoring the collar data will also see whether those that survive stay in the groups they were released with and where in the North Cascades they travel.

“We ideally would like them to recolonize their historic range ... and we would like to know, if they do re-establish, where,” Sevigny said.

Bringing goats from the Olympics to the North Cascades has been many years in the making, and those involved Wednesday said they were excited to see the relocations happening, despite hiccups in their plans.

“Getting the goats together in the Olympics, getting them here, this effort you see, there’s a lot of coordination,” said Peter Forbes, Darrington district ranger for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. “That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s exciting as a land manager to see this come together.”

The idea behind the move is to take goats from the Olympic region where they have become problematic and put them in the North Cascades region where populations have declined and become fragmented by developments such as roads.

The goats’ instinct to find salt means they are drawn to sweat, urine and food associated with humans and sometimes follow or aggressively approach hikers in the Olympics, where there are no natural sources of salt.

The plan is to drive, ferry and fly as many as 360 mountain goats from the Olympics to new homes in the North Cascades, where there are natural sources of salt.

“It’s going to help Olympic National Park and it’s going to help restore goats in this part of the world,” Harris said.

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