Mountain goats becoming a problem in some areas

The animals have been habituated to humans, resulting in dangerous behavior

Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review /

Two Seattle women had all night near a wilderness lake to contemplate the consequences of wildlife being habituated to humans.

Last month, Allyson Kemp, 42, and Sara Esrick, 44, hiked 8 miles into Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness, including a rugged route up to Robin Lakes, elevation 6,200 feet.

With 20 years of backpacking experience, they were at ease in the wilderness — until a mountain goat wouldn’t leave them alone at their campsite.

They had pitched their tent and climbed up into some rocks to cook dinner.

“I’ve been around mountain goats many times before and didn’t have issues with them,” Kemp said.

They’d seen the goat tune into them from a long distance away and they enjoyed watching it coming toward them.

“We knew that goats could be pests, so we kept our food and stuff near us so it wouldn’t chew on anything,” she said.

When the goat came too close for comfort, Kemp started whirling her food bag over her head, yelling at it and making short charges at it as she tried to scare it away.

“He was not dissuaded,” she said.

They consolidated their food and sweaty clothing and resorted to throwing rocks at the persistent goat.

“We hit him a few times, too, but he just kept coming back closer, especially if you rustled a plastic bag.”

As darkness fell, the women did not feel safe getting into their tent with the goat still parading around, so they decided to retreat.

“I know it’s not proper etiquette, but we threw out some string cheese to distract him so we could stuff everything into our backpacks and high-tail it out of there,” she said.

But the goat soon was bugging them again as they used headlamps to follow cairns down to Tuck Lake.

“There was nowhere to hide, so we climbed up on a rock where we felt we had a better chance of making a stand if it came up at us.”

Despite their yelling and rock throwing, the goat wouldn’t leave. “He was circling us when we called 911 at 10:30 p.m.,” she said.

The call was patched through to Capt. Chris Anderson of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement division in Ephrata. “I wasn’t going to be able to get in there before morning no matter what, so I told them to wrap up in their sleeping bags and stay on the rock,” he said.

An officer was alerted, but the women called about 4:30 a.m. and said the goat had left and they were making a break. They never saw the goat again, but they said the incident was among the most unsettling in their years of wilderness backpacking.

“We all know about the fatality in Olympic National Park, so we can’t take these incidents lightly,” Anderson said, referring to the 2010 death of a hiker who bled to death after being gored in the thigh by an aggressive billy.

Rangers killed the goat, but the man’s family claimed the goat had been harassing hikers for years and the National Park Service was negligent. A judge dismissed the family’s $10 million lawsuit.

Drawn to humans

Anderson said the Robin Lake goat likely associated humans as a source of snacks, sweat and urine that satisfies the critter’s craving for salt.

“Campers are somewhat at the mercy of people who came before them when it comes to wildlife encounters,” he said.

Incidents involving wildlife that have developed a taste for human food sources range from raccoons to grizzly bears, usually with the wildlife being the ultimate victim.

Glacier National Park rangers in mid-July captured and euthanized a black bear that had been frequenting the Fish Creek Campground near Lake MacDonald.

That same week, a black bear that broke into two occupied tents at a Forest Service campground south of Red Lodge, Mont., was killed by state officers.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials killed five black bears in early July and shut down river trips and camping on the Smith River for five days after emboldened bears began frequenting the coveted float-in campsites. The agency’s website lists more than two dozen other incidents in which bears had to be trapped and relocated or euthanized following encounters with people this year.

State officials also had to destroy five black bears along the Smith River in 2008 because they had became food-conditioned and were aggressive to campers after being hand-fed by an area landowner-outfitter.

Gary Anderson, 71, of the Heaven on Earth Ranch on the Smith, paid a $135 fine.

Goat encounters

North Idaho hikers regularly encounter mountain goats near the top of Scotchman Peak northeast of Lake Pend Oreille. Most of the encounters during the 7-mile round-trip hike are pleasant, but people have posted videos of their parties feeding the goats on YouTube.

One hiker posted on Facebook that he and a friend had to throw “a barrage of rocks” at one billy with a shoulder injury that was being aggressive to them.

Another hiker said a goat came up and began licking the sweat off his girlfriends arm, and that it would not stop until others intervened and chased it off.

Cle Elum Ranger District staffers say they received a report from Kemp and Esrick regarding their tense mountain goat encounter at Robin Lake. Scattered reports of aggressive mountain goats have been received in past years, but no more reports have been made from the Tuck-Robin Lakes area this season, they said.

“We reported to the Forest Service because we wanted other hikers to be aware,” Kemp said.