Capture and Translocation Project moved 325 mountain goats to northern Cascade Mountains

  • Thu Aug 27th, 2020 10:02am
  • News

Capture and translocation operations are now complete with an additional 50 mountain goats moved in this final round from Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest to the northern Cascade Mountains. Since September 2018, a total of 325 mountain goats have been translocated.

This effort is a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) to re-establish and assist in connecting depleted populations of mountain goats in the Washington Cascades while also removing non-native goats from the Olympic Mountains. Mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s.

“I am extremely proud of the team and their hard work, dedication, and professionalism,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Their commitment will have lasting impacts on ecosystem restoration in Olympic National Park and the native goat population in the Cascades.”

“Completing a project of this magnitude would have been impossible without our partner agencies and the expertise and cooperation of hundreds of people,” said Olympic National Park Wildlife Branch Chief Dr. Patti Happe. “The interagency collaboration and the support from everyone involved over the last three years is extraordinary.”

“The past three years of this project have been a culmination of federal, state, tribal co-managers, and volunteers working together to move 325 mountain goats to the North Cascades, and that is quite an achievement,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “To coordinate and work on a project this unique is very special, and we are honored to have been a partner in it.”

In addition to the 325 mountain goats released in the North Cascades national forests, a total of 16 mountain goat kids have been given permanent homes in zoos: six in 2018 and ten in 2019. In total, there were 22 mortalities related to capture, six animals were euthanized because they were unfit for translocation, and four animals died in transit. Eight animals that could not be captured safely were lethally removed. Overall, 381 mountain goats were removed from Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest in four, two-week long operational periods from September 2018 to August 2020.

A total of 32 mountain goats were removed from Olympic National Forest. Sixteen mountain goats were removed from the Mount Ellinor and Mount Washington area, seven from The Brothers Wilderness, seven from the Buckhorn Wilderness, and two from the Mount Skokomish Wilderness.

Forest Supervisor Kelly Lawrence says: “The Forest Service is proud to be a part of such a successful partnership operation to relocate the Mountain Goats to their native habitat. By working together we will be able to restore the native plant communities and make our public lands safer for all visitors.”

In May 2018, the NPS released the Final Mountain Goat Management Plan which outlines the effort to remove the 725 mountain goats estimated on the Olympic Peninsula at that time. Both the plan and the associated environmental impact statement were finalized after an extensive public review process which began in 2014. As predicted in the plan, the mountain goats were harder to catch as the operations progressed. By the final round, capture mortality increased from an average 5.2% after the first round to 9.1% and flight hours per live capture increased from 0.59 hours after the first round to 1.31 hours per goat.

The capture and translocation project have been successful in meeting the objectives of the EIS. The total number of flight hours for capture (270 hours) was less than the estimated maximum hours, capture success was better than predicted, and WDFW released the number of mountain goats estimated.

Leading Edge Aviation, a private company which specializes in the capture of wild animals, conducted all of the aerial capture operations through a contract. The helicopter crew used immobilizing darts and net guns to capture mountain goats and transported them in specially made slings to the staging areas located at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. In 2019, an additional staging area was located in the Hamma Hamma area in Olympic National Forest. The animals were examined and treated by veterinarians before WDFW volunteers and staff transported them to pre-selected staging areas in the North Cascades. The mountain goats were transported in refrigerated trucks to keep them cool.

Once at the staging areas in the North Cascades national forests, WDFW worked with HiLine Aviation to airlift the crated goats to release areas where Forest Service wildlife biologists assisted with the release. Weather did complicate airlifting goats to preferred locations on a few days, but crews were able to airlift goats to alternative locations or have ground releases on those days.

During this final round, WDFW released the mountain goats at 12 sites in the North Cascades national forests. Nine sites were in the Darrington, Preacher Mountain, Mt. Loop Highway, and Snoqualmie Pass areas of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Three release sites were in the Chikamin Ridge, Box Canyon, and Tower Mountain areas of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Release areas were chosen based on their high-quality mountain goat habitat, proximity to the staging areas, and limited disturbance to recreationists.

“The translocation has augmented populations of mountain goats on the national forest where native habitats were not being fully utilized,” said Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Wildlife Program Manager Monte Kuk. “It’s been great to see that all of the coordination, throughout both the planning and implementation effort, has benefited local wildlife populations and helped to solve other management issues at the same time. In all my years in wildlife management I’ve never worked on a project that required this level of coordination from so many individuals, agencies and organizations.”

“The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is appreciative to have been able to cooperate with so many agencies, tribes and others to translocate mountain goats from the Olympic Mountains to the North Cascades,” said Jesse Plumage, Forest Service Biologist on the MBS. “This will give mountain goats a good start on their way to recovering to historical population levels in the North Cascades.”

Area tribes that have supported the translocation plan in the Cascades, donated radio collars, or assisted with the releases include the Lummi, Muckleshoot, Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit tribes. Volunteers from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Makah Tribe, Point No Point Treaty Council, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Skokomish Indian Tribe, and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe have assisted with past operations at the staging areas in the Olympics.

To watch videos from the project and find more information, visit nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/mountain-goat-capture-and-translocation.htm.

For more information about mountain goats in Washington State, see WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/oreamnos-americanus.