It seems Rattlesnake Lake and Ledge had some new visitors, ones that just recently moved to Cedar Watershed area via helicopter.
In mid September, a coalition consisting of the National Parks Service National Park Service (NPS), the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) began the long-planned relocation of mountain goats from the Olympic National Forest to Cascade Mountains.
Mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Mountains, rather they were introduced by humans in the 1920’s, before the Olympic National Forest was established. Today the Olympic Mountain goat population is estimated at 725. According to the Olympic National Park Goat Management Plan, the exotic goats are creating ecological concerns on the park’s natural resources, particularly sensitive vegetation. Safety concerns also increased in 2010 when a visitor was fatally gored by a mountain goat while hiking.
Mountain goats are highly attracted to salt and natural mineral sources, which are not present in the Olympic Mountains. Thus they learned to seek out human salt (via sweat, urine) and became habituated to humans. In park areas with high visitor levels, mountain goats became a nuisance and in some cases, a safety issue.
For the past four years, the National Parks Service has been working on a Translocation Plan for the Olympic Goat population. It was finalized in May 2018. In September the first two-week relocation effort began – utilizing helicopters, 175 experts and 77 WDFW volunteers – with the goal of re-establishing and connecting depleted mountain goat populations in their native Cascade Mountains where natural mineral/salt licks also exist.
NPS stated, “While some mountain goat populations in the north Cascades have recovered since the 1990s, the species is still absent or rare from many areas of its historic range.”
WDFW released 98 mountain goats at five sites in the Cascades last month, including 19 (11 nannies, 6 billies 2 kids) in the Cedar River Watershed, private land owned by Seattle Public Utilities that includes Rattlesnake Lake and Ledge. The animals were radio collared and tagged so they can be monitored.
Although the mountain goats were reportedly released fairly deep in the Cedar Watershed, by the end of September two were spotted atop popular Rattlesnake Ledge and most recently, (on October 7th) one was seen wandering the shores of Rattlesnake Lake.
According to WDFW Public Information Officer Rachel Blomker, the mountain goats were released about 20 miles into the watershed and they don’t consider it uncommon that the female (nanny) goat spotted in the Rattlesnake Ledge area wandered such a distance. She said the mountain goats are in a totally new area and are trying to acclimate – plus they like hanging out on mountain ridges.
She said the WDFW is monitoring all of the goats and although this nanny goat was at Rattlesnake Lake Sunday morning, by 11PM Sunday night she had traveled all the way to McClellan Butte. Blomker said they were happy to see the goat migrate back toward its native – and rugged – Alpine area of the Cascades. She added that a different male (billy) goat was also up on Rattlesnake Ledge only two days after being released.
Blomker said the 19 mountain goats relocated to the Cedar River Watershed are considered habituated to humans, “but not to the point that they would go over to humans.” She explained that none of the moved goats showed signs of aggression – that aggressive Olympic Mountain Goats were not relocated.
Blomker said it is important that hikers, if they come in contact with these new Snoqualmie Valley wildlife residents, do not feed them. This is noted as one of the reasons – along with their attraction to salt – that mountain goats became so habituated to humans in the Olympics.
“Mountain goats follow and approach hikers because they are attracted to the salt from their sweat, urine, and food. That behavior is less likely in the north Cascades where visitors are more widely distributed than those at Olympic National Park,” said Rich Harris, a WDFW wildlife manager who specializes in mountain goats.
Approximately half of the Olympic Mountain Goat population will be relocated, with more efforts planned in the next two years. The remaining population will be removed lethally. The goal is to reduced the Olympic mountain goat population to zero.
Visit the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Living with Mountain Goats webpage for more information.