Olympic National Park Hikers Can Now Pee Free of Fear of Urine-Addicted Goats

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

National parks are known for their beauty, their splendor, their landscapes, and even the chance to spot amazing wildlife up close and personal. But at one national park, coming across wildlife became easy, concerningly easy. You see, Olympic National Park in Washington had a huge problem: mountain goats that were addicted to human urine.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

In the 1920s, Alaskan hunters introduced mountain goats onto the Olympic Peninsula for recreational purposes. They brought 12 of them. Over time, the population skyrocketed. As of 2010, there were over 700 in the region.

While the lack of hunting and predators allowed the population to thrive, the park lacked one ingredient goats needed—salt. Typically, this is found in nearby mineral deposits in the high alpine areas they frequent. Instead, with none of that around for miles, the goats decided to get creative, and the urine of hikers who had relieved themselves just yards away from the trail would do just the trick.

It didn’t take long for things to escalate from there. Soon, goats in the Park abandoned their fear of humans and began to approach them, seeking not just urine, but the salt from the sweat on their clothing as well. The goats became increasingly aggressive, until in 2010, a goat fatally gored a hiker for the very first time.

But beyond just licking up urine and sweat, data began to show that the goats were having a negative impact on the isolated ecosystem of the Olympic Peninsula, chomping and trampling up endemic plants for decades. The environmental impact statement (EIS) the park put out describes the goats as “nuisances” that would “paw and dig” at the soil. The park declared it within its mandate to remove the goats in order to protect the ecosystem of the nationally designated area.

While culling, otherwise known as lethal removal, was on the table, it wasn’t the park’s first choice. The debate, which has been raging since 1981 between environmentalists and wildlife management groups as to how best to remove the goats, finally came to a close. A solution had been reached.

The North Cascades is a neighboring national park where mountain goats are a native species but with a decreasing population. The National Park Service realized it could solve two problems at once: remove mountain goats from one park where they were a nuisance and put them in a park where they are fundamental to the ecosystem.

But their way of achieving this, well, that’s where things started to get even more unusual.

Because mountain goats are naturally evasive and reside in high alpine terrain, capturing them on foot was out of the question. So instead, the park had to implement a helicopter operation in 2018. The goats were first shot with a tranquilizer dart, then blindfolded, wrapped in a special sling, covered with horn guards, and airlifted, dangling by a rope from a helicopter. Dr. Rich Harris, a retired section manager for the Washington Fish & Wildlife Department explained that, “Blindfolding animals is pretty routine for work like this—it calms animals down when they can’t see what’s going on. And serves to protect any foreign debris from entering their eyeballs.”

While Rob Smith of the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) acknowledged that it certainly is an unusual sight, he insisted that this form of removal was the right thing to do for the park and for the goats, too. He told The Daily Beast that because “these goats have no natural predators in the park their population can very quickly grow out of control, and their impact on the park can threaten the survival of native species like marmots and Olympic violets. There are nearly 20 unique species that can only be found at Olympic National Park so moving these goats to more appropriate areas like the North Cascades ultimately benefits and protects the park and aids in restoring goat populations in the Cascades.”

Amazingly, the first part of the plan worked. The park estimated that 375 of the 725 goats would be relocated this way, according to its final management plan, and after four two-week long sessions they were able to remove 381 goats with less flight time than anticipated, according to a report obtained by The Daily Beast.

However, with still about half of the goats left in the park, in the winter of 2020 it was time for phase 2 of the operation to go into effect: culling, or killing the goats with “shotguns and high-powered rifles.”

“This was always part of the plan,” Dr. Harris said. “We always expected that capturing wouldn’t get them all.” And so thanks to the goats’ own cleverness, conservationists took to the air to snipe them from above.

“As you proceed the remaining animals get smarter and smarter, they don’t just sit there,” Dr. Harris explained. “They run and it becomes difficult. It becomes a matter of diminishing returns, and it becomes more dangerous for both the animals and the people doing the work.

While the culling has been largely successful (the exact number left is unclear, but it is low and they are no longer harassing hikers for pee), the effects of translocating the goats into the Northern Cascades remain to be seen. Data is trickling in that gives hope for optimism—Dr. Harris says that they have seen reproduction from translocated goats—the final results are yet to come.

“What you have to remember about all of this is that we didn’t put them in the best environment,” Harris says. “The best environment for them already has goats. We put them in the second-best environment with the hope that they could maintain a population in the area. So far it’s working but only time will tell.”

As for their addiction to urine, well, the relocation has solved that. Because the North Cascades has many more salt licks, hikers can pee off the trail freely according to the National Park Service. Well, as long as they’re at least 200 feet away off the trail.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting