The ground-based lethal removal program using qualified volunteers ended in October with a total of 31 mountain goats culled from the population in the park. Ninety-nine highly skilled volunteers, organized in 20 groups of three to six volunteers per group, volunteered over 9000 hours while participating in the program. Ten mountain goats were removed in the first round, 18 were removed in the second round, and 3 were removed in the final round. A total of 412 mountain goats have now been removed from the Olympic Peninsula. Of these, 325 were successfully released into the Cascades.
The use of highly skilled, qualified volunteers for ground-based lethal removal was requested by the public in the review process of the Final Mountain Goat Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Over 1200 groups of volunteers applied to participate. All applications were evaluated and ranked, and over 100 very highly qualified teams applied. A random draw of 40 group applications was taken from a pool of the most highly qualified teams. Those groups were then evaluated by a team of National Park Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff. From that pool, 21 groups consisting of 118 volunteers were selected on June 1. By the time the program was implemented some volunteers were no longer able to participate. The remaining 20 groups met requirements for physical fitness and passed background checks and a mandatory firearm proficiency evaluation.
The three rounds occurred September 9-19, September 22-October 2, and October 5-16. In addition to the normally challenging conditions associated with accessing mountain goats in the Daniel J. Evans Wilderness of Olympic National Park, the teams also faced dense smoke from fires, heavy rain, strong winds, snow, sleet, lightning, wasps, and persistent low clouds and fog. Nineteen mountain goats were removed from the Chimney Peak/Mt. Anderson area, six were removed from the southeastern region of the park, four were removed from Mount Olympus, and two were removed from the Bailey Range.
Lethal removal will now switch to aerial operations in 2021. Two, 2-week aerial operations are planned for late July and early September 2021 as described in the Final Mountain Goat Management Plan/EIS released in May 2018. Both the plan and the associated EIS were finalized after an extensive public review process which began in 2014. The plan outlines the effort to remove the 725 mountain goats estimated on the Olympic Peninsula in 2018 through capture and translocation and then lethal removal. The capture and translocation project was 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 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released the number of mountain goats estimated.
Under the approved plan, the first priority was to capture and translocate mountain goats to the Cascade Range where the populations are both native and depleted. The plan calls for ceasing captures once capture operations were no longer safe or efficient, due to the remaining goats residing in terrain that is unsafe for capture operations. As predicted in the plan, the mountain goats were harder to catch safely as the operations progressed. By the fourth and final round of capture and translocation in August 2020, 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 remaining goats cannot be safely or efficiently captured.