Monday, June 27, 2011

Wildlife making unwelcome visits in Olympics

Visitors to Washington's Olympic National Park and National Forest report unnerving experiences with wildlife in the last few days.

On June 14, a hiker named Jim Decker got an unexpected taste of nature when he ran across a mountain goat with a pugnacious attitude. Decker and his wife were enjoying a hike on the Mount Rose Trail near Lake Cushman. Somehow the couple became separated, but Decker soon had company. A mountain goat with a nasty attitude soon began to pursue Decker down the trail chasing him nearly a mile. At a clearing Decker dropped his pack and drew a knife, expecting the worst. However, a group of approaching hikers apparently tipped the balance in the goat's mind, and it left.

Three days later, northwest across the peninsula, rangers began receiving reports about a steamed up cow elk at the Olympic National Park's Hoh Campground. On that Friday, the elk demolished a tent in the campground, and subsequently charged a ranger's patrol car. Over the weekend rangers carefully watched the cow, "hazing" her when she came too near campers by sounding off loud noises. The wait-and-see attitude of the rangers reached a head, when on Monday the elk charged two more vehicles. Park officials felt they had no choice at that point, and shot the elk, sending samples of her brain to a lab for analysis.

Last fall, another Olympic National Park visitor was killed when gored by an aggressive mountain goat. That animal too, was destroyed. Park officials say many of the Roosevelt elk in the park are getting "habituated" that is, getting accustomed to humans--often by taking handouts. They repeatedly warn visitors to not approach wildlife closely, as elk are known to charge. In the case of the not-so-charming mountain goats, officials have posted signs warning hikers of potential run-ins.

stock photos: elk--US Fish & Wildlife; mountain goat--MiguelVieira; both on

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