Why mountain goats are being airlifted from Olympic National Park to Cascade Mountains

Derrick Halsey, a wildlife capture specialist known as a "mugger," handles a young mountain goat being moved from Olympic National Park to the Cascade Mountains, which have more salt licks and fewer humans. (Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP)

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, Wash. – For the second straight summer, mountain goats are flying in Olympic National Park.

Officials this week began rounding up the sure-footed but non-native mammals from remote parts of the park where humans introduced them in the 1920s, to relocate them to the Cascade Mountains, where they do belong.

Animal capture specialists called “gunners” and “muggers” sedate the animals with darts or capture them in nets, blindfold them, pad their horns and fly them – on slings dangling from a helicopter – to a staging area. There, they’re looked over by veterinarians and outfitted with tracking collars before being trucked to the Cascades and once again flown by helicopter, this time into their new alpine habitats.

A pair of mountain goats hang in slings as they are airlifted by helicopter Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. They're being airlifted to the Cascade Mountains for the second summer in a row. (Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP)

The relocations began last year, following a years-long stretch of planning and public comment, with 115 of the roughly 725 mountain goats in the Olympics being moved to the Cascades.

Officials captured 17 Monday and Tuesday at the start of a two-week goat relocation period, including a kid about 6 weeks old, which got a ride on a mugger’s lap inside the helicopter instead of hanging beneath it.

The Olympics have few natural salt licks. That makes it more likely goats there will be attracted to the sweat, urine and food of hikers, potentially endangering the hikers. One goat fatally gored a hiker in 2010.

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