The future for mountain goats on North Idaho's Scotchman Peak is brighter, thanks to "goat ambassadors" who have been hiking the popular trail to educate hikers on avoiding contact with the goats.
The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW) has wrapped up a second season of the Mountain Goat Ambassador Program with reports that hikers on Trail 65 near Clark Fork, Idaho, had fewer encounters with aggressive goats.
The 29 volunteer ambassadors were on the peak overlooking Lake Pend Oreille on 37 days for a total of 388 hours, reports Phil Hough, FSPW executive director. That's every weekend from early June through early October for outreach, education, surveying and monitoring.
"The hikers encountered by our ambassadors were very interested in learning about the goats and expressed a desire to keep both hikers and goats safe," he said.
Hikers also appreciated any information the knowledgeable ambassadors offered on the proposed wilderness area and the mountains in general, he added.
The program even produced a video hikers and other wildlife lovers can share about hiking in harmony with mountain goats.
The need for education about hiking in areas frequented by mountain goats was spotlighted this summer near Leigh Lake in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness where a woman shot and killed an aggressive goat she considered a threat.
The trail to Scotchman Peak was temporarily closed two years ago after Scotchman goats became aggressive and injured two hikers.
FSPW partnered with the Idaho Panhandle National Forests to launch the educational campaign to head off more trail closures or the possible consequence of euthanizing some of the aggressive goats.
"As a result of the ambassador program, the goats seem to be less brazen and were not getting up as close and personal looking for handouts," Hough said. "Hikers were overall excellent in helping keep themselves and the goats safe. Both goats and people were usually good at keeping a more appropriate distance from each other when compared with previous summers."
"There was a particularly pesky nanny and her kid who were really looking for salt," said Mary Franzel, ambassador program coordinator. "The nanny required rocks to be thrown at her on occasion to keep her at least 50-75 feet away. But this seemed to work and most other goats kept their distance."
"The second year of the Scotchman Peak Trail Ambassador program has been of great value in reducing potential conflict between hikers and mountain goats," said Erick Walker, Sandpoint District Ranger.
Dogs have proved to have a positive effect on goat behavior, said Franzel, who often hiked the peak with her well behaved dog, Morgan.
Most hikers kept their dogs on leashes, but a few had them under good voice control, she said, noting that the goats would immediately back away a hundred feet or so without fleeing the summit altogether.
"There were no reports of dogs chasing goats, nor any other concerns with canine hiking partners," Hough said.
While hikers are encouraged to bring their dogs along, he said the peak is usually dry and water must be brought for the dogs.
"And there definitely is wildlife, so a leash is a good idea," he said.
Dogs that chase wildlife are not encouraged because the area has many cliffs and even a sure-footed goat could be injured in a fall.
If a hiker sees a goat on the trail, we suggest yelling loudly, waving arms and knocking hiking poles together, Hough said.
"If the goat didn't retreat over 100 feet away, tossing rocks near the goat usually provided the needed motivation for them to back away from people," he said. "They can be sneaky and quiet in their quest for salt. Hikers are encouraged to always keep packs and clothing with them and not to let the goats approach. They have sharp horns and they can bite."
A hiker died after being gored a few years ago by an aggressive mountain goat in Olympic National Park.