Park’s Final Plan Will Remove Non-native Goats from Olympics
Culminating a four-year planning process and four-decade effort on the part of conservationists, Olympic National Park released its Mountain Goat Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on May 4. The plan calls for the removal of non-native mountain goats from the Olympics using a variety of methods over a three-to-five-year period. OPA considers non-native goats one of the most serious ecological threats to the Park and we support this effort wholeheartedly.
Removal will consist of live capture and translocation of a large number goats to the Cascades followed by lethal shooting. Importantly, the National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Forest Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to remove goats from all jurisdictions in the Olympics. The plan will also help restore native mountain goat populations in national forests in the North Cascades that have declined due to decades of overhunting.
The FEIS calls for a two-to-three-year period of live capture and transfer of goats to several wilderness areas in the Cascades. WDFW will conduct transfer and relocation operations. When relocation goals have been met or safety issues limit further live-capture, remaining goats will be removed lethally utilizing trained and certified volunteer hunters as well as aerial shooting from helicopters. Operations will take place during two two-week periods in summer and fall each year and will require periodic trail closures. An extended period of monitoring and maintenance control will follow.
Surveys indicate that the goat population in the Olympics is increasing at an alarming eight percent per year. A live capture effort in the 1980s reduced goat numbers by more than half, but the current population is rapidly approaching 1980s numbers.
Live capture operations could start as early as August of this year. Lethal removal could begin later in 2019. Periodic closing of specific areas in the park will occur to allow for operations.
Olympic’s stunning alpine zone, with its unique associations of rare and endemic plants and wildlife, evolved without the presence of large rocky-outcrop herbivores through the two million years of the Pleistocene. It’s time to return the high Olympics to their natural, wild and untrammelled condition.
Restoring Access to the Elwha River
The epic restoration of the Elwha River in Olympic National Park has far exceeded biologists’ expectations. All species of Pacific salmon as well as steelhead and bull trout have reclaimed the Elwha River. Most of the impounded gravel and sediments have flushed downstream, rejuvenating spawning areas and building a new delta that has brought renewed life to the Elwha estuary.
But the newly freed river has taken a toll on human developments built in the river’s floodplain. The Elwha has reclaimed its historic floodplain and washed out both the Altaire and Elwha campgrounds. And a reoccupied river channel has ripped through the Olympic Hot Springs (Elwha) Road less than a mile from the Park entrance station. Now, the only access to the Elwha Ranger Station, housing, maintenance area, historic CCC Camp, mule corral, trailheads, and the Elwha restoration interpretive exhibits at the Clines Canyon Dam spillway will be by foot or bike.
Restoring Vehicle Access to the Elwha Valley
In 2019 Olympic National Park will begin formal planning for long-term access to the Elwha Valley. Among the options considered will be relocating the road out of the active floodplain to allow for natural river processes. To asses the feasibility of that, the Federal Highway Administration plans to conduct geotechnical test drilling along a potential road corridor. An environmental assessment (EA) for the drilling is being completed, and monitoring instruments will collect data and assess slope stability for one year. Drilling could begin this summer.
OPA provided scoping comments on this EA. We requested that stringent parameters be placed on the extent of ground disturbance and tree removal, and that small, low-impact drilling devices be employed to minimize resource damage.
OPA is committed to restoring permanent access up the Elwha Valley that will accommodate the natural processes of the Elwha River. But we believe any future access should be of a scale and character consistent with the existing Hot Springs and Whiskey Bend Roads.
To review OPA’s scoping letter on geotechnical testing, click here.
To visit the Park’s web page and to comment on the next stage of Elwha planning, when the next comment period opens, click here.
Forest Service Approves Navy Jet War Games
over Olympic Peninsula
December 2016; updated April 2018
In a tragic and short-sighted decision, Olympic National Forest has decided to rubber-stamp a deeply flawed Navy proposal to conduct electromagnetic warfare training over the western Olympic Peninsula. The agency will permit electronic emitter trucks on Forest Service roads as contact points for fighter jet overflights. This can occur for up to 16 hours a day, on as many as 260 days a year.
The Forest Service ignored more than 3,500 public comments, most of which were overwhelmingly opposed to the project, and gave unquestioned blanket approval to a Navy environmental study that failed even to consider the noise impacts from jet overflights.
The thunderous noise of Navy EA-18G Growler jets will affect the quiet and natural soundscapes for visitors to Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and state and private forest lands, as well as coastal Indian reservations and the communities of Forks and Amanda Park. Olympic National Park alone attracts more than three million visitors annually and is considered one of the quietest natural landscapes in the U.S. Impacts to wildlife were dismissed as not significant.
The final Forest Service environmental review is available here.
This shortsighted decision cannot stand. Please contact your U.S. senators and members of Congress. Tell them the quiet and natural sounds of Olympic National Park must be preserved. Jet training can continue in areas outside one of our national treasures.
In September 2017, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma challenging Olympic National Forest’s approval of a special use permit allowing the Navy to conduct electronic warfare training over the Forest. (See “FSEEE Challenges Navy War Games” in the Fall 2017 issue of Voice of the Wild Olympics.)
To read OPA’s comment letter on the Navy’s flawed plan, click here.
Ongoing Issues in Olympic National Park
For nearly 70 years, Olympic Park Associates has worked to protect the stunning natural beauty, biological richness, and untrammeled wilderness of Olympic National Park. With your help, we’ve achieved some remarkable successes. Our ongoing efforts continue to be inspired by this extraordinary planetary preserve—and supported by our members’ active engagement.
The next two years will be a critical watershed in the continuing protection of Olympic National Park. Monumental decisions affecting the future ecological integrity and wilderness character of the park are about to be made. A long-awaited Wilderness Stewardship Plan will determine how park managers will protect the wilderness quality that defines the heart of the Olympic Mountains. A Mountain Goat Management Plan, on hold since the mid-1990s, will finally address the presence of non-native mountain goats and their impacts on fragile alpine environments in the park. And funding decisions in the coming year will allocate limited, reduced funds across a growing gulf between management and maintenance needs and dramatically reduced staffing.
OPA is actively involved in all these processes. As park managers roll out their preferred courses of action, they—and the congressional representatives who fund them—will need both our support and our strong advocacy in making decisions that put protection of park resources foremost.
Here are OPA’s positions on some key issues—and why we advocate for them.
Olympic is one of America’s foremost wilderness parks. Presently, 10 million people live within a five-hour drive of Olympic. Last year saw 95,000 visitor nights in the Olympic Wilderness. Regulating this number of backpackers is imperative: educating them regarding minimum impacts, guiding where they can camp and build fires, and determining the level of development of trails, bridges, structures, and privies needed to serve them. OPA favors vigorous protection of Olympic’s wilderness character and placing resource protection at the forefront in all cases. As urban populations increase, more and more people will want to experience what Olympic has to offer. A strong wilderness stewardship plan is the best insurance for preserving the park’s outstanding wildness.
Mountain Goat Management Plan
The proliferation of non-native mountain goats is the largest threat to Olympic’s alpine areas, particularly during a time of global warming. The goats’ feeding, trampling, and wallowing behavior is causing acute destructive impacts on sensitive alpine and subalpine environments. Olympic’s rare and endemic plants are affected. Impacts to alpine wildlife, including the endemic Olympic marmots, are unstudied and unknown. OPA strongly advocates removal of all non-native goats from the Olympics.
Government sequesters and draconian budget cuts to national parks have eviscerated visitor services, maintenance, and staff at Olympic. ONP was underfunded by $7.7 million, or 42 percent, in 2014. Visitor center hours and interpretive programs have been reduced significantly. Permanent and seasonal ranger positions have been eliminated. This past summer, rangers were nearly impossible to find in many areas of the Olympic Wilderness, leading to group camping in closed areas, fecal contamination of camp areas, trampling of heather and sensitive vegetation in alpine areas, illegal fires, firearm use, and other destructive activities. OPA continues to pressure Congress to restore full funding, and to lobby park managers for judicious use of limited funds—with resource protection paramount.
Meanwhile – Other Issues
- OPA continues to work for passage of the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act currently before Congress.
- We are actively involved in fighting a Navy proposal to turn the airspace over Olympic National Park and Forest into a warfare training area.
- We are participating in Congressman Kilmer’s Olympic Collaborative that seeks to promote sustainable ecological management of Olympic National Forest.