Utah: is it too late to back up? Photo by Lillian Houghton.
It was such a sweet story at first: A man in a hairy white goat suit with fake horns who appeared to be trying to join a mountain goat herd in the Wasatch Mountains some 40 miles north of Salt Lake City. Yes, the faux goat was clumsy, not being a real caprid with fabulous grippy, gravity-defying, cloven hooves, but there he was, clambering over rocks on a steep slope, hoping -- perhaps unwisely -- to be accepted by animals renowned for their sinuous grace and wise faces. Or so some of us assumed. Philip Douglass of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was even worried that "goat man," as the press called him, might be shot and turned into an unusual trophy when hunting season for the animals began in September. Alas, the mystery ended when goat man revealed himself to be a 57-year-old archery hunter from Southern California. No, he didn't want to be one with the mountain goats, he told The Associated Press, he just wanted to practice getting as close as possible to a herd in order to kill one of them. So all that laborious four-legged climbing while wearing his homemade goat suit was merely preparation for a mountain goat hunt in Canada next year. The man, who was not identified, was apparently not happy about all the publicity, which began when a hiker spotted him on a mountainside and a TV news crew photographed him from a helicopter. And we suspect that he was the anonymous "agitated man" who called wildlife authorities to say: "Leave goat man alone. He's done nothing wrong."
Meanwhile, up in Washington, the Olympic National Forest has had to close a trail for two weeks because the mountain goats there have been getting testy with tourists. Forest officials told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that "aggressive goats" on the Mount Ellinor Trail near Hoodsport had caused several hikers to feel threatened. Violating the closure order is a big deal; the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. But the caution is understandable; just two years ago, in nearby Olympic National Park, a mountain goat defended its spot on a hiking trail by butting and killing a man, whose family is now suing the Park Service.