Exotic management narrative

 

Based on the photos accompanying “A high-flying act in Olympic National Park” (HCN, 9/2/19), it looks like your reporter participated in an exciting adventure. However, the article unwittingly reflects a false narrative that has been used to justify the park’s management goals for more than four decades.

The transfer of mountain goats to other areas, with the inadvertent deaths of animals in the process and the selecting killing of others, has sparked public controversy for decades. The public review and comments on the management narrative included academic scientific researchers who determined early in the program’s development and application that there was little historic and questionable scientific validity to the park’s management narrative.

The Park Service contends that mountain goats are an exotic species, but there are conflicting reports of goats present in the pre-1925 historic baseline of Olympic National Park. When it developed its management narrative, the park selectively chose references that supported its interests.

University of Missouri anthropologist and paleozoologist R. Lee Lyman has written extensively about the historic and scientific perspective. His 1998 book White Goats, White Lies summarizes his years of research.

The park ignored information that would have easily negated its statement that the mountain goat was an exotic species. Mountain goat bones have been found in archaeological sites in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, with one site located at the base of the west slope of the Olympic Mountain Range. The collective age of these sites extends to at least 8,000 years ago. These archaeological excavations began as early as the turn of the 20th century. I can attest to some of this information because I am one of the archaeologists who recovered mountain goat bones from an excavation in Idaho.

The park claims mountain goats destroy native plants but ignores the fact that they are also impacted by other species, including humans. (Lyman’s book has an extensive discussion about this.)

When Olympic National Park was developing and first implementing its mountain goat management policy, I was the program lead for cultural and natural history programs for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for Washington state. The BLM management area included surface and split-estate lands scattered throughout the state, including the San Juan Islands. The park lay within that geographic area.

I knew that mountain goats were found historically in the state and that their bones had been found in archaeological contexts, so I needed to treat the species as endemic, not exotic. I had to expect to find additional evidence of mountain goat presence in any archaeological site I had to investigate due to the potential developmental project impacts.

My conclusion, then, during my time with the BLM managing the natural history program, that it was not the mountain goat as a species that was exotic, but Olympic National Park’s management narrative. After reading your article, it is obvious that the park has today succumbed to its own myth.

Joseph Randolph
Idaho Falls, Idaho

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