Visitors to Olympic National Park are reminded by park officials that they are required to keep their distance from all park wildlife and observe animals only from a vantage point of at least 50 yards.
“Wild animals — even those that seem ‘tame’ — can pose potential hazards to people, whether through the spread of disease or through direct physical contact,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Visitors should always maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from any park wildlife.”
Although rare, attacks on humans have occurred in national parks, inflicting serious injuries and death. A visitor was fatally gored by a mountain goat while hiking in Olympic National Park in 2010.
Park regulations state that all visitors must maintain a distance of at least 50 yards, or half the length of a football field between themselves and any park wildlife. If any animal approaches closer than 50 yards, visitors are required to move away to maintain the minimum distance.
Species of concern include the park’s populations of mountain goats, Roosevelt elk, deer and black bears, all of which are often seen by visitors throughout the park, including parking lots, on park roads, and along trails. All wildlife, including these species of concern, are potentially dangerous to humans. Although less frequently seen, cougars (also known as mountain lions) are large predators and also potentially dangerous to humans.
The 50-yard viewing distance is required for all animals, including smaller animals like raccoons, rodents and birds, all of which can carry diseases transmissible to humans. “Even small animals pose a risk to people, especially children, and parents should be mindful of keeping their children within sight at all times and well away from wildlife,” emphasized Creachbaum.
Over 95 percent of Olympic National Park was designated as wilderness in 1988 and nearly all of the park’s trails travel through wilderness. Anyone entering wilderness should be able to accept wilderness on its own terms, including its inherent risks such as wildlife, terrain and changeable weather. Inherent risks from wildlife exist even in non-wilderness areas within the park, including near visitor centers, parking lots, paved trails, and campgrounds.
A census conducted in summer 2011 showed that the population was increasing at an annual rate of approximately 5% since 2004. With increasing numbers of goats in the park, there is an increased likelihood that visitors will see or encounter goats.
Wild animals that become accustomed to human presence can lose their fear of humans. This can lead to safety hazards for both visitors and wildlife. Maintaining a minimum distance from wildlife can help protect your safety and the safety of wildlife.
In 2011, park rangers euthanized a male mountain goat that had become aggressive and unafraid of people. Also in 2011, a female Roosevelt elk was euthanized after threatening and charging visitors in the Hoh Rain Forest.
The National Park Service is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Mountain Goat Management in Olympic National Park and currently accepting public comments regarding a set of preliminary alternative concepts for managing the park’s non-native mountain goats. More information about the planning process, including dates, times and locations of upcoming public open houses, is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/olymgoat