Ecological Comment: Help keep the goats of Gimli wild

A column written by Recreation Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College

If you have ever been to Mt. Gimli in Valhalla Provincial Park, you might have noticed the mountain goats being surprisingly friendly. How easy it was to take a picture so close to those magnificent creatures! Did you know that before the 1990s mountain goats were rarely seen at Mt. Gimli? Since about 2005, the goats started to have a more prominent presence. What is the factor that brought the mountain goats to Mt. Gimli? Do humans have any part to play in this change and is this a problem?

Mountain goats are normally wild and skittish animals that would bolt if you got within a few hundred meters. In the late 2000s, their presence became more of an issue at Mt. Gimli as they started to become accustomed to humans. As of today, they now come within two meters and seem to be habituated.

Let’s compare it to Olympic National Park in Washington State where there was an issue with aggressive and territorial goats. A goat attacked a 63-year-old hiker while he attempted to shoo the goat away. He was gored in the leg, and while not initially fatal, the goat prevented help from arriving by standing guard over the hiker who eventually bled out. The park’s solution was to relocate 50 per cent of the goats to the North Cascades and eliminate the remaining population.

The current state of goat behavior in Valhalla Provincial Park likely poses little threat to humans. They are curious, even pushy, and very unafraid, but have no history of aggression. A consequence of them being attracted to the area is that they accidently cause rockfall, which could potentially injure climbers and their belayers at the beginning of a climb.

Kim Poole, a wildlife biologist with Aurora Wildlife Research, is working closely with BC Parks to research potential solutions for the current issue at Mt. Gimli. As Kim suggested, it may be only a matter of time before a negative interaction between goats and humans occurs.

BC Parks reviewed the situation and established that the attraction of salt was the main issue, which the mountain goats are accessing from human urine. To address this issue, BC Parks has implemented a new toilet, called a urine diversion toilet, and added a urinal at the base of Gimli peak for climbers to help with the urine accumulation issue. They released information on the BC Parks website and placed signs at the Gimli trailhead and camping area encouraging people to use the toilets.

Visitors, however, are not always compliant in using the existing toilet facilities. The non-compliance from visitors arises from a lack of understanding of the consequence’s urine can cause.

Besides upgrading the toilet facility, BC Parks has also provided the goats with artificial salt licks which will hopefully help to keep goats from staying at Gimli. Similar diversionary salt lick projects were done at Kootenay Pass where they were used to divert mountain sheep from licking the salt on the highway in the winter. At the Lardeau Bluffs, livestock salt is also used to encourage mountain goats to avoid the highway for residual road salt.

In BC, mountain goats return to their winter range avoiding the deep snow that accumulates in the Valhallas. Come spring, they migrate from their winter range to greener pastures and more importantly, salt resources. Salt is so critical for goat survival that they will travel long distances each spring to find it. As long as there is a reliable source of salt, they will hopefully return to the same area each spring and not back to Gimli.

The next time you visit Gimli Peak, remember to be aware of the issue humans are causing, and that your actions can be part of the solution in determining the future of the mountain goats.

Liam Jones and Caroline Lafond are Recreation Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College, Castlegar, BC.

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