Goat encounters dim out trail use

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CLARK FORK — The U.S. Forest Service announced on Friday that the Scotchman Peak Trail will be temporarily closed due to recent encounters between hikers and aggressive mountain goats.

“The temporary closure is intended to allow time for the goats to find other sources of food beyond handouts provided by hikers and to reduce their willingness to approach humans,” Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokesman Jason Kirchner said in a news release.

The Scotchman Peak Trail, also known as Trail No. 65, leads to the 7,009-foot summit of Scotchman Peak, which is the tallest mountain in Bonner County. The trail offers expansive views of Lake Pend Oreille and frequent opportunities to see the resident herd of white-bearded steeplejacks.

However, the Forest Service said visitors to the trail have been enticing the goats to come close by offering food or even allow the goats to eat from their hands, which is causing goats to become habituated to humans and behave aggressively in an attempt to obtain human foods.

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game conducted an outreach campaign last year cautioning Scotchman Peak visitors not to feed the mountain goats. Signs have also been placed at the trailhead and on the trail at the peak's timberline.

But some aren't heeding the advice. The Forest Service said a hiker was bitten by a goat in June, leaving a wound which required multiple stitches. Moreover, there are continued reports of goats attempting to head-butt or charge hikers, raising concerns that somebody will be gored.

In 2010, a hiker was fatally injured in a goring incident at Olympia National Park in Washington state.

The closure prompted the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness to call off a planned group hike on Sunday. Phil Hough, executive director of the group, said hikers who sign up for that outing tend to simply want to ascend Scotchman Peak.

“Moving it anywhere else would be less than satisfying,” Hough said.

Although the temporary closure is a setback those who are drawn to Scotchman Peak, Hough hopes it will heighten awareness of the issue and prompt additional outreach through traditional and social media so it naturally infiltrates discussions among those who are planning to hike the peak.

“It's the first step, perhaps, in getting folks to understand or appreciate how serious the situation is or could be,” Hough said of the temporary closure.

After receiving repeated reports of scores of hikers feeding goats or satisfying the goats' cravings for salt by allowing the animals to lick their sweaty skin, Fish & Game reminded Scotchman Peak visitors that the practices are bad for humans and animals alike.

“Feeding wild animals is dangerous and selfish behavior. It not only puts the individual providing the food in danger, it also puts everyone else in danger. Feeding creates an expectation of salt or food from anyone that hikes to the top of the peak,” Mary Terra-Berns, a former Fish & Game biologist, said in a guest opinion published by the Daily Bee last year.

There is no scheduled date for reopening the Scotchman Peak Trail, according to the Forest Service. The agency said it's working with Fish & Game to address the situation and improve public safety on the mountain.

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