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Bad goat: when should the feds have shot the killer?

Long before Robert Boardman's death along a trail in the Olympic National Park, officials knew there was one bad actor. Sure, the park is a wild place, but what was gained by holding fire all those years?

A mountain goat that the photographer believes was probably the one involved in the death of Robert Boardman.

A mountain goat that the photographer believes was probably the one involved in the death of Robert Boardman. Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Arguably, someone should have shot Klahhane Billy years ago. They shot him anyway, but it was a little late. Robert Boardman already lay dead; he had bled to death on a dusty trail along Klahhane Ridge.

"Klahhane Billy" was the 370-pound male mountain goat that gored Boardman in the thigh only a few miles from Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge visitors' center in the summer of 2009. Boardman, his wife and a friend had walked up the Switchback Trail, which meets the Hurricane Ridge road a few miles below the visitors' center and climbs to KlaHhane Ridge. When they stopped for lunch along the ridge, the mountain goat started hassling them They started back. Boardman ran interference with the goat, which followed him as he retreated down the trail.

When the goat persisted, the others went on ahead, while Boardman hung back, delaying the animal. Boardman's wife and friend heard him scream. They climbed back and found him prone on the trail with the goat standing over him. Not until an off-duty national park employee radioed for advice and scared the goat away by flapping a space blanket could they reach him, a half-hour after the fact. A Coast Guard helicopter subsequently airlifted him off the ridge. An EMT lowered from the helicopter hadn't been able to revive him, and when Boardman arrived at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, he was pronounced dead. A couple of rangers found the goat, saw blood on its horn, and shot it.

Boardman was hardly the first hiker to have a run-in with Klahhane Billy. People had been complaining about the goat for years.

That fact lies at the heart of the damage suit that Boardman's family filed last month against the United States government in U.S. district court. The family had filed administrative claims earlier, but the United States Attorney for Western Washington turned them down.

If people walk off into the wilds — even the wilds within a few miles of a massive parking lot and busy visitors' center — does the government have a duty to protect them from wild animals? Does it have a duty to protect them from other hazards?

All else being equal, the answer is "no." Remarkably, in this litigation-haunted time, people in the national parks remain free to kill themselves in a wide variety of ways. This year, in Yosemite National Park, some 18 people did just that. Mostly, they skirted fences, ignored warning signs, then drowned in rivers or fell off cliffs. Three were swept over a waterfall. Two fell off Half Dome. Closer to home, a climbing death or two at Mount Rainier, or Mount Hood, or both has become almost routine. People debate whether or not any yoyo with an ice ax should be allowed onto the mountains, and whether or not the public should have to pay for rescues there, but no one figures the National Park Service is responsible when someone gets buried by an avalanche, disappears into a crevasse, or falls off a cliff.

But wild animals are — or may be — a little different. Nobody owns a wild animal, unless it has been captured or killed, and nobody is responsible for what it does. As courts have decided recently in the cases of people killed by bears in Utah and Montana, a wild animal is a "condition on the land," and the governmental entity that owns the land isn't liable. Courts in California and Florida have let those states off the hook for deaths caused by cougars and alligators. And yet ... that may not be the whole story here.

Two different courts in Utah have recently issued two contrasting verdicts in cases concerning the death of an 11-year-old boy who was killed by a black bear while camping with his family in American Fork Canyon on Fathers' Day of 2007. One court ruled that the state and federal governments were not liable for the boy's death. The bear was a condition on the land. No one was responsible for its actions.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 4:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Those pests should have been gotten rid of years ago. They are destroying the place. Surely the animal lovers can choose from an endless list of more deserving species for their sympathy.

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Whacked? Is that the best this writer can do? Where is the ever absent editor of this publication?

rorric1

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 7:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Not so fast pardner. Most animals that are attracted to people or places they freqeunt have been fed by humans.
I have had many close encounters with Oreamnos americanus, all of them positive. There are some nice pics here: http://pmwm.smugmug.com/Nature/Pacific-NorthWest/2007736_jQNVZn#102019227_i5XXm

During the 1990s the NPService did not want to advertise its biggest attraction. You could not find a post card anywhere around the park with a Goat on it.
Perhaps its time they spent some time educating the public that a Fed Goat is a Dead goat.
Stay at it Dan.
Old Chico Pete

pmwmurray

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Look, the park service shoots bears all the time in Yellowstone. They decide that a bear is a problem, move him and paint him. If he returns, they "whack" him.

The same rule should apply to any animal. We don't hear about defenders of the rights of mice to run rampant in the visitor's center. If they are a problem, traps are set, mice are killed.

While it's arguable that this goat hadn't reached a "threat level red", the parks dept had been warned numerous times that he was a problem. And face it, one goat more or less is not an ecological disaster.

On the otherside, it's too bad that the family has to sue to get the Parks Dept. to do their job, which is to manage the parks. Sometimes that means putting up "bear warning signs", sometimes that means closing a trail, or campground. Mostly they seem to do a good job of balancing the conflicting needs of wildlife and people. Here they appear to have fallen down on the job.

GaryP

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

This reads like a cautionary example of letting public policy be set by the plaintiff's bar. If the Park Service pays this claim then the pressure is on to eliminate an ever expanding list of "risks" on public trails. Those slippery wood bridges, sharp rocks, pests that carry unpleasant viruses, or, most egregious of all, mother bears (Park Service should quarantine mother bears, everyone knows what a threat they are). Plaintiffs are trying to apply the standard of evidence that applies to pets who, being observable, have produced a defined history of behavior.
I don't think that should be applied to wild animals.

kieth

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Kudos for 'whacked'. Nothing wrong with saying it like it should be.

Posted Wed, Dec 7, 10:58 p.m. Inappropriate

After being hassled by goats for years in the Park and Forest in the Olympics, I came up with a solution. The solution is 10 parts water to 1 part ammonia, fits in a squirt gun and is non-lethal for the most part. On dose on the nose or it's vicinity and the problem leaves hurriedly.

As for the nonsense that animals are a condition of the land, that only holds true if it extends to all animals. That would include the top predator, us.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Dec 8, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Its past time to go back to the original "plan A." Shoot all the goats on the Olympic Peninsula. They were introduced for hunting and the only people who want them there now are the Bunny Huggers and the hunters. The Bunny Huggers have an understanding of ecology at about the same level as a below average rock. The hunters can go hunt elsewhere. Get rid of the Goats, which were never native to the Olympics, and reintroduce wolves, which were.

Steve E.

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