State wildlife officials believe it’s the largest group seen in the state in recent years. Usually the animals move in smaller herds.
State biologists spotted something unusual while counting mountain goats near Mount Baker earlier this summer: a group of 66 adults and 24 kids traveling together up a snow field.
Aerial photos released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife show 90 goats about 5 miles from Artist Point, on the northeastern side of the volcano.
Mountain goats are common in Washington’s mountain ranges. The department estimates the statewide population is between 2,400 and 3,200, including 400 to 500 in the area surrounding Mount Baker.
But Rich Harris, who coordinates goat management for the department, says it’s rare to see that many goats gathered in one spot at the same time.
“Large groups of goats and nannies (female goats) are not unheard of, but that’s probably the largest assemblage somebody’s seen in recent years,” he said.
Mountain goats will travel in groups to spot predators more easily, Harris said. But they also compete with each other in foraging for food, which is why the groups are typically smaller. They prefer steep, rocky terrain that enables them to see and escape from predators.
The July assemblage was first reported by Northwest Sportsman magazine editor Andy Walgamott, who noticed a photo of the goat party in a weekly state wildlife-department report.
The state monitors the mountain-goat population near Mount Baker every summer. Biologists survey the animals from the air and have developed an extensive methodology to estimate how many goats they do not see, Harris said. The total population around Mount Baker is estimated to be a bit lower than in 2015, he said.
Mountain goats are native to the Cascades but not to the Olympics, where a hiker was fatally gored by a goat in 2010. The incident prompted Olympic National Park to develop a plan for reducing its goat population, and Harris said a proposal is expected this fall.
The animals are naturally drawn to salt in urine and sweat, and have become habituated to humans in some areas.
People can stay safe when hiking near mountain goats by keeping a distance of at least 50 yards and throwing rocks at goats that act aggressively.
Wildlife experts recommend hikers urinate well off the trail and keep sweaty items like backpacks and trekking poles with them at all times.
State officials and forest rangers have released a video with additional safety tips: