On the afternoon of October 16, 63-year-old Bob Boardman was hiking a trail of switchbacks with his wife Susan Chadd and their friend Pat Willis at Klahhane Ridge, roughly 20 miles south of Port Angeles in Olympic National Park. When the trio paused for lunch, they were joined by an unexpected guest: a surly 370-pound, 8-year-old mountain goat. The goat stalked the hikers, pawed the ground, and bleated menacingly. Boardman, an experienced Olympic National Park outdoorsman and no stranger to confrontations with angry mountain goats, ordered his companions to forge ahead while the animal followed next to him for nearly a mile. Then tragedy struck. The goat lowered his horns and gored Boardman in the thigh, severing his femoral artery. He bled to death within minutes.
Boardman, according to Olympic National Park rangers, was the first animal-caused fatality in the park's 73-year history. And yet, because he lodged several complaints about aggressive goat behavior prior to the deadly encounter, Boardman's estate is now filing more than $10 million worth of wrongful-death and personal-injury claims against the park.
Boardman, according to a report by the Peninsula Daily News based on documents obtained via a public-records request, "had some unsettling encounters with aggressive goats in the past."
Chadd [Boardman's wife] told park Ranger Michael Danisiewicz that "she couldn't understand why the park hadn't taken action with this goat," according to Danisiewicz's supplemental incident report.
"She said Bob had contacted the park several times because of the goat's aggressive nature."
In addition, according to Chief Ranger Colin Smith's report on the incident, "the goat had exhibited aggressive behavior in the past, including following visitors, blocking the trail and rearing up."
Park Ranger Sanny Lustig also said she "had seen it many times and hazed it on several occasions."
Goat "hazing," despite the way it sounds, is not some weird fraternity ritual. Rather, it is the tactic that park rangers advise all hikers use when they encounter mountain goats on the trails.
"The rule of thumb at all times is to stay at least 50 yards away from goats and really all wildlife," says Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes. "But if a goat approaches, then we recommend chasing the animal away by yelling, waving arms and coats, and throwing rocks. Then report it to the nearest ranger station immediately. If actions like throwing rocks and yelling don't work, then retreat."
Boardman, by all accounts, did not follow this procedure in the slightest. And yet, John Messina, the Tacoma-based attorney for Boardman's widow and son, alleges that the park should still be held accountable because they failed to exterminate the unruly ungulate in the preceding months.
"The park service could have prevented Mr. Boardman's death had they followed their own established procedures for removing dangerous animals from the park. But sadly, they did not," Messina said in an official statement to the press. "The park service had received numerous complaints about this goat and its aggressive behavior from hikers and its staff, but did not relocate or euthanize the animal when it became a clear threat to the public. They knew exactly which goat it was because of its enormous size and repeated attacks. This was not a mystery."
Park rangers tracked the goat down and killed it the day after the Boardman attack.
Hunting, according to Maynes, is how goats ended up in the Olympics in the first place. Twelve of the beasts were introduced by humans in the 1920s to be pursued as big-game trophies. The results from the most recent goat census conducted earlier this year are still pending, but Maynes says biologists estimate that around 300 goats currently reside in the park.
"In national parks, part of the management policies is that we strive to remove invasive, non-native species when possible and when feasible," Maynes says, explaining that during the 1980s the park service attempted to shoot the goats with tranquilizer darts from helicopters, then relocate them to their native areas. "Helicopters in extreme mountainous terrain is risky in any circumstances, and the type of operations they were doing were deemed in 1989 to be too hazardous for humans."
In light of Boardman's death, Maynes says the park service is again considering relocating the goats. In June, the issued a 27-page "Mountain Goat Action Plan," which included the laughable advice that hikers should avoid pissing near trails because it will "entice goats to use the trail area, and turn trails into long, linear salt licks."
Maynes says she's aware of only two other bloody goat run-ins in the park's history: a man was gored in the hand in the 1970s, and someone else was gored in the leg, outside of the park boundaries, on Mt. Eleanor.
Boardman, a registered nurse and accomplished musician, is the only fatality. According to Messina, Boardman's family has filed the required administrative damage claims against the National Park Service, and they must now wait at least six months before they can file a lawsuit. "A federal judge without a jury will ultimately decide on the merits and damages of the case," Messina says.