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Gotta go? Bad decision in Valhalla Provincial Park

Mountain goats have developed a taste for human urine
Cory Jordan and Holly Macris are second year Recreation, Fish & Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College. Photo: Submitted

Submitted by Cory Jordan and Holly Macris

In recent years mountain goats have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons, causing havoc at popular hiking and climbing destinations. These normally illusive mountain dwellers have developed a taste for human urine, or more specifically, the minerals it contains. Over the winter goats become deficient in minerals including sodium, potassium, and phosphorous, and will search far and wide for naturally occurring salt licks. Human encroachment and climate change however, are affecting these natural behaviors.

Ever-increasing numbers of climbers and hikers are accessing their mountain-top homes, an ecological niche the goats previously had to themselves. The problem began when goats realized they can access an easy source of minerals from the urine hikers and climbers provide, often concentrated around camping and climbing spots. This inevitably causes human-wildlife conflict. Examples of this have been seen in several national and provincial parks within Canada and the United States. Of local significance are the mountain goats surrounding Mount Gimli in Valhalla Provincial Park. Currently efforts are being made by BC park rangers to intervene before the situation becomes out of hand.

Recent instances have seen our favorite furry friends showing their not-so-friendly side. In 2010 a hiker in the near-by Olympic National Park was a killed after a mountain goat interested in his sweat-soaked clothes could not be dissuaded. After sending the rest of his group ahead Robert Boardman was unsuccessful in shoeing away an abnormally adamant goat. The next time the rest of Robert’s party saw him he was lying motionless under the blood-soaked goat, who refused to move even after having rocks hurled at him. Wildlife ecologists note that this attack serves as a warning that these animals’ space needs to be respected, especially as humans increasingly encroach on their territory.

Returning closer to home, park rangers in Valhalla Provincial Park are taking proactive measures to ensure that our mountain goats do not become habituated by coaxing them away from the most visited areas of the park. Mount Gimli, being a scenic paradise to hikers and climbers alike, has brought high concentrations of visitors to the interior of the park. And you know what more visitors means — more urine.

Before climbers mount the wall for a several hour multipitch climb, the last thing they do is relieve themselves. Unfortunately, the mountain goats within Valhalla have become wise to this fact, and flock to the base of Gimli to slurp up these delicious pee puddles. Resultingly, the chance to observe goats in this area has actually increased visitation to the park.

Park rangers have responded by installing a urine diversion system, a place for recreators to relieve themselves and have the goats’ favorite snack channeled away via an underground drainage. Strategic salt licks are also being placed and gradually moved further away from Mt. Gimli to lure the goats away. The program has been a success so far, however it will take a few generations before these goats forget about the convenience of obtaining the minerals they crave from a source as easy and tasty as human urine.

You can help too! Next time you visit Valhalla Provincial Park, or any park for that matter, be sure that when you’ve gotta go, you go in the right place. Always follow all signage and rules in managed backcountry areas. Mountain goats have survived for many eons without our pee, let’s recreate responsibly and keep these majestic mountaineers out of the headlines!

Cory Jordan and Holly Macris are second year Recreation, Fish & Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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