Since Olympic National Park was founded in 1938 amongst the Olympic Mountains of Washington state, there has only been one fatal attack by a wild animal recorded there. In 2008, a hiker was attacked and killed by a particularly aggressive mountain goat. As well as the only fatality within Olympic National Park, it is also the only recorded fatal attack by a mountain goat in US history.
63-year old registered nurse Bob Boardman was hiking on the popular Switchback Trail, around 17 miles south of Port Angeles, with his wife and a friend when they were confronted by a large, male mountain goat. Later found to weigh in at 370lb (168kg), the animal approached the trio during a lunch stop, demonstrating aggressive, belligerent behaviour. In an attempt to protect his wife and friend Boardman bravely distracted the animal, attempting to carefully shoo the goat away while his companions retreated down the trail.
Shortly after they left, Boardman’s wife and their friend, Pat Willits, heard him cry out. On returning, they found Boardman lying motionless on the trail with the goat standing over him, preventing any attempt to assist the injured man. By coincidence, the next group to arrive on the scene were friends of Willits. One of them, Bill Baccus, was a member of park staff and immediately summoned help. He then lead a concerted attempt by himself, wife Jessica Baccus (herself a former park ranger) and a third hiker to drive away the aggressive animal. After shouting and pelting the goat with rocks for around 15 minutes, they were able to drive it away from Boardman.
While it refused to leave the scene completely, continuing to posture and stare at the group from nearby, Jessica Baccus was able to reach Boardman to attempt first aid. Gored through the thigh, Boardman had no pulse when she reached him. She was joined shortly after by a hiker who was also a local doctor in her attempts to resuscitate Boardman. After around 20 minutes a Coast Guard helicopter arrived on the scene, with the noise of the rotor finally driving away the goat completely. Despite being airlifted to Olympic Medical Centre in Port Angeles, Boardman was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The goat’s horn had pierced his femoral artery. Later reports by park rangers stated that he likely died of blood loss within five minutes.
Around 300 mountain goats live in Olympic National Park, and the animals are not generally considered aggressive towards humans. However, there are well-documented accounts of them showing aggressive behaviour towards other goats during mating season, or when defending their young against predators. They have also been observed bullying the typically larger bighorn sheep with which they share much of their territory.
It soon became clear that rangers were well aware of problems surrounding some animals showing aggression towards people, particularly a large male known to frequent Klahhane Ridge, the area that the Switchback Trail leads to. The park had received 63 reports from hikers about an aggressive male goat. Indeed, Boardman himself, a keen and experienced hiker, had reported the animal to park authorities multiple times in the past. After the animal was shot and killed by a park ranger the same day it killed Boardman, it was found to be much larger and older than a typical mountain goat, in good health and in the rut for mating season.
A lawsuit was brought against the US Government by Boardman’s widow in 2011, citing the park’s failure to act on the multiple warnings that the animal posed a threat to hikers. While signs had been erected warning of an unusually aggressive mountain goat, the lawsuit maintained that the park should have taken more direct action to deal with an animal with a clear track record of aggressive behaviour. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in 2012, with a District Court judge finding that the park was not obligated to take a ‘mandatory course of action’.