The goat problem vexed Leonard Sielecki for over a decade.
Every spring, goats suffering from mineral deficiency following the long winter trek down mountains in search of salt. They find it on B.C. highways, which either have salt left over from icy conditions or may draw the animals in with the road’s brine residue.
Sielecki, who manages the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s wildlife program, is an expert on vehicle collision mitigation. But luring goats away from the roads proved more difficult than he expected, at least until he realized he should just give the animals what they wanted.
“It sounds very simple now but for some reason it took a lot of thinking to come up with that,” he said.
Sielecki’s not kidding. He’d previously tried a number of deterrents, such as mixing cayenne pepper into salt (which worked on goats and, unexpectedly, also on allergic drivers) or magnesium chloride (which not only made the goats sick but also damaged vehicles and cars).
He even tried placing satchels of dog fur from wolf-like species such as huskies and malamutes along the highway. That also backfired. “If you’re ever going to do an experiment like that, make sure you freeze all the boxes because you’ll get fleas,” he said.
Finally, after at least one goat was killed last summer on Highway 31 between the small West Kootenay towns of Lardeau and Argenta, Sielecki decided to try another tact.
Sielecki contacted Nelson-based wildlife research biologist Kim Poole, who partnered with the Friends of Lardeau River to haul approximately 125 kilograms of livestock salt up the hill from the highway late last summer. They set up small piles and hoped it would distract the goats from the nearby highway.
“I put some cameras up and if you can believe it, within 55 minutes of us leaving the goats were on the lick site,” said Poole. “So in the short term it looked really promising.”
Mountain goats have long been a fixture on the Lardeau Bluffs.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development estimates the herd’s population is 50, but Poole said he’s had locals tell him it is more likely 25 to 30. The goats are also protected from hunting after a ban was placed on the bluffs in 2004.
Protecting the goats, Poole said, is a local prerogative.
“It’s not like you have several hundred goats running around in that area and dropping one or two to a vehicle isn’t such a bad thing,” he said. “It’s just not a lot of goats. You don’t want to lose too many of them.”
Last year the salt licks were placed too late in the season to judge how successful they were. This year, Poole and nine volunteers returned on April 18 with 175 kilos of salt that were placed in two different locations about 150 metres from the highway. The transportation ministry has purchased approximately 400 kilos of salt, which Poole said he’ll use to replenish the licks every four-to-six weeks.
The salt is placed in spread-out piles to simulate natural licks. Sielecki said he opted against using blocks to avoid the possibility of animals sharing diseases.
It’s still too early to know if the project is a success, but Lardeau isn’t the only community trying out the licks. Three sites have also been added in the East Kootenay and Sielecki has plans for two more.
Although the salt can keep drivers safe from collisions, Sielecki said protecting animals is his priority. He recalled meeting a woman in Kaslo and mentioning the Lardeau goats.
“She knew the herd. That was really neat because I’m trying to help a herd she knows locally. It’s that attachment people have, that love people have for the wildlife of our province.”