Sandpoint, Idaho – The Scotchman Peaks Wilderness is located northeast of Lake Pend Oreille, and the forested mountain area straddles the border of Idaho and Montana. The Scotchman Peak Trail will take you up to 6946 feet – and the herd of iconic white mountain goats that has become the synonymous with Scotchman Peaks.
The non-profit group Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness – a recent Avista Foundation Grant recipient – helps manage the area and facilitate ways in which goats and people can safely coexist.
An increase in hikers meant the white, long-haired, and sharp-horned goats became very accustomed to people. Sometimes goats would get so close to hikers that they could lick the salty sweat from the hikers’ arms. Some hikers may have encouraged this behavior by offering treats, but the goats are wild animals and should be left alone.
In 2016 a hiker was hurt by a wild goat, and that’s when Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness decided to start a trail ambassador program.
“We decided to focus on education about human goat conflict, because it clearly wasn’t getting through to everyone that they should leave the goats alone,” said Phil Hough, executive director of Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.
Volunteer ambassadors were deployed on the trails during peak hike hours, reminding people to leave the goats alone.
“Goats are naturally shy creatures, but they are salt addicts, that’s why they lick sweat,” Hough said. “Then, when a human won’t cooperate and let them lick, the goat can get cantankerous.”
The trail ambassador program has had good results and the number of dangerous incidents has gone down. About 40 volunteer ambassadors hit the trails, and Hough said there was a big increase in hikers during the COVID shutdowns.
“For the last five years we have talked to at least 1,000 people each year,” Hough said. Ambassadors receive education from biologists and wildlife management organizations both in Idaho and Montana.
The group’s goal is simply to keep people and goats safe.
“To keep hikers safe, goats wild and trails open,” Hough said. “That’s what we are all about.”
At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.