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Olympic Park tragedy underscores guns in parks issue

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By all accounts, 63-year-old Robert Boardman of Port Angeles was a stand-up guy; a fellow who enjoyed hiking in the Olympics and who probably never imagined that he would be killed by – of all things – a mountain goat.

But his death earlier this month on Klahhane Ridge several days ago should remind everyone that the campaign to allow the carrying of defensive firearms in national parks – a campaign championed by the National Rifle Association, Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Virginia Citizens Defense League and other gun rights organizations – had to do with much more than just plugging bad guys committing wilderness crimes.

This is a cold, hard fact about the West that a lot of people who have moved here from elsewhere, or who grew up in the urban Puget Sound environment simply fail to grasp: There are things that can kill you out there other than falls and your own stupidity, which this column mentioned the other day here. Wild animals are called “wild” for a reason, and it’s not just bears and mountain lions that can harm you. In self-defense, whistles and even bear spray may not do the trick, and one’s only option may be lethal force.

The mountain goat that killed a 63-year-old

Port Angeles man Saturday was no stranger to Olympic National Park rangers.
Barb Maynes, park spokeswoman, said the ram was known for its aggressive behavior, including reports of it following people along the trails around Klahhane Ridge.—Peninsula Daily News

In Boardman’s case, it appears that the culprit was a particularly aggressive goat about which others have complained. Some may ask why park authorities didn’t act sooner. Well, why didn’t authorities in Arkansas keep Lakewood cop-killer Maurice Clemmons behind bars? It’s pretty much the same problem: Human lethargy that led to human tragedy. Some may think that Mr. Boardman’s death hardly compares to the slayings of four police officers by a convicted felon nutball, but all five of those folks are equally dead when they should all be alive. It’s not “the system” that failed, but the people within that system who failed. Reports that park rangers are now keeping an eye on other goats is hardly reassuring, and of no consolation.

Recall when the NRA and others were pushing for guns in parks, and the opposition that sprang up, along with the hysteria that was generated. The National Park Service retirees’ organization aggressively opposed legalizing defensive firearms carry in the parks. The Brady Campaign went overboard, trying to frighten park visitors into believing they would come face-to-face with some guy carrying an AK-47 on the trail. This column discussed guns in parks here, and here, taking KING 5 News to task for visually suggesting that the new law allows for target shooting inside national parks, which it absolutely does not.

CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb and this columnist collaborated on an Op-Ed piece about guns in parks, and I wrote about it in a guest editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

This new law does not allow (target shooting or hunting), even though the fear-mongers would have the public believe that the change is going to turn Yellowstone, Yosemite and Mount Rainier into Wild West no-man’s lands.—Alan Gottlieb & Dave Workman, Feb. 23, 2010

The goats were released in the Olympic Mountains before the place ever became a national park, way back in the 1920s. It was not until the 1930s that then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation establishing Olympic National Park. Those goats were released to provide hunting opportunity for sportsmen, and back when I wrote for the now-defunct Fishing & Hunting News, I advocated opening up the park to a special permit goat hunt to keep the goat population in check. That was to counter a Park Service proposal to kill them all. One does not solve a problem through biological genocide.

They’ve had some good discussions about the goat tragedy on the Northwest Hikers and Washington Hunters’ forums.

There are good reasons to carry guns in national parks. One can hardly say with certainty if the presence of an armed park visitor might have made a difference. It is foolish to speculate.

What is not speculation, however, is the fact that we have legislation in place making parks firearm carry legal, and it was the potential for just this kind of incident that guided much of the support for that law. True, most people were influenced by the growing crime potential in national parks, and the knowledge that the Constitution and the right of self-defense are not left outside of the park boundaries.

We do not live in a Walt Disney world where animals are called Bambi and Thumper and talk to one another. This is the real world, where some very bad things can happen to very good people, and wild animals do their “talking” the only way they know how: with brute force that is sometimes fatal.

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Washington State Gun Rights and Responsibilities

Comments

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Well, Congressman Norm Dicks doesn't believe that guns should be carried in National Parks. And this tragedy is in his district. Oh, and there is an election in less than two weeks to suggest his position is wrong, in some cases, dead wrong.

  • Profile picture of riverworld
    riverworld 3 years ago

    Well stated article. I will be figuring out how to make accessable at least a .357 for my daughter and I on backpacking trips. We plan well, but we have never carried.

  • Don B 3 years ago

    Excellent article.

    @donbcivil

  • Kelly Jarboe 3 years ago

    It is always a shame when a tragedy such as this happens, and especially when a Life is lost, some will say He should not have been there, others will wonder what the Man did to provoke the Animal into his Attack, because these people do not know or understand a basic fact, animals are wild and should be seen from a safe distance. My only question is why if the Park Rangers knew this animal was a suspected problem and had posed a threat to people why the animal was not moved off into a distant area away from the People and trails used by them. If fault were to be laid at anyone’s doorstep I would have to lay it on the doorstep of the Park Rangers Leadership for ignoring a potential Threat.

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    The law only allows carrying loaded weapons in National Parks in Washington, it is still illegal to remove a gun from its holster or backpack and more so to actually use it. Those rules weren't legalized in the bill allowing the open carry. And it is still illegal to kill wildlife in a National Park in Washington under any circumstances, inlcudling self-defense.

    Also, the NPS rangers did not know this particular goat was agressive, they're conducting test on it now to determine possible causes, but they have known as many hikers have known that some goats in the Olympic NP are agressive and should be avoided. Obviously this hiker didn't heed the advice or warnings. He could have simply watched and left the area.

    Remember we're the visitors, not the wildlife, so the threat isn't them but us and guns don't change that.

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Oh, that's it, blame the dead guy for getting himself killed.
    You obviously have no concept of the self-defense laws in Washington state. Don't know where you are getting your information, but it is legal to shoot in self-defense.

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Wait a minute here. I paid for this park with my tax dollars and I'm NOT some "visitor" with no rights. The imported goats are there with tolerance or they can face removal. This crap about humans being interlopers in nature's space is a lot of BS. Open the hunting season and let the harvesting begin.

    I wonder if Rep. Norm Dicks ever camped in this national park since he became a congressman? I'd like to introduce him to a bear or two...

  • Robert B 3 years ago

    I have backpacked in Olypic National Park and since the laws have changed to allow lawabiding citizens to carry firearms in said park I have exercised that right. I had a freind with me last year while hiking who said "why do you want to take a gun man?" he conceeded after a day and night in the backcountry that it was not a bad itdea and siad he felt safer with me having it the rest of the trip. I would encourage all to stand up for their rights even if they choose not to exercise them.

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