Reaction is mixed to putting Rocky Mountain goats in La Sal Mountains
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
May 02, 2013 | 2987 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The possibility of introducing Rocky Mountain goats to the La Sal Mountains has prompted conflicting feelings among Grand County residents.

Some people think it would enhance their recreational experience to see goats high in the crags, while others fear competition with other species for forage or that goats might be aggressive toward humans.

The issue prompted several people to attend an open house on the issue Tuesday evening, April 30, at the Grand Center. The session was sponsored by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), which is considering a plan to put goats in the La Sals, possibly as soon as this fall.

“Most of it has been supportive,” DWR wilderness biologist Guy Williams said of citizen reaction. “Some people wonder ‘why now?’ Others wonder if there is habitat for them there. Others asked if they would compete with other animals.”

Introduction of goats, which the division has studied at length, would occur only if the DWR board of directors votes to approve the plan during its meeting later this spring.

The proposal calls for introducing 20 to 30 goats to begin with, according to the DWR. Officials said the agency would not add more animals until they saw the initial transplants successfully adapting to their new home.

Williams said studies of the La Sal habitat indicates the range could support a total of 180 to 220 goats, which would be five to six animals per square mile. There are 36 square miles of mountain goat habitat in the La Sals, primarily at an elevation of 10,000 feet or above, according to DWR research.

Len Sorensen, who keeps cattle in the La Sals, was among those attending the open house. He made his position clear.

“I’m dead against it,” he said. “Are they going to tear my fences down?”

Sorensen said he’s had trouble with elk destroying his fences and fears goats might do the same thing.

Williams replied to the concern, saying, “They’re going to stay as high as they can unless they’re forced down.”

Byron Bateman, president of the nonprofit Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said he supports the idea.

“We want to create more opportunity for sportsmen and others,” he said of the Salt Lake City-based organization. “Look at all these other places in the state that have them. It creates a lot of excitement for people to see goats in the mountains.”

The state’s biggest population of Rocky Mountain goats is in the Uinta Mountains. Williams said that’s probably where the transplant goats would be captured, if the plan goes ahead.

Other areas where goats are thriving include Provo Peak and Willard Peak. The latter site, the highest point in Weber County, has a total of 240 goats on 27 square miles of habitat for an average of 8.9 animals per square mile, according to the DWR.

In contrast, Olympic National Park in the state of Washington averages 37.5 goats per square mile because hunting is prohibited. The situation caused park managers to remove some of the animals in the past due to overgrazing.

Justin Shannon, a wildlife biologist with DWR, said that wouldn’t happen in the La Sals because a hunting season would be established once a viable goat population was established.

“Otherwise you have no control over your goat density,” he said.

Kelly McGettigan, another Moab resident at Tuesday’s open house, took a cautious attitude.

“There are certain impacts you have to consider,” she said, adding that additional trails and roads have already affected the mountain range. “It’s a very small mountain system,” she said. “There’s already a lot of use up there – cattle, mountain biking and hunting.”

Rocky Mountain goats are native to the Uinta Mountains, but there is no documented proof that they are native to the La Sal Mountains, according to the DWR.

Shannon said DWR representatives will examine the comments they heard during the open house and share the information with board members before a decision is made.

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