The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) wants to introduce goats there, one of four places in the state where the agency’s management schedule calls for adding the species.
“It has the potential to enhance someone’s recreational experience to be hiking and see a mountain goat,” said Justin Shannon, wildlife manager for the DWR.
An open house to discuss the idea, and take public input, is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. April 30 at the Grand Center, 182 North 500 West.
“We genuinely want to hear what people say,” Shannon said. “We are stewards of the land so we have to listen to the people. We don’t want to do this in a bubble.”
He emphasized that no decision to put goats in the La Sals has been made, nor has a proposed timetable been established. However, the DWR’s long-term management plan for Rocky Mountain goats calls for transplants in the La Sals, Monroe Mountain in Piute and Sevier counties, Mount Naomi in Cache County and Mount Nebo in Juab County.
Goats would be taken from other areas in Utah where they are thriving, Shannon said. A hunting season would be established to keep the population at a manageable level.
“You can’t have so many goats on the range; you have to set an objective,” he said. “That’s why you have hunted populations.”
In Olympic National Park in Washington state, mountain goats became so populous decades ago that the National Park Service removed many of them to preserve grasses and other vegetation.
“They had like 38 goats per square mile,” Shannon said of the national park, where hunting is prohibited.
Mountain goats are found in several Utah mountain ranges as the result of introductions since 1967, according to the DWR management plan. Populations vary from about 200 goats in the Lone Peak Area of Salt Lake County to six goats introduced in 1994 on Willard Peak in Box Elder County.
They prefer the highest alpine environments, ranging up to 13,000 feet during the summer in Utah. Winter habitat in the state can be as high as 11,000 feet on windblown ridges, according to the DWR. The La Sal Mountains have eight peaks ranging in elevation from 12,200 feet to 12,721 feet.
Although the discussion for putting goats into the La Sal Mountains is in early stages, it would be a prime area for goats to live, Shannon noted.
“You have some unfilled niches on that mountain, some high elevation peaks and some goat habitat,” he said. “This is an effort to fit that. It would be a good ecological niche for them.”
The DWR management plan calls mountain goat viewing “one of the most exhilarating and memorable experiences available to users of high alpine areas in Utah. Public perception of goat viewing opportunities is overwhelmingly positive. The Division’s goal is to foster and promote these opportunities wherever possible.”
The agency believes conflicts between hikers and sport hunters would be minimal.
“Sport hunting is extremely limited, the areas where it occurs are isolated, and hunting seasons are typically well past normal visitor use periods,” the DWR goat management plan states.
Although the Utah DWR will make the decision whether to put goats in the La Sals, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Mike Diem said his agency has been in contact with the state division to discuss the issue. He said the Forest Service will be represented at next month’s open house to find out how people feel about the idea.
Given goats’ preference for high-elevation terrain, Diem said, they would probably live on Forest Service land.