Trust loses appeal over La Sals goats

10th Circuit: No valid claim against USFS

A plan to introduce non-indigenous mountain goats to the La Sal Mountains in 2013 continues to be litigated in courtrooms.
Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

A federal court recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the Grand Canyon Trust against the U.S. Forest Service over the controversial introduction of mountain goats in the La Sal Mountains.

Judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit after determining Grand Canyon Trust failed to cite a cause of action in its opposition to the plan.

Grand Canyon Trust in its initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah claimed the Forest Service made a final decision when it said it would take a “wait and see” approach after goats crossed from the La Sal Mountains into an adjacent USFS-managed range.

The controversial plan by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to move the goats into the mountains – where they are not indigenous – for sightseeing and to be hunted, dates back to 2013. In June of that year the UDWR’s Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan was approved.

It called in part for the release of about 200 mountain goats into the La Sal Mountains, which is next to the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

The Forest Service, citing concerns about potential negative impacts in the forest’s upper alpine regions, asked the UDWR to postpone moving goats into the mountains so it could study the issue. UDWR declined the request, but said it would introduce a smaller number of goats and then work with the Forest Service to study any adverse effects.

Twenty mountain goats were released in September 2013 on state lands and another 15 were introduced a year later.

The goats ultimately migrated into the national forest – specifically the 2,380-acre Mt. Peale Research Natural Area, which the Forest Service created in 1988. The RNA includes the Manti-La Sal’s highest peaks of Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz.

The environmental group Grand Canyon Trust initiated litigation against the USFS hoping it would compel it to force the state stop its goat transplanting plan on nearby state lands, force the state to acquire special use authorization in an effort to minimize the state’s right to use the national forest, and remove the goats already in the national forest.

The Forest Service, noted circuit judges, said it would take time to “gather and evaluate data sufficient to determine whether action was warranted.”

This approach did not constitute a final decision, agreed the judges, and the trust’s efforts to get judicial review were questionable.

While the decision went against the Grand Canyon Trust, the question of whether the goats are damaging sensitive habitat – either on state or federal forests – has not been answered.

A report released early in 2018 suggests the goats have destroyed cushion plants that could be 100 years old. The goats turn them over and use them for wallowing. The report, which Grand Canyon Trust created, also claimed lichens, mosses and vegetation are in danger of destruction.

The state disputed the report, questioned its methodology, and said it was too early to see what the long-term impacts might be.