Mountain goats introduced to La Sal Mountains in Southeast Utah
Trend of introducing mountain goats outside historic range continues-
Utah’s Division of Wildlife has captured about 50 mountain goats from its thriving herd in the high Tushar Mountains of Southern Central Utah and released some of them into the photographically famous La Sal Mountains, east of Moab, near the Colorado border.
Seeing and hunting the goats in the heights of the high plateaus of Utah and isolated ranges like the La Sals is exciting stuff. Mountain goats will be new to the La Sals. In fact, they are historically new to Utah in general. Utah did not originally have mountain goats. Mountain goats are native from southeastern Alaska south to the Columbia River in Washington; east into Idaho and western Montana; and north to southern Yukon. Now Utah has about 2000 of the big white shaggy animals.
Mountain goats are usually not very controversial because they live in the crags with only cougar and eagles preying on them. The lower slopes can be grazed out by sheep and cattle and it doesn’t effect the goats much. However, controversy grows when they are brought to alpine areas with vegetation that did not evolve with goats eating it.
They were introduced primarily for hunting, and hunting is certainly necessary because of the great damage the goats did to the vegetation of the Olympic Mountains in Olympic National Park of Washington where they were not hunted and not native. The La Sal mountains are a small, very high, isolated range with a rare variety of alpine plants. It is feared that the goats will destroy these plants and will be replaced by some unknown assemblage of vegetation, or perhaps nothing much at all.
There is a lot of irony that many state fish and game departments were opposed to the restoration of the native wolf because it was “not native,” when in fact it was native to almost the entire United States. Meanwhile they introduce clearly exotic species such as turkey and mountain goats, south of their known range. South Dakota, Colorado, and parts of Montana and Washington State have non-native populations of mountain goats. Some conservationists are concerned about the migration of introduced goats down from Montana into the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming in Yellowstone National Park and the adjacent North Absaroka Wilderness. Study abstract.
Brett Prettyman of the Salt Lake Tribune has written a detailed story on the movement of the southern Utah mountain goats. See: “DWR moves more than 50 mountain goats. Relocation » Helicopters move 20 of 53 wild goats to become controversial first herd on the La Sal Mountains east of Moab.”
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
14 Responses to Mountain goats introduced to La Sal Mountains in Southeast Utah
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Of course there is little controversy when an animal that is fun to shoot and is not going to interfere with ranching is actually introduced outside of a native range. But native wolves, can’t have that.
An important aspect of this story is that the Forest Service at the regional level formally opposed this transplant because of the rare alpine plants in the LaSals, and in particular because of the endemic LaSal daisy, found nowhere else, and which is supposedly protected by a Research Natural Area, yet the Division of Wildlife Resources did not drop the plan and the Utah Wildlife Board adopted it through a 4:2 vote on August 22. The FS was quite late in making its official position known (“late to the dance” according to one member of the Wildlife Board), and now apparently won’t exercise its authority to prevent the transplant (indeed, it has already occurred). Instead the FS has been invited to participate with the Division of Wildlife in developing and implementing an ongoing monitoring plan.
This scenario is somewhat like the megaload scenario in that it features a spineless FS that is unwilling to protect federal public resources in its charge from abuse.
Is this all for hunters ?
From the Moab Sun News opinion page:
“Some ideas are just not great. One of them is the plan by the state of Utah to move exotic Rocky Mountain goats to the high, rare, arid alpine area of our small La Sal Mountains, for “once-in-a-lifetime” hunts. The trouble is, it’s the wrong animal, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
Full text: http://www.moabsunnews.com/opinion/article_b38afae4-f94f-11e2-ba03-0019bb30f31a.html
The “once in a lifetime” quote is here
I found this a well written article and only have one comment when the author says “Mountain goats are exotic members of the cattle family (they aren’t goats).” It is true they are not in the same grouping as domestic goats.
Domestic goats and mountain goats are both members of the subfamily Caprinae, domestic cattle are members of the subfamily Bovinae; both subfamilies are in the family Bovidea.
But I do agree that it is the wrong time, place, and species.
The official justification for it is that there is a vacant niche once occupied by bighorn sheep that died off for some reason (probably because of diseases contracted from domestic sheep) and so, for the good of the ecosystem they must fill it; but they can’t fill it with bighorns because of the conflict with domestic sheep, so the surrogate mountain goat is the next best thing. In short, they actually offer an ecological justification as their primary reason, with hunting and wildlife watching being a secondary benefit.
Another reason, I’m sure, is that it gives some of the younger DWR staff a project that will give them training and be something they can be proud of – much as a professor will suggest a research project for a Ph.D. candidate.
The mountain goats certainly took off in the high Tushars near Beaver, Utah. That, of course, never held mountain goats previously.
Is there any word on what they did to the alpine plants there?
I am not aware of any studies in that regard. I don’t think either the Forest Service or the Division of Wildlife Resources has ever done a methodical study, including the necessary pre-transplant baseline studies, to be sure that no detrimental impacts have occurred in the Tushars or elsewhere.
DWR presented the Wildlife Board members with a letter from an Ashley NF ecologist, Sherel Goodrich, in which he claimed that there have been no noticeable changes in the alpine plant communities of the High Uintas since goats were transplanted there over 30 years ago, but no actual data were given. I’m quite certain his assessment was just based on ocular inspection. Nevertheless, DWR used it as evidence that goats will do no harm to the plant community in the LaSals. As additional evidence, DWR cited a meta-study by John Laundre (formerly a colleague of yours, I believe) that compared 34 published studies of goats and sheep and concluded that their diets overlap 95% and that habitat use is very similar. I have not read the study, but it overlooks the uniqueness of the LaSals, which is a small island mountain range in a sea of desert, harboring three endemic species of plants and several FS sensitive species. It is known that Rocky Mountain bighorns once thrived in the Uintas, but the FS doesn’t know absolutely for sure whether mountain sheep ever occupied the LaSals (though I imagine they did) or whether they were Rocky Mountain bighorns or desert bighorns (my guess is the latter), in which case use might have been only occasional); nevertheless, they have chosen to throw caution to the wind, probably expecting that no future changes to the alpine plant community can be pinned on the goats. And that’s exactly what worries some of us, especially given that the LaSals are currently affected by drought. There is also the fact that the LaSal pika might be adversely affected by the goats, as the two species somewhat compete for food. This little critter will be slowly (or maybe not so slowly) squeezed into smaller and smaller habitat patches until it dies off altogether.
Wildlife management agencies seem to operate on a standard operating principle, which I believe can be glossed as: If there is an opportunity to manipulate nature in order to increase hunting opportunities, and no one can prove that it will have detrimental impacts to habitat, other species, or ecosystems, do it. I submit that this is better seen as a case where our ignorance should be given greater respect and we should refrain from acting (the precautionary principle). I must also give the Forest Service a low grade for being so feckless and just going along with the DWR scheme despite the fact that it conflicts with their own management protocols for the Mount Peale Resource Natural Area, set up in the 80s to protect the endemic LaSal daisy.
So, where was Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance when all this was being discussed? Is it a part of their mission statement, or are they just concerned with Canyonlands?
The La Sal Mountains are something like 20 miles from Moab (Mecca and new tourist trap for visitors to the area). Maybe in a few years this goat population will produce a dozen or so drawing harvest tags, but it won’t be a big draw for hunters, one would guess. In any event having 50-150 goats running around munching on what vegetation there is, likely could have some impact on increasing wind/water erosion in a changing environment, as they take whatever they find down to the roots. But, in the bigger scheme of things I would guess there are more impacts over the last thirty years from the hikers/mountain bikers and 4-wheelers crunching their way through the fragile cryptogamic soils ecosystems of the area.
There goes man again – fuc#ing up the way nature shouldn’t be. They are there to hunt? Well isn’t that nice. I’m so glad that hunters have a say as to the way things should be done to the environment.
Just another item to be pissed about.
Yes, it is all for hunting. SFW run the show.
I can’t see this being a big hunting draw, its just plain dumb.
Exotic elk (both Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt) were planted on one of the islands here (Etolin) over two decades ago. ADF&G was not enthusiastic about it (mainly due to concerns about competition with native Sitka blacktails and potential disease) but an influential state legislator and some of his sporting constuents were enraptured with the idea and pushed it through. In order to get the elk from Oregon, a trade was made to supply goats to stock (or restock?) mountains south of the Columbia River (transplant misadventures described in an earlier thread) which may or may not have been replacing a long-ago extirpated native population (apparently uncertain?). The elk were transplanted to an island with a lot of predators (wolves and black bears) to help keep them in check and have done reasonably well, and not spread too far beyond that release area. However, they spend a lot of time in the interior of the island and it is a completely brutal hunt to find and pack one out to the shore (when asked where to hunt elk, the local biologist has advised prospective hunters “go to Colorado”). Elk attract some local hunters because they are different, but its difficult to beat a superbly adapted species in its native habitat like the Sitka blacktailed deer. I personally don’t find hunting exotics very attractive and elk, being a herd animal and less broadly scattered, present more of a “feast or famine” prospect for hunters in a rainforest environment.