Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Wildlife Board ruled recently that mountain goats could become a part of the high-elevation ecosystem of the La Sal Mountains east of Moab, but there is work to be done before that happens.
The governor-appointed board accepted the Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan as presented by biologists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and emphasized that approval of the plan only clears the way for the next step of a possible introduction of the nonnative species.
Conservationists have expressed concern with the impact of such an introduction. The possibility to relocate mountain goats from other successful Utah herds brought concern from conservationists.
“There is really no commitment to specific limits to declines of native plant and animal species in these communities (as a result of mountain goats),” said Mary O’Brien, who lives in Castle Valley at the base of the La Sals.
“This is pretty irreversible if the damage is done,” said O’Brien, who also works as the Utah Forests Program director for the Grand Canyon Trust conservation group.
She said the alpine community of the La Sal Mountains is home to 10 plant species only found in Utah and one plant found only on the mountain.
Kent Hersey, big-game project leader for the DWR, said careful consideration has been given to impacts of the mountain goats wherever they have been introduced in Utah and monitoring in other release areas show the animals have no major impact on vegetation.
“There has been 20 been years of data trend plots done by the Forest Service (in the Uinta Mountains). They have not seen any damage by goats there,” Hersey said. “If a population is set and maintained at a low enough density there is not a problem.”
Models show, according to state biologists, that the La Sals could support about 200 mountain goats, and Hersey said that is a conservative number because it only includes the available forage going down to the 10,000-foot elevation. More animals could be added if the model dropped another 1,000 feet in elevation.
Other critics of the plan — which also includes augmenting existing mountain goat populations and creating new groups on the Deep Creek Mountains and on Farmington Peak — claim it is just about creating more hunting opportunities.