Utah’s Division of Wildlife Services (DWR) is considering introducing Rocky Mountain goats to the La Sal Mountains.
Rocky Mountain goats are identified by their white, woolly coat and black horns. They stand just over three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Mountain goats typically live in the highest elevations in the mountain range, above the treeline on the talus slope.
Should the DWR proceed with the plan, it would begin with 20 to 30 mountain goats.
”We look at different areas that support different species of wildlife and then try to fill those habitats,” said DWR biologist GuyWallace. “It’s a niche to be filled.”
There is no evidence that Rocky Mountain goats have lived on the La Sal Mountains. However, some bones have been found that suggest that the extinct Harrington’s mountain goat once lived on the small mountain chain during the Pleistocene period, also known as the ice age, approximately 11,000 B.C. The Harrington’s mountain goat was smaller than today’s mountain goats, and had a longer, narrower face accompanied by thinner, smaller horns.
The DWR have been introducing mountain goats to different mountain ranges within Utah since 1967. Only the Uintah Mountains has had any evidence of goats previous to the transplantation.
Guy Wallace, a biologist with DWR, said this isn’t a project being pushed by sportsmen.
However, DWR now manages “once in a lifetime” hunts for mountain goats. Only 10 permits were issued in 1994. Now there are nearly 4000 permits, with more than 90 percent going to hunters from out of state.
This year the hunt begins Sept. 9. There will be hunts conducted in the Box Elder, Peak, Lone Peak, Provo Peak and Timpanogos in the Wasatch Range; Willard Peak near Ogden; in the Tusher Mountains near Beaver; Mount Nebo in the Central Mountains, and on both the north and south slopes of the Uintah Mountains.
Wallace said that hunting would be one means of managing the animals.
Should the goats enter areas that have sensitive or endangered flora or have too much human and goat interaction, hunts could be conducted to make the goats avoid the area.
He observed human interaction with mountain goats that were transplanted in the Tusher Mountains near Beaver.
“When there are people they mosey along,” Wallace said. “Where you see problems are where people feed them.”
Nathan Wynn has been photographing wildlife for 25 years. He attended the DWR’s open house regarding the mountain goat introduction in April. He said there was one unanswered question.
“The question of ‘why?’” Wynn said. “What would be the benefit of introducing a foreign and non-native species to manage?”
Wynn said he was open to hearing a beneficial reason to introduce the species, but the only reason he was given was to raise funds through the sale of hunting tags and wildlife viewing.
“A non-resident Rocky Mountain goat tag sells for $1500, and the plan suggested selling a limited number of tags per year at the beginning,” Wynn said. “However, goats reproduce and take over an area very rapidly, so I assume that it would only take a few years before they would be able to sell a very large number of Rocky Mountian Goat tags. Within a few years, the whole venture could no doubt be very profitable, but it’s not the proper way to take care of the land or the wildlife.”
He expressed concern that the introduction of mountain goats could affect the mountains elk population, which visits the talus slopes.
“The elk have evolved in the La Sal mountains. Why would we need to replace them with Rocky Mountain goats? It is not a garden, and it is not a ranch,” Wynn said.
Jose Knighton, the author of “Canyon Country’s La Sal Mountains Hiking and Nature Handbook”, said he feels very conflicted about the proposal to introduce mountain goats to the La Sal Mountains.
“I’ve been enjoying my encounters with mountain goats introduced to Ogden’s portion of the Wasatch range,” he said.
However, he is concerned about rare flora that grows above the treeline.
“Introducing these beautiful animals to the La Sals would probably be terminal for the endemic rayless daisy, Erigeron mancus, which grows nowhere on the planet but the La Sals above treeline, exactly where the goats would be making their home.”
Laurel Hagen from Canyonlands Watershed Council expressed concern regarding the introduction of mountain goats.
“While the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staff may have done enough assessment to determine that the introduction of this exotic ungulate would be successful, there has been no information provided to the public about the effects of an introduced herbivore on the high elevation plants and animals existing in the La Sal Mountains,” Hagen said.
“The introduction of an exotic species seems an unnecessarily risky matter, with possibly serious consequences for water supplies, fish, and native plant communities. The effects of goat introduction must be looked at much more carefully before making this decision,” Hagen said.