In regards to George Johnson’s letter to the editor, it would be helpful for him to have more background on how data on goat impacts were collected on the citizen science trip in late July (“Skeptical about goat impacts in La Sals,” Aug. 13-19, 2015 Moab Sun News).
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) needs to quickly ascertain whether the new goats are impacting resources within the Mount Peale Resource Natural Area (RNA), because as soon as the exotic goats entered the RNA, that instantly put the Forest Service in violation of its own regulations. The USFS requested the help of Wild Utah Project to organize up to 20 volunteers so more ground could be covered in a short time, during a very short flowering season for a suite of rare alpine plants the USFS is tracking. The USFS trained volunteers in the use of the method, originally designed to detect impacts of humans in the RNA. Nearly 100 pre-selected sites (based on predicted occurrences of the rare plants) were visited during the assessment, where we systematically surveyed 0.1-hectare plots for the rare plants, and signs of any impacts to alpine plants or soils, whether the impacts are caused by mountain goats, humans or by elk (at lower elevations).
The data are still being summarized, but many sites had definitive signs of mountain goats co-occurring with impacts to soil, such as trailing and wallows, or impacts to alpine cushion plants from grazing or shearing by hooves.
Any other questions that Mr. Johnson has about the findings being “scientific or reliable” should be brought up with the U.S Forest Service. The data and photos will all be available to the public.
Allison Jones is the executive director of Wild Utah Project.