I found the Utah Division of Wildlife’s Aaron Bott’s statements in the mountain goat controversy article quite misleading. He said that state biologists thought mountain goats could fill a vacant ecological niche after bighorn sheep died out there. But my understanding is that there is no solid evidence of bighorn sheep in the La Sals. Rather, there is a 1940s historical statement from a forest ranger that he saw sheep in the La Sals, with no indication of whether these were bighorns or domestic sheep. There were a lot of domestic sheep around our region from the late 1800s through the 1940s or so.

Beyond that, is it a good idea to fill vacant ecological niches with non-native species, or with any species that have vastly different impacts than the original one? Sheep, elk and deer can be somewhat impactful to soils and vegetation, but mountain goat impacts are far greater. Mountain goats destroy the perennial alpine wildflowers and other vegetation tough enough to persist for decades in that harsh environment. They create many denuded wallows, and they are prodigious reproducers. If you hike in the alpine zones of the La Sals, the impact of these goats is obvious. It is rare to hike anywhere in the alpine zone and not see goat fur, wallows devoid of vegetation, and/or actual goats.

The state DWR released the introduced mountain goats onto state land, clearly knowing that they would enter the Mount Peale Natural Area within the national forest, which includes their preferred alpine habitat. Mary O’Brien pointed out in the Moab Sun News article that the protective regulations for the Mount Peale Natural Area are clearly not being followed by introducing a non-native species. What do land protection laws and regulations mean if they are not enforced?

Dennis Silva