A controversial state plan to introduce mountain goats to the La Sal Mountains, near Moab, could be approved soon. UPR's Jon Kovash reports.
Tuesday night at an open house in Moab, biologists from the Division of Wildlife Resources office in Price unveiled their plans to the public. Among them was wildlife biologist Justin Shannon.
"I think the La Sals could support 200 mountain goats pretty easily," he said. "We have done some habitat analysis where we map the habitat variables that mountain goats use, and even if a mountain goat didn’t go under 10,000 feet, there’s still 36 square miles of adequate mountain goat habitat."
That comes out to 5 or 6 goats p
er square mile. Since 1967 Utah has been introducing the mountain goat across the state, sometimes with the controversial use of helicopters, in the belief that mountain ungulates are an “unfilled niche” for Utah wildlife. Shannon explained the DRW’s rationale for its mission.
"You get to enhance the public’s opportunity to view and appreciate nature," he added. "If you’re out there on a hike or you’re recreating and you get the chance to see mountain goats, on a cliff or alpine habitat, that’s a really neat experience."
Among Moab environmentalists, reaction has been largely negative. Some say it means introducing a non-native, “exotic” species to an already fragile ecosystem. Some say the state should try again to establish Bighorn Sheep, which are native. Without predators, mountain goats can create high-altitude dust bowls, and it’s been suggested that wolves should be introduced along with the goats. But Shannon notes that modern success with Utah’s mountain goat program depends on human hunters.
"What you’d do, you’d set a population objective," said Shannon. " You’d want 'X' amount of goats on the mountain. And in order to keep them there, you have to regulate them via hunting. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for people in Utah and it’s, even outside of Utah if they wanted to draw that permit."
In the last two decades the highly desirable mountain goat permits have become lucrative for the DWR. In 1994 only ten permits were issued in Utah. By last year, that number had swelled to close to 4000 permits, only four percent of which were issued to Utah residents. Shannon says studies have not shown major adverse impacts from the statewide program.
"We’ve introduced mountain goats on many of the mountain ranges," he said. "You know, we’ve done reintroductions in the Uintas, we’ve introduced them on Willard Peak up in Box Elder County, Weber County, those areas, all the way down to the Tushars along the Wasatch Front. We want animals to be balanced with a healthy habitat. If you don’t have healthy habitat you don’t have healthy wildlife populations."
Tuesday the biologists heard numerous supportive comments from hunting groups and outfitters. A decision on whether to go ahead with the plan is expected when a Regional Advisory Council convenes in Green River on May 8. This is Jon Kovash, reporting from Moab for UPR News.