[PCA] In Utah land-use fight, 18 goats become unlikely stars

Ferriel, Roger rferriel at blm.gov
Wed Sep 3 13:46:11 CDT 2014

In Utah land-use fight, 18 goats become unlikely stars

Dylan Brown, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On a remote patch of mountain in southeastern Utah, 18 Rocky Mountain goats
wander through plants found nowhere else on Earth and straight into a
debate raging across the nation's public lands.

Last September, Utah's wildlife agency began building a population of 200
mountain goats in the La Sal Mountains, and in doing so, it launched the
latest chapter in a decades-old conflict over wildlife and federal land
management in the West.

Since Mary O'Brien got word from a fellow plant scientist about the first
transplant of goats into an area east of Moab, the 68-year-old has been on
a quest to ensure the goats don't stick around in the place she considers
her backyard.

The Utah forests program director for the Grand Canyon Trust has been
rallying hikers and conservationists to protect a rare example of alpine
terrain in Utah and its sensitive plants, including the world's only La Sal
daisies, from the goats.
[image: La Sal daisies]

[+]  <http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/2014/09/03/stories/1060005159#>Named
after the mountains containing the world’s only known population,
environmental groups say La Sal daisies are under siege from mountain goats
introduced into their habitat by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Photo
by Barb Smith, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

Chris Wood, the southeast regional supervisor for the Utah Division of
Wildlife Resources, expects the new population in the Manti-La Sal National
Forest to have little impact on the ecosystem. That was the case with
previous introductions in Utah's Wasatch Front, Uinta Mountains and Tushar

"In those areas, goats have had no impacts on the vegetation in those
alpine and subalpine communities," Wood said. "We are confident on the La
Sals, that will also be the case."

The Grand Canyon Trust, the Wild Utah Project and other conservation groups
have their own data. Almost inevitably, they point to the opposite
conclusion, the groups say.

Wood said environmentalists won't be happy until every goat is off the
mountains, regardless of whether they hurt the ecosystem. O'Brien said
state wildlife agencies are running unchecked over the national interest by
introducing animals to lands where they don't belong.

Until the first introduction of six goats from Washington state's Olympic
National Park to the Lone Peak Wilderness Area southeast of Salt Lake City
in 1967, no population of goats was ever recorded in Utah. But according to
DWR's 2013 state management plan, goats are "a legitimate part of our
modern Utah faunal landscape" because they are native to the "North
American continent and the Northern Rocky Mountains."

Utah offers a hospitable habitat, the state argues. After 12 introductions
over four decades, the state's population stands at about 2,000 animals.
Jurisdictional battle

Caught between DWR and the environmental coalition is the U.S. Forest

The agency officially objects to Utah's goat-introduction plan but has
conceded to work with both sides to gauge the species's impact.

DWR argues the Forest Service has already signed away "the primary
authority, jurisdiction and responsibility to manage, control and regulate
fish and wildlife populations on National Forest Service lands" in a
memorandum of understanding between the two agencies.

"We'll always have a future of working with our federal partners, but I
think we'll always be clear, though," Wood said. "In the United States,
wildlife management is a state action; it's not a federal action."

O'Brien is focusing her fight on a small chunk of the fragile La Sal alpine
landscape where she said the Forest Service has a clear obligation to
protect the ecosystem.

Like the rest of the La Sals, the fenceless 4-square-mile Mount Peale
Research Natural Area is home to nearly a dozen rare plants deemed "species
of concern" by the Forest Service. Since 1988, the summits and ridges
between three peaks, including 12,721-foot Mount Peale, have been managed
under specific regulations to protect the area's unique biodiversity.

It's here that O'Brien wants the Forest Service to put its foot down over
the goats' invasion, starting with an evaluation of their impact under the
National Environmental Policy Act. She has picked her battle, but she
doesn't limit the rhetoric to her backyard.

In a recent editorial
the *Moab Sun News*, O'Brien likened DWR's actions to the disregard Nevada
rancher Cliven Bundy gave the Bureau of Land Management when he grazed his
cattle on federal lands, leading to an armed standoff last spring.

"I know that I am putting [USFS] in an uncomfortable position, but the
state wildlife agencies all throughout the West are running roughshod over
the federal land," she said in an interview with *Greenwire*.

The argument falls largely on deaf ears in Utah, where anti-federal
sentiment runs deep.

For DWR, the goal remains the same: Sustainably maximize wildlife
populations to create the best experience for all Utahans.

"It's wildlife management," said Justin Shannon, a DWR biologist. "There
are going to be people who agree with your decision and people who disagree
with decisions that are being made."
Daisies vs. empty niches

DWR has long had its eye on establishing a goat population in the La Sals.
After it identified an environmental niche vacated when bighorn sheep
disappeared from the mountains in the 1950s, DWR deemed mountain goats a
suitable surrogate based on habitat needs and overlapping diets.

"We chose not to take bighorn sheep back there, but had we done that, that
would have taken it back to how those plant communities were used
historically," Shannon said. "We were just trying to fill that niche."

Vegetation, specifically in the Mount Peale area, factored heavily in DWR's
management plan, Shannon said. Data generated from years of monitoring at
1,400 sites spread throughout the state's other goat zones indicated the
animals failed to cause "a downward trend in ground cover, plant species
composition or shrub-canopy cover in areas where mountain goats are

DWR also considered the problem of wallows, areas where mountain goats
clear vegetation for dusting themselves, which have plagued Olympic
National Park.

Long battling a population that has ballooned since goats were introduced
there in the 1920s, the park that provided Utah its first goats is looking
at management options to prevent the destruction of delicate alpine plant
communities through wallowing. DWR's state management plan, however, pins
the blame on federal officials and a prohibition on hunting in national
parks, stating widespread plant damage "only arises in unregulated

Still, Shannon said DWR remains committed to protecting sensitive species
in the La Sals through nine long-term vegetation-monitoring sites set up
around the time of the goats' introduction.

"At the end of the day, if we don't have healthy habitat, we're not going
to have healthy wildlife populations," he said.

To further transparency, Wood said the Utah Wildlife Board requested that
DWR invite all concerned parties on a "field trip" to the La Sals on Sept.
23 with invitations extended to the Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy,
the Grand Canyon Trust, the Wild Utah Project, local ranchers, the Utah
Farm Bureau, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation.

But ultimately, the fight centers on 18 goats grazing over thousands of
acres. On a recent check of the nine vegetation transects, DWR biologists
said they saw few goats, let alone an impact on vegetation.

Wild Utah Project Executive Director and biologist Allison Jones begs to

After a late July field trip with 15 botanists and volunteers, including
O'Brien and local Forest Service biologist Barb Smith, Jones came back
armed with photos documenting evidence of hoof damage, erosion and wallows
on all the rare species in the research area and beyond.

"And that's just with 20 goats," she said, noting DWR would ultimately like
to host 200 goats in the area.

Jones criticized DWR's data collection, which is based on a statewide
habitat model, as not specific enough to determine an impact on the species
of concern.

While DWR says the La Sals differ minimally from previous introduction
sites, the concerned botanists and volunteers contend it's a completely
unique habitat.

"They really think they're doing the state, the hunters and -- in some
twisted, weird way -- they think they're doing the ecosystem a service
because it's an empty niche," she said.
The Moab effect

Hunting largely drives public support for wildlife in the state.

"We have wildlife in Utah because we hunt wildlife in Utah," Wildlife Board
member John Bair said in July of the state's controversial decision to
allow a crow hunt, *The Salt Lake Tribune* reported.
[image: La Sal Mountains]

A so-called “island in the sky,” the usually snow-covered reaches atop the
La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab, Utah, are a rare example of alpine
habitat in the state. Photo by Barb Smith, courtesy of the U.S. Forest

When it comes to hunting mountain goats, demand outstrips supply despite
increased goat populations.

Utah limits goat-hunting permits to one per hunter per lifetime. The allure
of the hunt easily overcomes deterrents like price -- $413 for residents
and $1,518 for out-of-state hunters -- or the 1-in-50 odds of winning one.
Almost 8,000 hunters put in for 161 tags in 2012.

Tag in hand, however, more than 97 percent of hunters got their goat,
according to state data.

Not only are hunting and fishing groups like Sportsmen for Fish and
Wildlife -- a national organization headquartered in North Salt Lake --
instrumental partners in protecting large swaths of Utah from development,
but hunting and fishing licenses generate the majority of DWR's revenue.

Because of that, DWR has "no responsibility to science" and "no
responsibility to constituencies other than hunters," O'Brien argued.

Even if a division decision is scientifically driven, the "wild card" of
the seven-member, governor-appointed Wildlife Board allows hunting to trump
environmental concerns in one play, she said.

"It's like me going to the Taliban and asking if I can wear shorts," she

The environmental community's weak hand got a boost, however, when the
mountain goat program came near Moab, the booming recreation capital
southeast of the La Sals.

The concerted opposition to goats was "unprecedented" but not unexpected,
Wood said. Any state wildlife action around Moab, a hub for environmental
groups, inevitably comes with extra scrutiny.

"You get this big melting pot of diehard hunters and diehard
environmentalists and everybody in between," he said. "You definitely hear
from a more diverse public in Moab, whereas somewhere like Utah County
[south of Salt Lake] ... it's pretty homogeneous."
'Feet to the fire'

Jones' Salt Lake City-based Wild Utah Project and its partners are trying
to hold the Forest Service's "feet to the fire" after almost a year waiting
for a NEPA evaluation to address what they see as a "direct violation of
Forest Service responsibility and policy."

"We don't see how they can cover the impact on their watch without going
through NEPA," Jones said. "That's just mind-boggling."

>From his post, Shannon rejects the environmental community's belief that
the plan was approved in a "bubble."

At an open house in Moab prior to the plan's introduction, Shannon said,
concerns raised helped shape the future plan, but most in the room
supported the measure.

Shannon also dismissed the idea that the proposal got a pro-hunting rubber
stamp from either the Wildlife Board or the regional advisory councils. He
said the councils -- 12- to 15-member panels in each of DWR's five regions
across the state -- are purposefully "eclectic" groups including
representation from federal agencies, local government, agriculture,
sportsmen and environmentalists to make sure everyone has a seat at the

"I think the [councils] and [Wildlife] Board members are genuinely trying
to do what's best for wildlife, and I wholeheartedly believe that," he said.

The statewide management plan and the unit plan, which encompassed the La
Sal introduction, survived a total of 12 meetings and two votes before the
Wildlife Board. At the Southeastern Regional Advisory Council vote on May
8, 2013, two members voted "no."

The Forest Service raised concerns along the way but largely signed off on
the plan.

In July 2013, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal National Forest Supervisor Allen
Rowley said the plan "may be inconsistent with the national Forest Service
policy on the Mount Peale Research Natural Area" but conceded DWR's
jurisdiction to do the transplant.

O'Brien maintains environmental concerns were drowned out by the hunting
majority, so her cohort looked up the Forest Service bureaucracy.

"We were jumping up and down saying to the regional officer, 'What are you
doing?'" she said.

Finally on Aug. 21, 2013, the night before the Wildlife Board signed off on
sending the goats to the La Sals, DWR received a letter from Intermountain
Regional Forester Nora Rasure taking "the opportunity to clarify the Forest
Service's position."

By that time, Rasure's formal opposition based on the goats' potential
environmental impact was too late, as DWR had already inked a contract for
a helicopter to transplant the goats.

And the Forest Service's admission that it opposed the plan based on "the
absence of pre-transplant data on plant communities," including the Mount
Peale Research Natural Area, frustrated everyone involved in the goat issue.
Lay of the land

Prior to the arrival of the goats, Forest Service visits to the Mount Peale
research site were few and far between.

The La Sals, located in an isolated parcel of noncontiguous forest, are
tough to get to. Rowley said it's a multihour drive to the base of the
small range even from Moab. No roads lead up the mountain, and it's a
rough, rocky hike between the time when the snow melts in mid-June until it
returns sometime in October.

Rowley said out of 90 full-time employees covering 1.3 million acres, only
three or four would have the expertise and time for plant monitoring.

And the area was rarely a priority in an always-limited budget. In 2008, a
grant from the Canyonlands Natural History Association allowed researchers
to collect some data on what impact increased recreational use was having
on the alpine soil, vegetation and rare plants.

Now, with people clamoring to know exactly what's on the ground in the
alpine area, Rowley said monitoring has become a priority.

The Forest Service is collaborating with both sides of the goat debate to
gather the information.

So far, Rowley said the Forest Service has completed a broad-scale habitat
inventory and is turning its attention to the "species of concern."

"Once we have that baseline data, we will be engaging in some kind of
management plan about management of goats or really more specifically of
the research natural areas," he said.

In a letter replying to requests for a NEPA evaluation last month, Rowley
said any determination would be premature at this point until the agency
can "figure out what the problems are, how big is the issue, what if
anything could we change."

While she leads the charge, O'Brien said even if her efforts are
successful, "there is no guarantee DWR would even do anything."

Utah officials have said they would remove the goats if a significant
impact were noticed, but O'Brien said they've yet to define what
"significant" looks like. On top of that, the impacts of climate change and
other animals, like deer, elk and cattle, further confuse the issue.

Environmentalists, she said, are just trying to use NEPA to force the
Forest Service "to stand up for what on paper they say they're doing" to
protect the Mount Peale Research Natural Area.

Ultimately, according to O'Brien, when "push comes to shove, the feds are
on top." She pointed to a 1928 Supreme Court decision in *Hunt v. United
States*, which gave the Forest Service the right to violate Arizona law in
order to protect forage in the Kaibab National Forest from an
out-of-control deer population. The population famously crashed in the
midst of the legal battle.

Echoing DWR's Shannon, O'Brien said: "There is no way to protect habitat if
you don't manage the wildlife."

Roger D. Ferriel
Division of Fire and Aviation Management
BLM Vale District
Baker Resource Area
P O Box 947
Baker City, OR 97814
phone: 541 523-1424
fax: 541 523-1965
email: rferriel at blm.gov
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