[PCA] In Utah land-use fight, 18 goats become unlikely stars
afrates at addsuminc.com
Thu Sep 4 09:33:10 CDT 2014
Thanks for posting this. Note the contradictory statements that the
Utah DWR is making here. They want to "fill a niche" yet they utterly
despise wolves that play a very important ecosystem role. They want
the best wildlife experience for "Utahns" most of whom will never be
able to even catch a glimpse of these introduced (and non-native)
goats, but represent a treasure trove for guides who will lead
out-of-state hunters (most likely not Utahns) to their locations.
And the statement about lack of damage elsewhere as in the Tushars is
This also shows just how ill-equipped the state of Utah is to manage
its own lands.
Quoting "Ferriel, Roger" <rferriel at blm.gov>:
> 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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