- Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Plant protection groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service, saying mountain goats released in the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah are damaging rare species of plants.

The Grand Canyon Trust, based in Denver, and Utah Native Plant Society this week filed a claim in the U.S. District Court of Utah, asking that the nonnative mountain goats be removed from the Mount Peale Research Area and that no more goats be released, KSL-TV reported (http://bit.ly/1o6C4eT ).

The research area is designed to preserve biological diversity for scientific study and educational purposes. Several species of rare plants live in the area, and the research area and surrounding mountains are the only place the La Sal daisy can be found.

Utah sought to release mountain goats in the La Sal mountains in the 1980s, but the Forest Service concluded that they would damage the sensitive vegetation. According to the lawsuit, the Utah Wildlife Board introduced the goats to the region in 2013 as part of the Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan without federal approval.

The state released 20 goats to an unfenced property in the mountains in 2013 and added another 15 goats the next year.

The lawsuit expresses concerns that the goats will damage plants in the La Sal Mountains, including in the research area, and that the state will continue “dumping” goats on the state property.

Bill Bates, a wildlife section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, would not comment on the litigation but said that his agency has worked with the Forest Service on the mountain goat transplant plan.

According to the lawsuit, both the groups and the Forest Service say it will be hard to monitor the goats’ impact because there was no recorded baseline to compare the vegetation before and after the goats’ arrival.

They have too many scapegoats on which to blame any detected change - drought, climate change, deer, elk, cows, horses, humans,” the lawsuit states.

Bates said his agency has found no evidence of trampled rare plants as a result of the goats.

“Any evidence that we or anyone else has collected so far would suggest that is not the case,” Bates said. “There is no scientific evidence to support that.”

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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