One of the first wildlife relocation stories I covered for The Tribune involved mountain goats being plucked off the peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon via a helicopter and delivered to a parking lot at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
See a video of big game transplants in Utah
Not much has changed in 20 years. I had flashbacks to that project while watching a transplant effort on the impressive Tushar Mountain range east of Beaver last week.
There was that initial thrill of seeing blindfolded and shaggy goats wrapped snuggly in slings hanging from a helicopter; immediately followed by a little chuckle at the craziness of the scene.
Through the years I’ve covered plenty of wildlife transplants, relocations, releases, introductions — whatever you want to call them. I watched biologists load everything from turkeys to moose to pronghorn to bighorn sheep and more recently beavers into trailers for a ride to a new home.
Two species — wild turkeys and mountain goats — have generated the greatest controversy. The issue some people have with these specific animals being moved around hinges on the fact that they are not native to Utah. That basically means the species were not here when the pioneers arrived.
Neither were moose. They actually wandered into northern Utah and eventually were expanded in the state after the pioneers came. Does that make them native since they came on their own? This is where things get squishy.
Some argue that turkeys existed in the southeastern corner of the state on the LaSal Mountains, but if they did, it was a subspecies of wild turkey known as Merriam’s not the Rio Grande birds the Division of Wildlife Resources has planted all over Utah.
Arguments about mountain goats being nonnative to Utah have been around since the first efforts to establish a state population were made in the late 1960s, but that opposition got much louder when the DWR announced it was moving animals to the LaSals east of Moab. Critics worry about the impact the high-elevation specialists might have on the delicate fauna of the southern Utah mountain.
State biologists cite the prehistoric evidence of wild turkeys and mountain goats as reasons why re-introductions might make sense.
There also is a Forest Service report from the early 1900s citing mountain goats in the Uinta Mountains.
Biologists also argue that turkeys and mountain goats fill niches other wildlife species are not using in Utah.
Having witnessed countless creatures being moved in Utah, which clearly is part of the agency’s mission statement, I still can’t determine where I sit on this native/nonnative debate.
Part of me loves that Utah’s wildlife is more diverse and provides more opportunities for people to enjoy, but part of me wonders about the impact these moves have on our landscape and the other creatures already there.
History has shown that some well-intentioned introductions in the past have come back to haunt biologists. Others have come off with positive results.
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