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Goat gazing: Herds thrive in southern Utah's Tushar Mountains

Published: Thursday, Aug. 27 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Goats rest on the steep slopes of the Tushar Mountains near Beaver.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

The rugged terrain and frigid temperatures had taken their toll on Darin and Dennis Larson's desire to find the mountain goats living in the Tushar Mountains.

"We were pretty exhausted," said Darin Larson, who grew up in Richfield but now lives in Hurricane. "We decided to go around one more ridge … Five minutes later, we came on 35 of them. We were within 25 yards of them."

While the Larsons reached for their respective cameras, the goats studied the intruders.

"They stopped grazing and looked up at us," Darin Larson said. "We watched them for about 20 minutes. It was pretty amazing. We weren't expecting to see that many."

The Larsons were hiking through the Tushar Mountains on Saturday, Aug. 8, as part of the Division of Wildlife Resources' annual goat-watching event. They happened upon that particular group on Mt. Holly, but others were visible on Mount Delano and in the valleys between the ridges.

The division's outreach manager, Lynn Chamberlain, said increased publicity has made the event extremely popular.

"We had 75 cars follow us up from the (gas) station (just off I-15 in Beaver)," said Chamberlain. "We had a little bit of everything."

From young families to an 89-year-old grandmother, Chamberlain said DWR and local law enforcement helped get people to the top of the mountain range, where they quickly spotted a herd of about 30 goats in the valley below.

While many watched the goats with binoculars and spotting scopes, a number of others hiked into the mountains in hopes of happening upon the goats in a mountain range that is unlike any other. From the foam-green rock to the caramel color of Mount Baldie and Mount Belnap, the Tushar Mountains are home to plants and animals that survive in an extremely rugged and frigid environment. The road to the top of the mountains (about 11,500 feet) isn't even open until July 24, and it will close in mid-October.

"It's really a unique opportunity," said Chamberlain. "The alpine tundra is something you don't see everywhere … It's definitely out of the ordinary."

The goat watch this month attracted people from all over the state. The day was clear but a refreshing 41 degrees on the ridge, with winds of 20 to 25 miles per hour.

"It was pretty cold up there on top," said Chamberlain.

While many people stayed on the ridge to watch the goats, others made their way out into the mountains, which still had sections of snow along some of the ridges. The wildflowers were a beautiful contrast to the jagged, gravel-and-boulder face of many of the ridges.

The promise of seeing goats in their natural habitat was so intriguing, it wasn't hard to hike several miles into the wild without realizing how far one had traveled. To follow the goats into the mountains, one had to traverse some treacherous terrain and ledges without scaring the reclusive but territorial goats away.

The Larsons were lucky because they surprised the herd. Before the goats had a chance to see them coming, the Larsons snapped some gorgeous pictures of the unique animals.

"It takes a lot of effort to get out there," said Darin Larson, who heard about the once-a-year event from his in-laws. "It's one of the neat places in the state to go. It's pretty accessible because you can drive all the way up."

Goats have made their home in the Tushar Mountains since 1986, when a group of goats from Olympic National Park were released into the area with hopes of rebuilding a herd.

"There is a lot of evidence that they were there before that," said Chamberlain. "We've transplanted three or four times since then. The (herd) is doing very, very well."

DWR officials agreed to manage a herd of about 150 goats.

"That's to keep the impact on the area down," said Chamberlain, pointing out that there is a plant that's very rare, the Tushar mountain paint brush, sharing the hills with the goats.

The goats' numbers have increased to about 200, prompting DWR officials to increase the number of hunting permits, while also planning to move some of the goats to the Uinta Mountains.

"The Tushar Mountains are just ideal for them," said Chamberlain. "There is nothing else that competes with them."

Darin Larson had been trying to get the once-in-a lifetime goat-hunting permit for nine years. He got lucky this year and will be allowed to hunt a goat Sept. 28.

"I have always been intrigued by them," he said. Larson said he's had a lot of volunteers to help him on the unique hunt, but he'll probably go with his brother and father.

While the goats do have predators in the mountains, their ability to quickly scale the loose, steep rock gives them a distinct advantage over cougars, bears and even man.

"They're the kings of the domain up there," said Chamberlain.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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