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PLAN TO REDUCE GOAT, SHEEP NUMBERS EXPLAINED

Aug. 12, 2003 – Showing slides of the destruction caused by foraging goats, Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management at the V.I. National Park, outlined the park's plan to reduce the goat and sheep populations within its boundaries significantly.
"We'll never eradicate them, but we want to keep them at low levels where they do little damage," he told the several dozen people who attended a meeting Tuesday at the Legislature Building.
The goats and sheep, which are not native to St. John, eat the vegetation from the trees as well as groundcover, Boulon said. As a result, when it rains, soil washes down the denuded hillsides into the ocean.
"It's very easy to unbalance the eco system on a small island," he said, and getting rid of the goats and sheep will give native species a better chance to survive.
Since the animals do not have natural predators as native species do, he said, it is up to the park to act as the predator.
It will take six to eight months for the park's plan to make its way through the bureaucratic process, he said. Once that's done, park officials plan a multi-pronged attack. They will assist farmers in tagging animals they own so if the beasts stray into the park, they can be returned. The plan also calls for assisting the farmers in fencing in their animals and for helping the V.I. Agriculture Department with its ongoing animal tagging program.
After that, park officials will announce that they plan to start trapping, baiting and shooting the animals within the park itself. And then they will put their plan into action.
Boulon said the park's enabling legislation does not allow hunting. St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto suggested that the legislation be changed so residents can again hunt within the park boundaries. Boulon said it would take congressional action for that to happen.
Monsanto's remarks prompted park biologist Tom Kelley to comment that since goats reproduce at a rapid rate, hunting alone wouldn't solve the problem.
Others in the audience also noted that many residents like to eat goat. Sharon Coldron, president of the Upper Carolina Landowners Association, said they were welcome to come and trap the goats in her neighborhood, where they abound but are unwanted.
Boulon pointed out that reducing the number of goats and sheep is part of the park's overall program to get rid of non-native species. It has already implemented plans to reduce or eliminate the rat, cat, mongoose and hog populations.
Boulon said the first round of hog trapping has been carried out and another is planned for late August or September. He said the U.S. Agriculture Department trapped 10 hogs, which were distributed to residents who had signed up to receive them.
Volunteers from St. John's Animal Care Center trapped the cats. Those that were adoptable found homes. Those that were sick were euthanized, and those that were healthy but not adoptable were located to feeding stations outside the park. Boulon said about 30 or 40 cats were removed from the park.
He estimated that a couple of hundred mongooses were trapped. He did not have an estimate for the number of rats killed with a humane poison.
With these various control programs in place and in the works, the park will be left with deer and donkeys to deal with, Boulon noted. "Maybe after I retire," he said with a chuckle.
Because many people have an emotional attachment to deer and donkeys, which are both non-native species, it is likely that any programs to get rid of them will meet resistance.

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