North American Packgoat Association Seeks to Change Government Ban on Goats in U.S. Forests
Angela von Weber-Hahnsberg
Photos provided by Dwite Sharp
Hikers and dairy goat enthusiasts are struggling to understand why the U.S. Forest Service, long-time friends to the packgoat community, has had a temporary ban in place on the use of packgoats at Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming since 2011. The North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA) board of directors believes an effort is underway to make that ban permanent. If finalized, the ban could eventually spread to all national forests.
For years the U.S. Forest Service has allowed enterprising packgoat owners to rent their trained hiking companions out to visitors, so why the change of heart by the government backed organization?
Over the past couple of decades, certain native herds of bighorn sheep inhabiting the Shoshone National Forest have experienced significant die-offs due to pneumonia. This pneumonia has been scientifically proven to be transmitted by clinically healthy domestic sheep grazing in bighorn sheep habitats, as the wild sheep do not possess the same immunities that the domestic sheep do. In accordance with these findings, domestic sheep are now no longer allowed to graze in these areas.
So how does this finding translate into a ban on goats?
That’s exactly what everyone – from older hikers who need the assistance of packgoats to enjoy the outdoors, to the North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA) board of directors – is struggling to understand.
“The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and agricultural interests are committed to doing everything possible to reduce the risk of disease impacts to bighorn sheep in these areas,” said Scott Talbott, director of Wyoming Game and Fish. “We believe domestic goat use in core native bighorn sheep areas is at odds with this goal.”
Citing the need for more research in order to determine whether packgoats might possibly present a danger to bighorn sheep, the U.S. Forest Service included them in the original temporary ban. Talbott said they believe they are justified in making that ban permanent.
Dwite Sharp, member of the NAPgA board of directors and owner of Paradise Ranch Packgoats in Kansas, begs to differ.
“The U.S. Forest Service is unjustly attempting to expel all the packgoats from forests that have any population of bighorn sheep (which is quite a large number across this country),” he said. “The bighorn sheep have been experiencing a die-off for a long, long time now, and U.S. Forest Service biologists have not been able to determine the exact cause. Some of the U.S. Forest Service land has private sheep herding operations in its forests, and they have decided to expel these domesticated sheep so they won’t possibly infect the bighorn sheep.”
“It seems that they have decided that goats should be expelled too, even though they cannot produce any viable evidence proving that goats are any kind of a threat to the bighorn sheep,” Sharp said. “In fact, they seem to be making up a lot of misinformation as they go. The North American Packgoat Association has all the correct science on their side, and it appears the U.S. Forest Service has nothing on theirs. This travesty of justice has started in the Shoshone National Forest in the Wind River Range and if not stopped there, will spread to all the other national forests across our nation.”
Sharp’s concerns are echoed by many other caprine enthusiasts across the nation. Both the American Dairy Goat Association and the American Boer Goat Association have partnered with NAPgA to fight this ban in the courts.
“The ABGA and the ADGA felt this was a great injustice to our caprine friends and needed to be put out front of all the goat folks so they would have the opportunity to help right the wrong that was being done to all of us. Any attack on goats should be addressed by all the goat folks—your interests could be next,” Sharp said.
And in fact, most packgoats are actually dairy goats, Sharp said.
“The majority of the packgoat breeding program is made up of the numerous dairy breeds, although we have changed some of the conformation to make heartier, stronger goats,” he said. “At Paradise Ranch, we have seven different breeds and a number of hybrids—Alpines, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, Saanen, Nubian, LaMancha, Boer, and our largest hybrid, a ‘Sabor’ (Saanen/Boer) near 300 lbs., and 41″ at the withers.”
Sharp said there was an advantage to using dairy goats as pack animals.
“On average, 50% of the kids born every year in the dairy goat industry are bucks. Only a very few of these bucks are needed for breeding stock—the rest generally go to the meat market, because nobody needs them,” he said. “Packgoat breeders need both the does and the bucks, and very few ever go to the sale barn as market goats. Packgoats are almost always wethers because of their much larger size at maturity, allowing them to carry much more weight.”
It looks like packgoat breeding provides us with yet another insight into the versatility and supreme usefulness of dairy goats.
Sharp said that dairy goats are versatile and useful animals that should be utilized in forest trail situations, not lumped into banned categories by government officials who have no idea what they are talking about.
“After being closely involved with goats for over 16 years, I have fallen in love with these wonderful creatures,” Sharp said. “I truly believe them to be one of the most intelligent creatures on this planet. They cannot be compared with any other animal, for they are one of a kind. They think differently than any other and are very docile creatures. A well-behaved goat is a joy to be around and brings smiles to lots of faces.”
In order to make possible NAPgA’s continuing efforts to lift the ban on packgoats in national forests, Sharp has asked all goat enthusiasts to donate to the cause.
“NAPgA has hired an excellent, experienced land use attorney who says this is very winnable and believes in our cause to the point that he is doing a lot at no charge or a reduced charge,” Sharp said. “But still it is estimated that it will take around $85,000 to see this through the court system. We can all help put a stop to this bullying of our goats. NAPgA’s Land Use Committee Chair, Charles M. Jennings, has created a web page to raise funds for NAPgA’s court action against the U.S. Forest Service.
“Please go to this site and check out the video if you want to see why goats are the best pack animals on the planet, and just why we must stop this infringement on our rights and our freedom. Then please step up to the plate and help fund this effort to keep our eco-friendly packgoats in some of the most pristine wilderness areas of our country. No amount is too small—every dollar will only help. Help now before it’s too late.”
The website is www.gofundme. com/packgoat-access-in-forest.