Faced with a lawsuit from conservationists, the state of Oregon on Friday backed off plans to release mountain goats in...

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Faced with a lawsuit from conservationists, the state of Oregon on Friday backed off plans to release mountain goats in the Columbia Gorge in time for this year’s anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Instead, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will take more time to work with conservationists, making it impossible to go through with the release of some 20 goats originally planned for mid-July, said agency spokesman Brad Wurfel.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge and In Defense of Animals had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Portland asking a judge to order an examination of the release plans, said Friends of the Columbia Gorge attorney Nathan Baker.

The environmental groups were concerned that the goats could harm rare native plants, and may never have been native to the west side of the gorge.

“(We) are not anti-mountain goat or anti-hunting,” said Baker. “We are just asking for a more detailed and thoughtful process that analyzes the need and purpose of the project … and takes a hard look at whether the goats are native and what kind of damage there might be.”

Baker said they would withdraw the lawsuit as soon as they get a letter from the department confirming that the release has been put on hold.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission had approved the release of up to 20 mountains goats this summer at a site known as Herman Creek in the Mount Hood National Forest.

The goats were to be captured from a herd in the Elkhorn Mountains outside Baker City. The goal was to build a herd of 300 mountain goats in the Gorge, with future releases planned for two other sites. Some of the goats would be outfitted with global positioning transmitters to track their movements.

Wurfel said the agency still felt confident in the science and historical evidence backing up its plans.

“Regardless, this agency prides itself in doing business in a very public and inclusive way,” Wurfel said. “We’ve still got folks expressing concerns.”

The department will go ahead with plans to capture some 20 mountain goats, but will release them in the vicinity of Eagle Cap, a peak in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon, Wurfel said.

Lewis and Clark wrote of Indians showing off mountain goats they had killed while the explorers were camped in April 1806 on an island in the Columbia River near the present site of Bonneville Dam, but exactly where the goats came from was not made clear, according to the state management plan.

There are no reports of mountain goats in the Gorge from settlers coming over the Oregon Trail, so it is assumed they were wiped out by Indians and trappers prior to the middle of the 1800s, the plan said.

Columbia River Gorge National Recreation Area spokesman Mike Ferris said the U.S. Forest Service wanted to cooperate with the reintroduction, which they considered a state action.

“We have the habitat,” said Ferris. “All issues are resolvable. It’s just a matter of having that debate or discussion.”

The Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the Columbia Gorge headed west in October, 1805, and in April 1806 on the return trip east.

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