Panel To Study Goats' Effect On Park

A panel of scientists will be appointed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to sort fact from fiction in the debate over mountain goats in Olympic National Park.

Park managers want to remove the goats - possibly shoot them - because of the damage they do to fragile, high-mountain vegetation. The goats were introduced to the park by hunters years ago and should be removed, park managers contend.

But the animals are popular with many park visitors, and animal-rights activists have campaigned to protect them. One group, the Fund for Animals, contends that the goats are native and that they're not doing as much damage as park managers say.

The review panel, which will include as many as 12 scientists, will study the matter for 18 months. Members will look at the various claims and assess the goats' effect on park vegetation.

At one time, 1,200 goats roamed the park. Hundreds were picked up by helicopter and moved to the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range. The park estimates the population is now 250 to 350 goats.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said he helped arrange the review at the park's request.