From: Mat Probasco, Associated Press
Published October 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Goats Expelled from U.S. Virgin Islands National Park

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — Chewing exotic flowers and common weeds, the indiscriminate eating habits of free-roaming goats have earned them expulsion from U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, officials said this week.


Goats, left behind by early European explorers for food on future journeys to the Caribbean, tear through the Virgin Islands National Park's 737 known species of plants, some of which are facing extinction, said Rafe Boulon, the park's resource management chief.


About 200 goats wander the 7,150-acre (2,890-hectare) national park in St. John — a forest island where native species account for 85 percent of plant life — sometimes leaving behind swaths of bare ground from their voracious grazing, Boulon said.


Found only in St. John, less than 200 of the bushy yellow flowered solanum conocarpum are left in the wild, he said.


Last month, the Tucson, Arizona–based Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. government, demanding the plant receive federal protection.


The goats also eat young mangroves, which grow in shallow sea water and are vital to fish habitats and preventing soil erosion, Boulon said.


Goat owners have until Nov. 1 to claim their animals and move them out of the park before Department of Agriculture officers start trapping the animals in corals. Once captured, the goats will be sold or given away. Officers will likely hunt and shoot those who evade capture, Boulon said.


Bats are the only mammals native to the U.S. Caribbean territory of 110,000 residents.


Park officials hope to remove invasive nonnative plants, such as snakeroot, sweet lime, and tam-tam trees, which compete for space and sunlight with indigenous plants.


"All of the species are under threat from the nonnative species, which are typically aggressive colonizers. The native seeds and sprouts simply can't survive," Boulon said.


Removal of the plants and goats is important to prevent the loss of native species, which has happened in some Hawaiian forests, where about 85 percent of the plants are invasive nonnative species, he said.


Source: Associated Press


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