Going Goat

Going Goat

In areas like California and Arizona, goats are finally getting the respect they deserve—as firefighters.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010 - 2:00pm


In areas like California and Arizona, goats are finally getting the respect they deserve—as firefighters.

Despite its destructive reputation, the goat is really a marvelous animal. Talk about sustainable. They are almost entirely useable and recyclable. Goats are intelligent and curious. Trainable and affable. They are a renewable source of milk and fiber for yarn. They provide meat and hide. They make great pack animals, and are easier to raise and require less resources than cattle.

Tom Klatt, former manager of the Office of Emergency Preparedness at UC Berkeley and the author of UC Berkeley's 2007 Fire Mitigation Program Annual Report, is a goat fan. He says the use of goats is a positive thing. He has devised a scheme to use goats to clear dried underbrush and bark is an attempt to prevent future catastrophic fires. 

The Nature Conservancy also recently hired goats to keep dry grasses and other dry plant matter in check at its Hassayampa River Preserve in Arizona, where summer fires are a constant threat to nearby homeowners and endogenous wildlife.

In fact, goats have been called in for fire mitigation purposes across the west where drought and a bark beetle infestation have killed thousands of acres of trees. Public agencies and residents have enlisted the help of goat herds to consume debris and suppress weeds in an effort to keep down fire risk.

"Goats help prevent forest fires...by eating the dry stuff before the fire season strikes," says Lani Malmberg, owner of Colorado-based Ewe4ic Ecological Services, which uses goats to gradually and naturally remove weeds and return lands to a healthier, more natural state.

Using goats to control forest brush is not a new idea. The goat is one of the oldest domesticated animals, and has been used to control plant populations for centuries. Goats are very coordinated and can climb and hold their balance in the most precarious places. And like deer, goats prefer to eat shrubbery and weeds, leaving behind grasses that help prevent erosion during rainy seasons. 

Meanwhile, it must be understood that forest fires are also a naturally occurring thing. Natural fires consume dead plants and trees, making room for new growth and adding nourishment to depleted soil. But with modern homes built so closely to forested areas, communities have attempted to prevent even these natural fires in order to save property and human lives.

But efforts to suppress forest fires has led to a situation Malmberg calls "tinderbox" conditions—a situation ripe for large destructive fires that spread quickly and, encouraged by high winds, can spread for hundreds of miles.

"Goats can be utilized as an effective bio-control agent to reduce weed populations to economically acceptable levels," says Malmberg. He also adds that weeding with goats requires no pesticides, herbicides and limits harmful emissions. 

The use of goats as a natural de-weeder sounds like good science to me. But I might have to differ with Malmberg on the “no harmful emissions” assertion. Anyone who’s ever even visited a farm will tell you, goats don’t smell pretty. No way.

Via Yahoo Green

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