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Goats to the Rescue

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Photo: Phil Klein
Goat farmer Bob Blanchard tends to his flock above Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, California.

Can you take another story about goats as lawnmowers? (Click for an example.) Today’s update shows how goats are not only a good way to cut your grass but are an important wildfire-fighting tool.

Susie Cagle writes at the Guardian, “As the western US braces for another wildfire season, following its most devastating on record, public officials and private landowners are turning to an unlikely, rustic tool to manage increasingly incendiary lands. Goats.

“They’re currently munching away at summer-dried, fire-ready grasses in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and across California. In some places that outlaw livestock within city limits, officials have even changed local ordinances. …

“In California, where wildfires have long been a threat, goats have worked for decades to protect coastal communities from creeping conflagrations. But worsening, deadly fire seasons across western US have inspired more communities to try managing their lands not with machines and chemicals, but with hungry animals.

“More extreme, climate-changed weather cycles could make fuel management a more important part of wildfire mitigation, as more intense rainy seasons lead to huge spring sprouts in grasslands, that are in turn dried out in the hotter, drier summer sun. …

“ ‘There’s a lot more awareness just because of the horrific fires we’ve had lately,’ said [Mike] Canaday, who runs a company called Living Systems Land Management. ‘If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody’s waiting list, the better.’

“He believes goats are a superior form of fuel management, more sustainable and less risky than herbicides or fuel-powered mowers. ‘And they’re a lot more fun to watch than people with weed eaters.’

“Grazing goats are far from the newest wildfire prevention tool, but they have a comparably tiny footprint. They’re efficient, clean eaters, nibbling away at weeds and grasses and leaving far less damage than an herbicide. They’re nimble climbers, able to scamper up steep flammable hillsides and into narrow canyons that humans would struggle to reach. They’re impervious to poison oak, and they don’t disrupt natural ecosystems or scare away indigenous animals. Where conspicuously carved fire breaks on verdant hillsides might upset homeowners, goats are welcome seasonal cuteness.

“In its 2019 wildfire safety report, released in July, [Laguna Beach] officials estimated a human crew costs roughly $28,000 to clear an acre, while a goat crew costs an average of $500. …

“The west cannot survive on goats alone, in part because of the limited labor pool, and in part because fuel management isn’t enough to abate wildfire impacts. Goats are effective, but they can’t do anything about flammable wood shingle roofs or cedar siding on ageing buildings that are not subject to new fire safety codes.

“ ‘We have a lot of tools in the toolbox,’ said [fire marshall Jim] Brown. And when it comes to clearing the fuel that could send flames rushing toward those old, flammable homes, ‘the goats are just the best tool we have in the toolbox to do that – there’s just nothing better.’ ”

More here.

Speaking of goats, I happened to run into one today at the library. The young lady with the leash told me that the goat’s name is Hermione.

091419-goat-at-library

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