California has gone through several wildfires in the past couple of years. The worsening effects of climate change seem to prolong the fire season in the state. This has pushed cities to come up with unconventional ways to fight wildfires and keep them in check, including goats. These voracious herbivores are now being deployed with the task of clearing invasive plants throughout the wilderness in an attempt to reduce wildfires in California.
From downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, California has lots of rolling green and brown hills that are dappled with black mustard. This is an invasive plant that outcompetes native vegetation as it grows profusely and the roots generate biochemicals that prevent other plants from germinating. The plant can grow to eight feet high in the spring, only to die and turn into dangerous tinder when summer.
This dead buildup of vegetation in California’s wilderness areas along with the ongoing effects of climate change has accelerated devastating wildfires occurring here as seen in the past years. According to meteorologists, the 2022 wildfire season could be a catastrophic one due to the continuation of the worst drought and dry winter.
Goats Are Nature’s Own Weed Eater
In the past, land managers relied on herbicide and human labor to thin wild plants and bushes out here. But access to mountain terrains in Southern California is tricky and challenging, which is why people are turning to the four-legged solution: Goats.
One of the oldest domesticated animals in the world, goats are curious eaters that can eat plants toxic to other kinds of livestock. They are adventurous and can climb steep hills and uneven terrains. Typically, a hundred goats can graze an acre per day. Goats can effectively and efficiently clear acres of areas overgrown with invasive plants giving native plants a chance to flourish.
“When herbivores like goats eat the seed of plants, it does through their digestive tract and becomes nonviable. It doesn’t grow after it comes out on the other end.” according to Alissa Cope who is the owner of Sage Environmental Group, a company that specializes in environmental planning. This California company has contracted out goat herds to thousands of clients that need the animal to chow down on invasive plants and unwanted vegetation to prevent wildfires.
Goats At Work
Now goats are being stationed in places like Deer Canyon Park, which is a natural preserve with more than a hundred acres of hills all around. Nearly 400 goats worked their way around happily eating grasses and bush here at the beginning of July. Goats are also being used at Puente Hills Preserve, which is a 3800-acre park situated in the lower Transverse Ranges.
The goats are transported to these work sites for about a month usually. Before their arrival, these sites are closed up by temporary electric fences that get repositioned so the goats can gradually eat and cover a wide area. To watch over these grazing goats, companies hire a goatherd who lives nomadically with goats. Once finished with grazing, the goats are then transported back to the operation centers where they are cleaned properly to ensure no seeds from invasive plants are accidentally transported to the next site.
Can Goats Really Prevent Wildfires?
Scientists in Arizona have discovered that the land cleared by excess vegetation by grazing goats can act as fire breaks and stop wildfires. A recent study in Forest Ecology and Management journal found that goats are effective at reducing fine fuel loads. This is flammable vegetation and it’s crucial to contain them as it will help limit the spread of wildfires.
As wildfires worsen, places like Greece, Australia, and other parts of the US are also embracing the herbivores as important tools to prevent wildfires.