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1276447996

A herd of rented goats, controlled with mobile, temporary fencing, is used to control brush in Redwood City, California to prevent and control wildfires.

Photo by: Glenn Cantor

Glenn Cantor

These Goats Help Us During Fire Season

By: Lucy Sherriff

One emergency services department has come up with a novel way of trying to make the fire season a little bit safer...with the help of some four legged creatures.

August 02, 2021

Oakland Fire Department has released 3,000 ravenous goats to roam the region and gnaw as much dry grass as they can digest at King Estates Open Space Park.

It’s part of Oakland Fire’s annual vegetation management program, and the department hopes they will chomp through the tall grass that has grown over the past year.

But it’s not the only fire service in California that’s using four legged creatures to help combat wildfires.

Last year alone there were 8,112 wildland fires in the state alone, and the fire season has grown so long that officials are now beginning to refer to it as a fire “year”. Almost 1.5 million acres burned, and 31 people died.

As far back as 1991, goats belonging to a local vet and a fireman have been taking lunch in the hills above Oakland and Berkeley, in the slopes adjacent to Monterey, and down south in Malibu. Brea McGrew, the vet, is married to Bob, the fireman, and estimates their goats number in the thousands.

“Goats are very intelligent," Brea said. "They're trainable, like dogs. And they work together. They think. One will get up on her hind legs and pull a branch down for the others, and they'll all browse together."

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142278762

Desert Bighorn Sheep in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. California, USA

Photo by: volgariver

volgariver

Using goats as a method to aid fire mitigation is such a well known practice that in 2009 there was even a paper published on the topic.

“Goats vigorously eat fire prone vegetation like oakbrush, while trampling parts of the area to bare dirt—such areas treated by goats can stop a fire cold,” wrote Rachel Clark of the US Forest Service. “In certain situations, goats may be able to save money, while creating new and effective ways of managing fire-prone landscapes.”

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518727145

Photo by: loridambrosio

loridambrosio

Even if the golden state sees more rain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that fires will be less damaging – more rain also equals more growth of the kind of grasses that are so flammable.

Goats are certainly not a solution by themselves, but they can definitely make a difference.

“Along with manual thinning and prescribed fire, goat grazing is part of a combination of methods refuge managers rely on to manage hazardous fuels and maintain habitat,” says the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fire Management department.

Anaheim, a city southeast of Los Angeles, recently renewed its contract with Environmental Land Management to keep goats grazing on its hillsides year-round, including on one nature preserve called Deer Canyon Park, which boasts more than 100 acres of rolling hills.

“This is the topography that poses challenges during these wildfire events," said Johnny Gonzales, operations manager at Environmental Land Management. "And we can go ahead and reduce the fuel loads and take out the invasive plants, and establish the native plants on these banks; you're reestablishing the ecology."

He added demand for goats had “soared” in recent years, with his company receiving more than 100 calls a month.

And with wildfires becoming evermore common and increasing in intensity, goats grazing on California’s hillsides may soon be an everyday sight.

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