A group of Colorado residents are taking wildfire prevention into their own hands — or, more accurately, mouths.
More than 380 goats will graze for two weeks in a community in Douglas County, Colo., clearing out underbrush that can fuel wildfires.
“Goats will eat…pretty much anything,” Colorado’s Fox 31 reports, including “thistles, poison ivy, cactus, yucca, rose bushes, Russian olive trees and oat brush.” The Roxborough Fire Mitigation Committee, which helped organize the goats’ work, said that the goats’ voracious appetite will do the same job as more invasive fire mitigation tactics, and will be more pleasant to look at. If all goes well, the goats, which will be herded by border collies into the areas that most need grazing, will eat about a ton of food.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Rick Hart from Roxborough’s Fire Mitigation Committee told Fox. “It’s very satisfactory for the residents. They like it better than the machines, they like it better than chemicals, and they’re doing the same job.”
They’ll also be cheaper. The goats’ two-week run will cost around $15,000 — much less, Hart says, than using chainsaws and human labor.
It makes sense for Colorado’s citizens to be concerned about wildfire prevention. This summer, the state experienced its most destructive fire in history, with 14,280 acres burned and at least 509 homes destroyed. Wildfires in the West are becoming more intense, and as temperatures rise and incidence of drought increases, the risk of wildfires in Colorado will only go up.
But Colorado isn’t the first state to use goats for fire mitigation — California, too, has employed goats. In Southern California, one man who used goats to graze around his house said the tactic saved his house and ranch from the Witch Creek Fire of 2007. Since then, Brad Woolf started Hire-A-Goat, which rents out goats to residents who want similar protection from fires or weed control. Bay Area agencies and residents have used goats to keep the last of their forest cover — much of which has been decimated by drought and bark beetles — from catching fire. And this past June, the San Francisco airport hired a herd of goats for fire prevention.
“The goat clearance scheme is one of the key reasons the Bay Area hasn’t had a recurrence of a catastrophic fire in decades,” Tom Klatt, former manager of the Office of Emergency Preparedness at UC Berkeley, said in 2009 (The Bay Area did have a large wildfire last month — the Mt. Diablo fire, which burned more than 3,000 acres in Mt. Diablo state park).
Goats’ appetites make them useful for more than just fire prevention. They’re also widely used to clear out invasive plants like privet and English ivy, especially in hilly, rocky areas where machinery can’t reach. The Bath County Hydro Pumped Storage Facility uses goats to graze the steep hillside of its 570-ft. tall dam, and the Congressional Cemetery in D.C., as well as multiple airports, have used this tactic as well.