Grazing goats return to help reduce wildfire risk in California

·2-min read

While many communities across California are engaged in wildfire mitigation, one city is mobilising the power of the goat to help stave off the blazes.

On Wednesday, the Chico Public Works Department announced it had released hundreds of goats into the surrounding areas to graze. As the goats eat up invasive plant species and dried-out overgrowth, they remove potential fuel sources for wildfires.

The Enterprise-Recorder reported that the goats will be grazing in several areas around Chico. Once they finish in one spot, they will be moved to other fields and green spaces.

The city encouraged the public not to feed the goats or the herding dogs that keep them from wandering off.

According to the newspaper, Capra Environmental Services Corporation is providing the goats.

The animals can graze up to one acre per day, and will have 24-hour monitoring by a herdsman and guard dogs for as long as they are being used.

Goats have been used by numerous cities in California for wildfire mitigation for years.

Last year, Anaheim used goats to keep nearby hillsides clear of potentially wildfire-fuelling brush nearly year-round.

The goats are especially helpful in rough terrain and hilly environments where it would be difficult to operate tractors or lawnmowers. For the goats, rough terrain is exactly what they were built to traverse.

Goats also tend only to feast on invasive plants and grass, generally leaving native species of plants alone. This prevents unintended destruction of the local ecosystem by the cloven-hoofed animals.

Removing those invasive species is critical to preventing wildfires. A study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that non-native grasses can double or triple the chances of a wildfire.

The goats have their jobs cut out for them; just as climate change has created conditions that allow for more intense wildfires, it has also made it easier for non-native plants to spread.

Many cities in California use the goats year-round in order to keep the wildfire-fuelling plants at bay.

While the goats are effective, they alone are not enough to adequately prepare an area for wildfire season. Grasses can spread beyond where the goats are able to graze, requiring human intervention to ensure those areas are also weeded.

The one problem goats can't solve is that ultimately, wildfires are a problem because humans have encroached into regions prone to the blazes. Wildfires have always occurred, but humans building their homes close to high risk areas have resulted in an annual tragedies for decades.

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