California Turns to Goats to Mitigate Deadly Wildfire Threat

Firebrains | FireFire
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Goats grazing through the forests. Credit: CBS Denver

Given California’s vulnerability to destructive and deadly wildfires, it’s understandable that officials must consider every available option to mitigate the risk of huge blazes. Clearing out vegetation that could fuel the flames is a big part of that, so land managers have been employing help from the experts: goats.

Municipalities, firefighters, and groundskeepers across the state are increasingly deploying goat herds to mow down brush, clearing out would-be kindling in a cost-efficient method.

The goats eat through a forest, preferring leaves, while cows and other animals prefer grass. One goat can eat ten pounds of oak leaves and a herd can clear cut areas in no time. The leaves serve as fuel for the fire also help spread the fire faster than grass or other vegetation.

The Ventura County Fire Department has used them for five years. Capt. Ken VanWig told Bloomberg;

“They’ll eat until we like the way the landscape looks, and then we move them to another area. They’re very effective.”

Last week, the southern city of Lemon Grove hired 200 goats for “clearing heavy brush to minimize fire danger and help create defensible space for homes,” East County Magazine reported. Eight hours north of there, the city of San Rafael is using goats as part of their vegetation management, trimming along roads to improve access for fire engines and creating “fuel breaks” to help stop flames from spreading, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

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Firefighter overlooks the Carr Fire in California last year. Credit: WGNTV

After last year’s deadly fires, people are scrambling for the service. George Gonzales — who started renting out goats for brush-clearing 15 years ago — told USA Today he’s so swamped right now he’s turning away business, telling the outlet, “I can’t take any more work.”

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