Nevada City, California has turned to novel means to clear the flammable trees and bushes that could act as a tinder box if wildfires return.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on January 22, 2019

After determining that the horned animals were the most cost-effective way to clear the land, the town has launched a crowdfunding drive, dubbed ‘Goat fund me’ to recruit a small goat army.

Officials in Nevada City, located just outside Sacramento and at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, are hoping to raise US$30,000 to bring in the animals.

According to the page, prescriptive grazing may cost between US$500-$1,000 each day depending on the terrain and the amount of cover. The organisers of the page believe 200 goats could strip an acre of unwanted foliage in just one day.

The goats would be overseen by a vegetation management company The Goat Works. The company’s owner Brad Fowler told Wired the goats work as part of a “mobile ranch” and are kept in specific areas by solar-powered electric fences. The goats often locate local water sources but, if not, the company will bring a water supply for them.

Unlike human crews, the goats leave no waste after clearing grasses and wood and their faeces can be left on the land to nourish the ecosystem. Their capacity to eat almost anything means that even thorny plants such as blackberry bushes, which grow wild all over Nevada City, are no issue for the hardy beasts.

“They’ve got really nimble lips,” Fowler says of his goat team. “It’s funny to watch them. They’ll hold the branch with their lips and reach in and bite it off with their back teeth.”

Writing on the crowdfunding page, Vice Mayor Reinette Senum said: “There is little need to stress how important it is to the safety and wellbeing of Nevada City citizens and neighbouring residents that we reduce the fire load in our surrounding forests and neighbourhoods.”

The creative solution to clearing dead wood and bushes comes after a wretched year of wildfires in California.

The Mendocino Complex fire destroyed more than 459,000 acres and was the most destructive wildfire ever seen in the state. By early August, a major disaster had been declared in Northern California to free up resources to fight the sprawling blazes.

Another series of fires wreaked destruction on the state in November, abetted by strong winds. One blaze, termed the Camp Fire, was responsible for at least 86 deaths and destroyed more than 18,000 buildings. One of the towns to feel the brunt of the Camp Fire was Paradise, a neighbouring town to Nevada City.

While the goats are only intended to be part of the solution, their ability to cheaply clear masses of flammable material could be employed in other areas across the state, where there are reportedly more than 100 million dead trees.

In other goat news, police were called after a goat broke out of her farm at Nailsea, near Bristol, England. The goat was safely returned home and had apparently gone wandering in search of a mate.

Header image credit: USFWS Midwest Region