Goats may help prevent wildfires 

These herbivores are being deployed to clear invasive plants throughout wildlands. The invasive black mustard plant outcompetes native vegetation because it grows profusely and its roots generate biochemicals that stop the seeds of other plants from germinating. It thrives in the spring and can grows high only to die and turn to dangerous tinder by early summer.

Dead vegetation build-up in wilderness areas, along with the effects of climate change, has accelerated wildfires in California. In 2021, the state lost more than two million acres of wilderness to wildfire. 

Land managers traditionally relied on herbicide and human labor to thin plants and reduce fuel load. Access to mountain terrain can be challenging and clearing practices can leave regerminating seeds behind.

Goats are adventurous eaters with iron-clad stomachs. Digested seeds have no chance of regermination once they pass through a goat's stomach. They eat plants toxic to other kinds of livestock and can climb steep hillsides, inaccessible to other animals. 

Native plants grow slowly, adapt to live in specific environmental conditions and are vulnerable to extremes, such as droughts. Invasive plants often thrive in dry conditions and reproduce quickly. The goats can effectively clear overgrown invasive plant areas and potentially give native species a chance to flourish but they still need to be controlled, as they eat all kinds of vegetation.

Some research about whether goats' grazing can reduce the severity or impact of wildfires; suggests they're beneficial. In Australia, goats are also being used and are especially effective at reducing fine fuel loads—flammable vegetation that's smaller than a quarter of an inch, like grass, which form a continuous fire bed. Controlling and containing them is crucial to limiting the spread of wildfires.



Author: Sylvia Jacobs

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