We’ve often covered the process of preventing erosion after a wildfire and revegetating areas that have been affected. The flip side, though, is reducing the chances of fire in the first place. As this Erosion Control article points out, fires once burned naturally throughout forested areas, reducing the excess vegetation that could fuel an even larger blaze. Now, however, with development encroaching further into the wilderness, we tend not to let that happen. Even as we protect the homes and other infrastructure we’ve built in the wildland-urban interface, we’re setting the stage for the next big fire.
Pre-conference workshops Repairing Entrenched, Incised, and Degraded (Urbanized) Streams – Techniques and Case Studies Monday August 28, 2017 and BMP Selection to Improve Your Watershed Monday August 28, 2017. You may register for these without also registering for the annual conference. Download the StormCon Conference Program here.
It’s possible to reduce excess vegetation by mechanical means—mowers—or by using herbicides, but those approaches are expensive, can be difficult in uneven terrain, and bring some unwanted environmental effects. In a few places, though, another method is being put to use: herds of hungry goats.
The herds reduce excess vegetation and dried grasses around structures, which might prevent a fire from reaching them at all, and in other areas they clear out enough debris that a fire in the area won’t burn as hot—making it easier to fight and possibly causing less damage to the soil. Several businesses have sprung up, particularly in the Western US, that rent herds of goats (and sometimes cows and pigs) to graze on a plot of land for a few days or weeks. One business near Santa Barbara, CA, charges about $2,000 an acre, on average, for the service, and points out that goats can eat plants that are hard for humans to tackle, including poison oak, thistle, hemlock, and deadly nightshade. They won’t send the herds in, though, to areas where anything grows that is toxic to them, such as avocado trees or oleander.
Animals are used for vegetation management in other contexts as well. This article from Erosion Control describes how a solar farm uses Babydoll sheep to keep plants in check. The owners want the native grasses and other plants, which help control dust that could settle on the solar arrays, but they need to keep the vegetation trimmed so that it doesn’t block the solar panels. The miniature sheep—seven live permanently at the site—are small enough to slip beneath the panels.
Thanks to Forester’s production editor, Olivia Davi, for pointing out the topic!