No offense to Simone Biles, but there’s a new GOAT making headlines in 2023. Biles may be the Greatest of All Time, but when it comes to curbing wildfire risk, the other kind of goats (the kind with horns, beady eyes, and chin whiskers) are proving to be champions at chomping their way to healthier forests.
Why Use Goats for Fire Prevention?
What does a hard-working goat eat for breakfast? Goatmeal, of course. (You’re a great audience; we’ll be here all week.) In fact, goats eat grasses, weeds, and even tree bark—and if you’ve spent time with a goat, you know they eat voraciously. By munching on weeds and invasive plants, these hungry ungulates help reduce excess vegetation, which means less fuel for wildfires. In addition to reducing overall vegetation, they can be deployed to create fire breaks that prevent flames from spreading toward homes and businesses.
There are many approaches to reducing vegetation, including humans power tools, controlled burns, and herbicides. But goats have all these methods bleat, er, beat. (These jokes write themselves, folks.) Using goats to prune excess vegetation is ecologically friendly, non-polluting, and versatile: Goats can scale steep terrain and trot into smaller and more remote spaces than humans or equipment can. Their plentiful poop fertilizes the soil, enriching it and helping to prevent erosion. And unlike buzzing chainsaws, goats chew their way through a day’s work without a lot of noise disturbance.
Where are Goats Used to Prevent Fires?
According to the Washington Post, private firms move fire-fighting goat herds through the U.S. Pacific Northwest. California has used goats as fire-fighting partners since 2014. In Portugal, 40 to 50 goatherds and shepherds manage 10,800 goats and focus on areas that are most vulnerable to wild fires, according to Portugal Resident. Goats are also now being used in central Chile, which suffered from terrible wildfires in 2023.
Goat fire-fighting has become a viable business, with companies hiring out herds to homeowners’ associations, cities, counties, private property owners, and fire-threatened businesses such as vineyards. Grazing goats can be restricted by movable fencing to areas that need clearing; when fencing is impractical, GPS collars keep goats within in a virtual boundary much like invisible fencing for dogs. About 400 goats can clear two acres per day, according to The Week.
As the planet warms and wildfire seasons grows longer, it’s going to take every tool in our toolbox to mitigate wildfires and the threat they pose to lives and property. Will goats prove to be the GOAT of forest grooming? It remains to be seen. But even a partial solution that is sustainable, ecofriendly, quiet, and doesn’t risk human lives can’t be baaaad. (Sorry, we’ll stop now.)