As wildfires continue to ravage the West Coast states, and droughts drag on longer and harsher than they have in recent memory, it’s no surprise that everyone from ranchers to government officials are looking for new solutions. What is surprising is that a well-established practice from decades past is proving especially useful in some areas.
The technique uses goat herds to thin vegetation in susceptible areas, potentially creating a fire break by deploying the animals in repeated patterns.
It may sound strange, but for those familiar with goats and their habitats, it makes perfect sense.
Not only do goats seek out and thoroughly devour any plant matter they can find on the dry ground, but their waste also adds water and nutrients back into the soil that make it less vulnerable to wildfire damage, providing both short-term and long term help.
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“By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,” explained goat herdre Lani Malmberg in an interview with the New York Times. “If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.”
While other herd animals like cows and sheep have some similar utility, goats are the best for the job of preventing wildfires, according to rancher Kathy Voth. “They are like machines when it comes to eating down the brush, plus they trample the site and leave plenty of bare dirt. Yet in the fall when we get a little precipitation we see a return of grasses and forbs useful in preventing erosion on the site,” she explained to the University of Nebraska’s US Joint Fire Service Program in 2009.
Climate change has undeniably worsened the effects of wildfires in recent years, on top of decades of unsustainable water use and management that have depleted aquifers and left agriculture and urban expansion competing for earth’s most valuable resource: fresh water.
If any solution helps, it is being considered. No matter how unorthodox it may sound, harnessing natural behaviors such as animal grazing to sustain our natural environment is “a tool in the toolbox,” as Sacramento and Northern California Battalion Chief of Communications Issac Sanchez explained to the New York Post.
Learn more about the ways that animals can help in the fight against wildfires by visiting On Pasture, a leading publication for ranchers run by founder of Livestock for Landscapes Kathy Voth.
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