Wednesday Jun 06 2012
Go-getter goats clear canyon
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
Hillside behind Auburn?s Riverview Drive going to the goats
?Only you can prevent forest fires.? The phrase has been engrained in the memories of generations of people and recalled during backyard barbecues and camping trips. While Smokey the Bear was concerned about his habitat, he probably didn?t know that goats could be more effective than humans at times. That?s exactly what the residents along Riverview Drive in Auburn have done. Since June 1, a sea of about 720 goats has made the hillside their home ? between Riverview Drive and the canal just above Bureau of Reclamation land along the American River Canyon. Their goal is to clear roughly eight acres of land with a smorgasbord of blueberries, poison oak, thistle and oak sprouts that act like high-octane fuel in a forest fire. ?We call it the Riverview Goat Rodeo and Buffet,? said Mark Bryant, who lives on the stretch of Riverview Drive and helped organize the grazing. The goats are the latest step in the measures residents along the American River Canyon have taken to suppress the fire danger in the area. Residents received approval from the Bureau of Reclamation in 2010 to clear brush and limb trees on federal land to create a shaded fuel break. The community sought to use goats last year, but started the process too late in the season. Bryant picked up the discussions this past winter and secured matching funds from the Greater Auburn Area Fire Safe Council to help cover the $2,800 cost to use the goats for one week. ?We?ve cleared a lot, about 80 acres in the canyon,? said Auburn Mayor Kevin Hanley, who is a member of the council. ?Now, in some of the neighborhoods, it?s moving into the maintenance to keep the French broom down, the Scotch broom, other things that come back.? Goats have proven to be a cost-effective tool to reduce fire fuels. Flying Mule Farms in Auburn, which provided the goats and is overseeing the project, has used them extensively in Lincoln for the last five years but said this may be the first time they?ve been used in Auburn. ?I think it?s a great opportunity to really demonstrate how useful the livestock can be in a more urban context in dealing with large quantities of vegetation,? said Dan Macon, owner of Flying Mule Farms. ?Over the long term, not only are we going to reduce the fire danger there, but if we manage the grazing effectively we?re going to restore the health of those rangeland ecosystems by encouraging native grasses to become reestablished, whereas right now we just have invasive plants.? Goats are used in areas with dense vegetation or steep terrain that make it difficult for humans to clear without the use of costly and harmful pesticides. The goats for this project are all 1 years old or younger, which is a rapid-growth period for goats similar to teenage years for humans, Macon said. Because they are growing and constantly moving, they tend to eat more and stay hungry throughout the day. An electric fence keeps the goats corralled during the day and dogs will accompany them at night to keep predators at bay. Workers from Flying Mule check on the goats daily and move the fence to keep the goats eating. The Auburn Fire Department has more than 15 fuel reduction projects along the canyon in the works this fire season. But Chief Mark D?Ambrogi said that such work isn?t a one-time, cure-all, it?s constant work. ?A lot of people think, ?Oh great, we?ve got a shaded fuel break, we?re safe,?? D?Ambrogi said. ?To a certain degree it gives them a benefit, but it?s how well we maintain that benefit. Nothing is going to completely stop the fire but it?s another tool that helps us in the suppression side of it.?