Glomalin and Conservation in Humboldt County The 1996 discovery of the soil glue glomalin is changing our understanding of the impact of elevated carbon dioxide, while giving important clues to forest health, watersheds, revegetation, wildfire and carbon sequestration. Here I share what I have found so others may read and draw their own conclusions, and relate it to my own experience, Humboldt County issues and stories from the news.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

32.Fire Goats and Opportunities 

32.Fire Goats and Opportunities
A request from a local fire-safe council for information about using goats for fuel load reduction led to a review of the literature. Several years ago I had started collecting information about this when I first saw it in connection with the Oakland Hills after the devastating fire there in 1991. Over the years several more articles appeared in print and on TV about using them for fire protection in the urban interfaces as well as traffic medians. The need to reduce fuel loads is reaching a critical point with vegetation responding to increased carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures with explosive growth.
An Agrarian History of Great Britain tells about the earliest settlers there, at about 7000 B.C., cleared the first lands for agriculture. The original forest had lots of elm, and elm leaves are pretty good forage, with a fair amount of nitrogen. The early method was to lop branches from the trunks and use the leaves as fodder. The trunks were left and became quite burled. These trees were cut by later inhabitants and used to form burial chambers in the long barrows. Many of these are lined with beautiful elm posts.
Archelogists reportedly have a hard time telling sheep from goats but sheep have to have grass. The history discusses the fact that research shows every single part of Britain had been covered with trees. Even the moors had been cleared in the past, but had not regrown as forest. Goats are as good a candidate as any for the first known deforestation, and goats have been used in woodlands since the dawn of time.
A search on google now brings about 340,000 hits in .13 seconds for fire goats. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Caltrans and many smaller public agencies are using goats in steep, difficult or brush covered terrains. There are all kinds of goat web sites with just a wealth of information on every aspect of raising, caring for and using goats.
Numbers always help us get a better picture of opportunities. Three hundred and fifty goats will clear an acre in a day. One price I saw was a dollar fifty per day per head, five hundred twenty-five dollars per acre per day with 350 goat herds.
The local need for fire goats is immense because the scale of fire prevention is vast, both wildland and at the edge of development. Enriched atmospheric CO2 and warmer temperatures will cause even more explosive vegetative growth. Increasing canopy height and removing fuel loads and fire ladders make a big difference in fire defense.
To the goat herd, this results in a continuous food source for goats. While some of the original programs I read about took any goat, specific breeds can be used for hair, hides, meat, some used for milk, some companies offer sheep for grazing certain types of grass. Opportunities abound for fire goats. Many jobs need doing, while the goats’ food source is expanding into increased fire danger. Even without contracts fodder is becoming more available as the products become better known.
Fire goats can be a tremendous help in restoring forest systems by controlling brush, Goats can prepare a site for planting if natural regeneration is insufficient. If it is, goats can be introduced after trees grow beyond browse height for fuel reduction and conifer release in some areas. Goats eat many noxious weeds and can be used to reduce problem plants like Scotch broom. Goats reduce roadside vegetation readily and can be used in residential interfaces, stewardship zones, firebreaks, and regenerating forestlands.
Goat Wisdom: Most everything you need to know about raising goats.

From California Grazing“Yellow star thistle is named for the bright, thistle like flower that have sharp spines surrounding their base. It is a long-lived annual and is found at elevations of 7000 feet or less. It grows to any where between 6 inches to 5 feet tall. Most of the plants seeds germinate within a year of disbursement, however some can stay viable for up to 3 years. Goat grazing is a highly effective way of reducing star thistle and star thistle seed production. Goats will eat the plants in all stages, including after the spines form. Surprisingly goats quite like thistle and when present it is one of over time by goats provides positive and successful results in the eradication of star thistle.
Aggressive noxious weeds like thistle bring problems as they displace beneficial plants, reduce habitat and recreational value. Goat grazing is also effective control of other weed species such as Spurge, Nettles, Purple Star thistle, Artichoke thistle, Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. Where as human contact with Poison Oak or Poison Ivy can cause a allergic reaction in humans, goats relish them and are highly effective at eradicating this weed. Goat grazing is a cost effective, ecologically sound way to clear land and promote growth of native grasses and beneficial plants.”
Wildfires Don’t Have A Goat of a Chance
© 2001 Wendy Dager
Despite their reputation, goats don't really eat tin cans.
But, oh, how they love weeds. And shrubs and forbs and grasses.
With proper control, goats and other animals with voracious appetites for greenery can be used to scale back the threat of wildfires, including those that could be rampant during the upcoming windy season in Southern California.
Often egged on by dry Santa Ana winds, 6,000 wildfires per year wreak havoc in California. Among the worst in history was the 1999 fire season when 273,000 acres and 300 homes were destroyed at a cost of $500 million. Such statistics are expected to worsen as the number of fires increases due to the rapid expansion of housing developments, which sprout ever closer to locations that are vulnerable to fire.
One of the hardest hit areas in the last decade was Oakland Hills, when a 1991 fire claimed more than 2,400 homes. Determined to keep it from happening again, the local government sought out alternatives to the few available preventive techniques, which include the more conventional herbicides and controlled burns.
Instead, Oakland officials called in a goat rancher, who provided the goateed, bleating, four-footed crew that happily chomped the fire-prone hillsides for two weeks at a hefty $15,000 per job.
"Theres some irony here", said S&S Seeds' Paul Albright. "Not too long ago, the government used to charge goatherders for grazing rights. Now, city governments are paying them to come in with livestock to clear the land."
According to Dr. An Peischel, those prior fees weren't fair at all to the person providing the goats, and, at times, the best management practices for grazing were not used.
"It's a bad precedent that people who live in cities and own land would charge farmers to graze their goats on them", said Peischel. "What happened years ago, is that farmers might abuse the land. They'd graze it improperly because they had to pay a lot of money for it."
Peischel knows what she's talking about. A PhD in Range Livestock Nutrition and a goat farmer for 18 years, she and partner Mike Spaetgens began their business, Goats Unlimited, in Hawaii. Their herd of goats was hired by growers of sugar cane, citrus, coffee, bananas, and papaya to clear land prior to planting, as well as to perform weed control duties between harvests.
Using the Kiko breed of goats, along with livestock guardian dogs to herd them, Peischel and Spaetgens main objective is to enhance land productivity.
"If you want your land well taken care of, then you better find a good rancher that's going to be a steward to your land", said Peischel. "As farmers, we're doing a landowner a service. We're preventing fires on their land and we're enhancing their perennial grasses so we're enhancing watershed management."
Now located in Rackerby, California, an hour-and-a-half north of Sacramento, Goats Unlimited is truly what it says it is: unlimited in the services it performs.
"We do all different kinds of things with the goats", said Peischel. "We do land rejuvenation, erosion control, restoration projects, fire breaks, and fuel load reduction. We provide breeding stock. We make meat sales to organic restaurants in San Francisco and Berkeley. We sell them to folks who have small farms - five, ten, fifteen acres - that want to do land cleaning so that their places don't burn on the urban/wildlife interface. We clear ditches for irrigation companies so that the water flows freely and you dont have a lot of weeds and stuff along the banks."
Currently, the Goats Unlimited herd numbers 700, but each spring it expands to between 1200 and 1300 head. The care and feeding of the goats includes supplementing their diet with something other than that which they cull from the land.
"If you're doing a fire break in an old ponderosa pine forest, there's not much to eat there", said Peischel. "If nutrition is lacking, protein has to be supplemented. Though utilizing livestock to manage land isn't new, goats have been an industry in California for only five years. Their use, however, is becoming more widespread as fire prevention and mitigation practices evolve."
"There are various tools to mitigate or minimize the damage done by fire to grasslands, rangelands, forests, homes and personal property", said Peischel. "Each tool has a specific use and place in management."
Weed abatement tools include the mechanized variety such as bulldozers, masticators and chipping equipment.
Using machines, however, is sometimes hazardous they can spark and cause fire. Which is why, in June of 2001, the city of Sunnyvale, California employed goats to maintain local landfills. According to an article by Gretchen Knaup of the Sunnyvale Sun newspaper, one of the reasons the goats were used was because the many pipes and wells in the landfills were difficult for tractors to get around and there was risk of starting a vehicle fire.
Peischel admits that an employer has to be receptive to the idea of fire control via hooved herbivores.
"We have to find people that want to pay us to do this", she said. "Proper planning, site evaluation and the working of the goats takes time. Contract price depends on the size of the job; if your'e doing fire breaks; how old the goats are; what's the weather; what's the vegetation."
"Each contract", says Peischel, "is individually negotiated, and consists of coordinating a variety of sources, including the local fire patrol, professional fire abatement teams, California Department of Forestry, and others." Regardless of the number of parties involved and the combination of factors that are unique to each job, Peischel emphasizes that the purpose remains how to best utilize the goats to decrease the amount of fuel that may cause a wildfire.
"The aim is to break the continuity of flammable cover, creating defensible space", said Peischel. "Once an area has been brushed by the goats, it can be maintained as a living green belt."
Peischel is pragmatic about her unusual business, but believes the goats are here to stay and that providing them for land management is the career for her.
"If I had to go to work, I don't know what I'd do", she joked. "I just can't imagine having a real job." For more information, visit or call (530) 679-1430.

Living Systems Land Management uses goats for fire mitigation, habitat restoration, erosion control and vegetation management.
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