“A herd of goats graze on a fire-prone hill in South Pasadena, California in September 2019, consuming dry plants and combustible weeds in an effort to create a firebreak. Mario Tama/Getty Images
The headline reads like a joke but the story is deadly serious. Thanks to a 13-acre (5-hectare) brush-clearing back in May 2019 by Vincent van Goat, Selena Goatmez and some of their buddies from 805 Goats, the Easy Fire, which raged from Oct. 30, 2019 to Nov. 2, was prevented from crossing the last 90 feet (30 yards) and reaching the grounds of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Western wildfires have become a near-constant threat due to a combination of factors – lack of rain and dry conditions, wind and an abundance of fuel in the form of dry grasses, weeds, trees and shrubs. According to a July 2019 study published in the journal Earth’s Future, California’s wildfires are now 500 percent larger than in 1972 as a result of climate change.
Goats have proven to be effective helpers in the fight because, in addition to their uncanny knack for navigating tricky terrain, they will forage from two types of fuel sources. They eat up to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of vegetation a day, grazing extensively on low-lying grasses and weeds, but they will also reach up and eat from branches, sometimes up to 4 or 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) off the ground. Foraging off these "ladder fuels" helps create the firebreak, slowing the speed of the fire and keeping it from progressing.
Demand for this eco-friendly brush-clearing solution has gained traction. Goat herd rental companies are found in many western states including California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. Experts, landowners and residents say targeted grazing – rather than using chemicals – to create firebreaks, is a safer, more environmentally friendly and preferred method of preventing wildfires.
Now That’s Interesting
Operating a herd of goats to fight fires doesn’t come cheap. The startup costs are the most substantial – at least $100,000 for the animals, grazing land, portable fencing and trailers to haul the animals and equipment. And don’t forget the hired help – goatherds! Goats are a lot like toddlers and require constant monitoring.