Goats are Now Being Used to Battle Future Wildfires in Western America

by Lauren Boisvert

In places like California and Colorado, wildfires are prone to breaking out and spreading rapidly. Local governments and landowners are now hiring goats to clear the land to help curb those fires.

In January 2020, Anaheim, Calif. renewed a contract with the company Environmental Land Management who lets goats graze in local parks and hills. This cuts down on highly flammable overgrowth. In July, about 400 of their goats moved through Deer Canyon Park, eating the dried grasses and invasive species. They made way for new grass to grow and got rid of potential fuel for wildfires.

Environmental Land Management’s operations manager Johnny Gonzalez spoke to NPR in 2020 about the benefits of the goats. Apparently, they get upwards of 100 calls a month from private landowners asking to hire the goats for their smaller plots. “Unfortunately,” said Gonzalez, “as a commercial herd, I can’t take on all these private lots.”

Local Goat Herd Prevents Fires in Colorado

Fortunately for private landowners, that’s what Lani Malmberg is doing in Colorado. The goat herder travels with her goats in a trailer. She moves through the American West hiring out her herd to individuals and local governments as fire prevention. According to the New York Times, who profiled Malmberg, she developed the technique of using goats for fire prevention in graduate school and is now one of the few entrepreneurs who employs it.

According to Malmberg, once the goats eat the dry grass and brush, their waste returns water to the soil. It also improves water retention. “By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent,” said Malmberg, “that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre.” This improves the soil quality after a fire; wildfires are known to decrease soil’s ability to retain water.

Additionally, Malmberg and her goats were recently hired by the Bureau of Land Management to help prevent fires in Carbondale, Colo. A job could take anywhere from a day to 6 months, depending on the land.

Foiling Against Wildfires

Officials in California are now wrapping the giant sequoias in tin foil to protect them from the coming wildfires; Paradise from the south and Colony from the north. The fires are closing in on Sequoia National Park, the Giant Forest, and Kings Canyon National Park.

While sequoias rely on the heat from fires to repopulate, wildfires like these can be intense, leading to destruction. When the Castle fire raged through Sequoia and Kings Canyon, it destroyed upwards of 10,000 trees. That’s what officials are trying to avoid this time around.

According to the New York Times, wildfires are getting hotter, more frequent, and much more devastating. This is directly caused by climate change, according to scientists and experts. Changes in the climate have resulted in a longer, drier fire season. Also, increased chances for drought aid the risky conditions.

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, humans start 80 percent of wildfires; but the warm, dry conditions caused by climate change aid in spreading the fires quickly, making them harder to put out.

Here’s hoping those goats have big appetites; they’re going to have to clear a lot of brush in order to prevent the raging wildfires we’re dealing with now.