Basin Rec enlists new helper in push to reduce fire danger in Summit County: goats
Goats have had a moment in recent years, uncovering a talent for yoga, supplying the raw material for artisanal cheeses and using their natural chewing and digesting talents to help eco-conscious landowners take care of pesky weeds.
The Snyderville Basin Recreation District is hoping to expand the ungulates’ repertoire this summer, enlisting them in fire mitigation efforts by having hundreds of goats eat their way across a potential emergency evacuation route to help clear the way out of Toll Canyon.
Jessica Kirby, open space management supervisor, said Basin Rec officials were so impressed with the goats’ work in a pilot program last year they decided to bring them back, but are tweaking the mission from eating noxious weeds to also clearing vegetation in high fire-risk areas.
Kirby said that a year after the goats were used in Willow Creek, the grass in the area has returned stronger and healthier and the weeds appear to be held in check.
She said that 4 Leaf Ranch, a goat farm in Kamas, would deploy 100 to 400 goats in movable pens and slowly rotate the animals across the land Basin Rec is trying to treat. The goats can plow through up to 2 acres per day, she said.
The ruminates were set to arrive at Willow Creek on Tuesday and in Toll Canyon by the end of the week. Kirby said it was the first time the district has used goats for fire mitigation work, work that is normally done by human teams.
Basin Rec has added significantly to its land management responsibilities in recent years as the county has acquired land, and officials have said maintaining it to the county’s standards, which include weed management and removing vegetation that increases fire risk, is costly.
This year, the goats in Toll Canyon will pick their way through a stretch of land that may be designated as an official emergency egress route by the county, Kirby said, following up on work done by a human fire mitigation crew three years ago.
She said the herds benefit the land in many ways, with their excrement adding nutrients back to the soil and their hooves helping to trap carbon in the ground by churning up the soil.
The goats are expected to stay in Toll Canyon for 11 days and at Willow Creek for up to a month.
They will be minded by herders from the Kamas farm, who use electric wire to keep the goats in an enclosed area to make sure they eat as many weeds as possible before moving on. This year, they’ll be using herd dogs, as well, and officials ask people to keep their own pets away from the area. Still, Kirby encouraged people to come check out the spectacle.
She said the native grasses in the area evolved along with herds of grazing animals like elk passing through. As the wildlife has dissipated, weeds have threatened the native grasses. She hopes the goats will restore some balance.
“It’s kind of bringing back a little of the system the way nature would,” Kirby explained.
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