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California Eyes Fire-Fighting Goats


By Dan Hounsell Emergency Preparedness

Goats. Is there anything they can’t do? When last we checked, goats were coming to the rescue of a Florida school district looking to maintain grounds that featured rough terrain.

Now comes word that the bramble-munching creatures might be part of California’s strategy to minimize the occurrence and impact of wildfires, according to USA Today.

California wildfires at both ends of the state last year claimed 89 lives and destroyed more than 13,000 homes and businesses, with $11.4 billion in insured losses, the California Department of Insurance reported. Gov. Gavin Newsom took the rare step of declaring a state of emergency ahead of this year's recent fire season, clearing the way to spend millions on projects to reduce the danger. The proclamation gives the state the power to waive some administrative and regulatory requirements in the name of public safety with the goal of protecting 200 of the state's most vulnerable communities. It provides for 35 high-priority projects to reduce the timber and brush.

Livestock, particularly goats, might be part of the solution, proponents said. The animals can get into narrow canyons and gullies that mowers can't reach. Plus, they're eco-friendly.

In a vast field next to a community college and over the fence from a state prison, about 200 goats are gnawing their way through a thicket of green foxtails that's almost knee-highless than two weeks into spring. 

"It's like a salad bar. They love it," says George Gonzales, who created his brush-clearing goat service 15 years ago. Gonzales is one of a hodgepodge of goat and sheep herd owners around the state offering their services for brush control. This year, they say they have been swamped with requests after an unusually rainy winter resulted in a lush new growth of brush. That's because those moist, brilliant green hillsides can turn deadly when temperatures rise and the brush turns brown, tinder-dry and highly flammable.

Dan Hounsell is editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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