Local governments, utilities, and companies struggle to prevent outbreaks when megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the Western states.
To help prevent fires from spreading, some landowners are using an unusual technique. Goats are now being utilized to avoid fires by eating through the brush that fuels the fires.
A study published in November 2019 indicated that alien grasses are one of the causes of increasing the danger of wildfires, making them two to three times more likely, NPR reported. Flammable grasses exceed native plants that are more naturally fire-resistant, perhaps adding fuel to fires.
Goats are excellent fire-prevention animals for two reasons: they can climb steep hillsides and eat extremely flammable non-native grasses while ignoring native plants.
Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder who pioneered the use of the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures due to the goats’ habit of eating tasty brush grass and dry shrubs, which are most prone to catching fire. Therefore, this technique can reduce the spread of fires, as New York Times reported.
Malmberg developed the fire-prevention strategy while in graduate school, and she is one of the few people who uses grazing methods to mitigate fires. Private landowners and local governments employ her to remove weeds while recovering the soil, and it’s a word-of-mouth business.
They are not only clearing brush that might otherwise be used as kindling for wildfires, but they are also increasing the potential to hold water in the soil. It is because after digesting the plants, their waste is returned as organic matter.
“By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,” said Ms. Malmberg. “If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.”
Goats can manage to eat brush up to nine feet in the air if they stand on their hind legs.
Ms. Malmberg, 64, who graduated from Colorado State University with a master’s degree in weed science, spends most of her time working in the West. For the first time last year, the Bureau of Land Management hired Ms. Malmberg and her goats for fire mitigation in Carbondale, Colo.
In fact, grazing, which involves goats clearing brush on fire-ravaged land, is an ancient practice that dates back to early humans. But, in the wake of the recent and devastating fires in California, bringing this technique back is particularly effective.
“If you can cut a fire break that will stop a fire, that’s a big deal. It’s kind of emotional for us when something like that happens,” Living Systems Management Owner Mike Canaday said, reports Fox News.
Anaheim’s Fire Marshall Allen Hogue says because of the steepness of the slopes in some parts of the city, goats are quite useful for landscape management.
“It would be almost impossible for a human to sit there or walk up and down with a weed whacker or a Weed Eater, so that’s why we use the goats,” Hogue says.
“We thought that the goats could achieve our objectives with their ability to work on steep slopes,” said Kristy Wallner, a land management specialist for the bureau’s Colorado Valley field office. “It’s going to be a useful tool for us to use moving forward.”
Across California, Canaday has nearly 10,000 goats working for businesses and homeowners. He has been working on this project for more than 20 years and, despite being in his 70’s, he says he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Wildfires have become hotter, more intense, and more devastating in recent years, scientists say.
The cost of fire suppression has more than doubled since 1994, reaching over $400 million in 2018; Ms. Malmberg points out that cost does not include the impact on those who lose their land and homes.
“How do we value the nest that supports us?” Ms. Malmberg asked. “We’re just about out of time to change the ways of how we do things.”