Bureau of Land Management hopes goats can slow down forest fires
DENVER (AP) – A group of horse trailers pulls up at the start of a trail outside of Carbondale. The gates open and over 800 goats jump into the gravel parking lot. The goats head straight for the nearest grassy hill and immediately begin to munch on the ground.
That’s what these goats are here to do: eat, poop and stomp, grind their manure in the ground. Goats munch on a type of wheatgrass that once fed the cattle at Sutey Ranch, which is overgrown and unappealing to local elk and deer.
“Our hope is that if we can regrow some of these grasses, improve the soil, and make room for the growth of other more desirable plants, the fields will be even more valuable to wildlife,” said Hilary Boyd, biologist. from wildlife. with the United States Bureau of Land Management.
This is one of the first projects goat breeder Lani Malmberg worked on with the BLM. She calls her border collie, Rosco, to move the goats to where she needs them. Malmberg and his trainee then unroll a portable electric fence around the herd, which quietly gnaws at the ground.
Malmberg stays in a camper van on the construction site with his goats. She grew up raising cattle and graduated from Colorado State University to study weed management. There, she learned that goats are good at eating weeds and cleaning pesky plants. She bought a herd of cashmere goats in 1996 to start her business managing private and public land without using pesticides or heavy machinery.
Malmberg goats travel across the country to work on different land management projects. The animals remove harmful weeds and help control erosion along rivers. Goats also eat brush that could fuel large forest fires, a job Malmberg and his herd are increasingly committed to.
Climate change is causing warmer and drier conditions in the West and larger and more frequent forest fires. When Malmberg and the goats are done at the Sutey Ranch, she’ll pack them up and move them to another BLM project where they’ll clear out oak brush near an area burned by the Grizzly Creek fire last year.
Malmberg’s goats were grazing there when the fire broke out. She said it was terrifying – she, her son and his wife, and over 1,000 goats hurtled down the mountain away from the flames.
“The bears and the pumas were running with us, we were all running together,” said Malmberg.
Malmberg is happy to finally work with federal land managers, who control almost half of the land in western states. She said the BLM should try new ways to take care of public lands as the climate warms and dries out.
Boyd, the BLM wildlife biologist, wants to use the goats for another project. The agency eliminated the fuel from forest fires in one area 15 years ago, but now these plants are starting to grow back. It may not be possible to clear this land with controlled fire due to the dry conditions and nearby homes and private land.
“We think bringing the goats in and eating the brush might be the best way to keep the treatment going,” Boyd said.
The goats will return to Sutey Ranch next year, and possibly the next decade, to complete restoration work on the old pasture. Boyd says she is happy to work with the goats, even if the job takes a little longer.