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The City of Redding is Using Goats as a Wildfire Prevention Strategy

Goats are able to better navigate and clear brush from steep hills, where humans walking with weed wackers or riding on lawn mowers can't easily go.
Megan Manata
Goats are able to better navigate and clear brush from steep hills, where humans walking with weed wackers or riding on lawn mowers can't easily go.

The goats eat underbrush, vegetation and grasses, often grazing in places that are difficult for humans and heavy machinery to reach. They’re particularly helpful near power lines, power substations and on steep terrain.

They can also be seen in more urban areas of Redding.

“They were on Market the other day and I went by the next day and it’s like dang they just cleared it, says Julie Winter, a city council member for the city of Redding. “Like whoom, everything got vacuumed up. It was amazing.”

Aside from their ability to reach more remote locations, the low environmental impact of using goats means that they can be a sustainable way to do brush management.

“You don't have to burn anything so you don't have any emissions from, you know, burning big fuel piles,” says Winter. “Or, you don't have to chip anything so if you’re going to chip items, you’re using an electric motor so that creates carbon emissions. So they just have a really low carbon footprint.”

Heavy machinery creates its own problems as well. Weed eaters (handheld brush cutters) and masticators (a heavy piece of equipment that has a heavy set of blades that chips brush and trees into small pieces), pose environmental and cost issues.

“What people are finding out is, masticators are noisy and dusty and leak fluids and things like that onto the ground,” says Tim Arrowsmith of Western Grazers, a grazing company. “And then there is weed eaters. They’ll put guys out on weed eaters but it becomes pretty cost-prohibitive once you realize what they cover in an hour vs. how much a goat can cover in terms of ground.”

Using goats can have additional positive effects on the environment, aside from their role in brush clearing.

“Goats are typically used, they stir up the soil and regenerate the soil as they go and they’ll lift the canopy,” says Arrowsmith. “A masticator is going to take it completely down and do away with it. A goat is going to turn it up and lift the canopy and remove the debris on the ground.”

Still, goats are not the perfect solution to wildfire prevention. Because they tend to eat everything in their path, the goats need to be limited to areas without endangered plants or sensitive ecosystems, such as around streambeds. They need to be contained to specific areas using fencing and a herding dog. Still, there is growing interest in low-impact techniques such as goats, as much of Northern California is increasingly affected by severe wildfires.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.