June 24, 2005
California Turns to Goats to Stop Wildfires
SAN FRANCISCO -- Move over Smokey the Bear. In California, thousands of goats are helping prevent wildfires.
From hilly San Francisco to more rural settings, California landowners, business and officials have hired the voracious animals to devour the grass and brush that fuels wildfires.
Last year, more than 5,500 fires blackened over 168,000 acres in the most populous U.S. state.
"Goats are just another tool in the toolbox for California and we try to use as many tools as possible," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Michael Jarvis said in an interview last week.
Goats are munching on vegetation that is thriving throughout the state after an exceptionally wet winter.
Some herds are doing double duty: preventing fires and protecting homeland security.
Bob Blanchard, a rancher in Cayucos, California, near the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, said his herds of Spanish meat goats devour brush around the plant and on the rugged hillsides under high-voltage power lines.
"Fire safety is one part and plant security is the other part. The security people there want to be able to see over the whole area," Blanchard said.
His herds, ranging in size from 300 to 700 goats, are working under a 10-year contract with Diablo Canyon owner PG&E Corp. .
Diablo Canyon spokesman Jeff Lewis said, "The goats give us a good firebreak under the transmission lines and we don't have to rely on any insecticides or controlled burns."
Three shepherd dogs are assigned to each herd to foil attacks by coyotes or cougars looking for a meal.
Goatherds have been deployed in urban settings as well.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission hired herds from Goats R Us, of Orinda, California, to keep the land around the city's 13 reservoirs tidy and to chow down on dried flammable brush, PUC spokeswoman Maureen Barry said.
"Did you know that goats once grazed on Russian Hill before it was built up?" Barry asked. "Well, now they're back and the city is getting excellent results."