Getting wildfires’ goat is exactly what the City of Quesnel is doing out in the bush. These methodical munchers with impressive intestinal fortitude are eating their way to fire safety for local residents.
The City’s Forestry Initiatives Program has partnered with Vahana Nature Rehabilitation (VNR) and its team of goats to help reduce wildfire risk and combat invasive plants. Moving the herd slowly, so as not to overgraze or give the iron-gut grazers any reason to turn their appetites to the adult trees, means the 132 of them can together clean up just shy of a whole hectare in a single day – far more than a human crew can do, and not in the scope of anyone’s job on City or provincial staff.
“The goats are moved around strategically to reduce the amount of grass and other green vegetation that will cure and dry and increase the fire hazard as the summer moves forward” says Erin Robinson, the Forestry Initiatives Manager for the City of Quesnel.
The goats arrived June 18 and will be advancing along Fuel Management Trails for two weeks. They eat alongside the trail, so it is always open, and the public has been active about coming to watch. Part of the goal, said Robinson is FireSmart education and inspiration so cleanup work gets done at homes and businesses even without goat aid.
The Ministry of Forests used goats in the Quesnel area in 2022. This is the first foray for the municipality, with a plan to bring VNR back again in 2024.
“We’re wondering if a local person with goats might do it here, so we have local goats,” Robinson said, noting this is a boost for agriculture, as well.
The VNR herd deployed in Quesnel comes with two full-time shepherds, two herding dogs and one guardian dog. The herd is contained inside a portable fence system.
“Concerns over emissions of conventional mowing and brushing equipment, pesticide and herbicide use, and other chemical effects on our ecosystems have led many to contemplate ‘earth-friendlier’ options when managing the landscapes we call home,” said Robinson. “A safe (and adorable) alternative to many of our fueled and chemical treatments is using goats for grass, weed, and brush control.”
The FireSmart Program recommends the following for homes and businesses:
Regularly mow and water grass within 10 metres around your home and other structures.
Prune evergreen tree branches two metres from the ground if they are within 30 metres of your home.
Remove all combustible materials (twigs, dry grass, logs and leaves) within 10 metres of your home.
Do not use bark or pine needle mulch around your home as they are highly flammable.