With drought impacting 90% of the western United States and about 50% experiencing the most extreme levels, officials are expecting a pretty rough fire season. There have already been several significant blazes. Personnel are as ready as they can be, with the typical equipment at hand. One species is also helping by lending a hand – or hoof – to the effort.
Many communities have taken to using goats to help minimize the impacts of fire. Their grazing has proven to be a helpful tool in reducing the number of highly-flammable plants the flames consume. Their agility and ability to handle steep terrain make them even more valuable in these efforts.
Retired Anaheim, California Fire Marshall Allen Hogue says the goats are really helpful with hills, explaining to NPR, “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.”
Monterey County, California has used the goats’ services for several years now, as well. County officials explain that they’re pretty adept at raising tree canopies.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, tree canopies play a big role in determining how fires spread. Lower hanging branches and shrubs beneath them can serve as ladder fuels, allowing flames to spread more easily and quickly to envelope a tree.
Monterey County officials say of the goats’ role, “Their voracious appetite and ability to both graze down vegetation and reach low hanging tree growth make them a helpful and ecologically friendly partner in fire prevention and vegetation clearing efforts.”
The goats also tend to focus more on invasive plant species, which are more apt to burn and increase the likelihood of fires. As these plants grow, they begin to take out native grasses, which are more fire-resistant.
A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Massachusetts Amherst investigated how these invasive species play a role in wildfires. They found that at least eight non-native plants can increase fire risk up to three times as much, depending on how dense they are in a particular area.
The study’s senior author Bethany Bradley says, “This work shows that invasive species are one of the big three ways that people are changing fire regimes. Climate change more than doubles the likelihood of fire, human ignitions triple the fire season, and now we can add invasive species fueling fires.”
The goats are helping with at least one of those issues. How can you help prevent human ignitions, which are estimated to account for 87% of each year’s wildfires?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says you should make sure you build appropriately-sized campfires and always completely extinguish them before leaving your camp for any reason. They should be cold to the touch when you’re done.
Vehicles also play a role.
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The BLM says, “If you are off-roading, remember that your exhaust can reach temperatures of 1000+ degrees! Driving or parking over dry grass often starts wildfires.
“Vehicles can also shoot sparks from their exhaust, particularly vehicles that haven’t received regular mechanical maintenance, so make sure your vehicle – whether it’s a car, truck, or off-highway vehicle – is current on all mechanical checkups and suited for off-road adventures.”
They say it’s important to carry a shovel and fire extinguisher in your car, as well.
Be extra careful when burning debris, remembering to always have water on hand and never to do so on a windy day. Don’t use any equipment that causes sparks anywhere near dry vegetation, and use legal fireworks safely.
Together, humans and goats can join hands and hooves to keep the fire season less devastating than it has to be.Whizzco