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Goats recruited to prevent wildfires

Hungry herd in Colo. reduces fuel that stokes flames

By Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post
Published: June 14, 2024, 6:07am

SUPERIOR, Colo. — The hundreds of goats munching dead vegetation on a patch of roadside open space represent this Boulder County town’s latest effort at staving off wildfires.

The goats, encircled by electric fencing and guarded by herding dogs, were grazing last Wednesday between a residential neighborhood and the El Dorado K-8 School near the intersection of Mount Sopris Parkway and Indiana Street.

Just up the road marks the bounds of the Marshall fire, Colorado’s most destructive wildfire that killed two people and destroyed more than $2 billion worth of property in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County in December 2021.

Investigators concluded the disastrous blaze began with reignited embers on the grounds of an international religious cult and from sparks from a broken power line about 2,000 feet away. The flames were driven by high winds and dried grass and brush, according to a 17-month investigation into the fire’s origin.

After the Marshall fire, Colorado municipalities took a greater interest in managing their vegetation, said Leslie Clark, Superior’s parks, recreation and open space director. Both Louisville and Superior are employing weed-chomping goats to better tame the landscape.

“Our open space, traditionally, was handled pretty hands-off as far as vegetation, whereas now we’re taking a more proactive approach to reduce fuel loads and other fire mitigation practices,” Clark said. “Goat grazing really hits that on the head because it helps us reduce both current growth and the old, dried-up dead stuff that’s there. They love to eat the weeds and weed reduction is a big part of our wildlife mitigation. because weeds tend to burn a little bit hotter and longer than native grass.”

Using goats for wildfire mitigation isn’t new, but it has grown in popularity in the past decade and really picked up after the Marshall fire, said Donny Benz, who runs the goat grazing business Goat Green LLC with his mother Lani Malmberg.

Goat Green LLC has about 1,500 goats that are sent around the state to eat, bleat and repeat — including, at the moment, in Louisville.

Malmberg started the business, primarily focused on weed-eating, in 1996 after earning her master’s degree in weed science at Colorado State University.

“I got the idea you should take an animal that eats whatever the problem is as an alternative to machinery and pesticides,” Malmberg said.

Now, Malmberg and Benz offer up their goats to private land owners, homeowner’s associations, Air Force bases, the Bureau of Land Management and a number of cities across the West including — in Colorado — Westminster, Erie, Castle Rock and Broomfield.

Currently, the duo has a herd feasting in Louisville off of the Dutch Creek Open Space. Louisville has a $45,000 goat-grazing contract this year that includes herd activity in the spring and the fall, officials said.