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Goats Prevent Fire

This time of year you might hear or see crews outside your neighborhood clearing brush in ravines and canyons. They're usually armed with chain saws. Some are armed with goats. Joanne Faryon has the

This time of year you might hear or see crews outside your neighborhood clearing brush in ravines and canyons. They're usually armed with chain saws and they're creating fire breaks. But some say, there is a better, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way.

One herd of goats like this one can eat about an acre of brush a day. Twice as much as a crew of men with power tools…or so says goat keeper Johnny Gonzales.

Johnny Gonzales, Enviornmental Land Management: A situation like this, we can easily do an acre a day plus – which we have done. This is about 250, 270 in this herd. And so we try to gauge it, we try to manage the number of goats and the terrain to try to come as close as we can to an acre a day. And if you compare that to a hand crew of five or ten they may do a half acre. We can do an acre a day.

Gonzales use to be a landscaper who cleared brush. And then one day – back in the 90's – he realized there had to be a better way.

Gonzales:  I said it’s going to work. It will eventually make its way. San Diego will accept it. We might be last, but I'm hoping we're first in using them the right way and in every way.

Science is backing Gonzales. UC Davis professor Wolfgang Pittroff is an expert on the subject. He says human crews often destroy endangered plants and they inadvertently track in seeds from other invasive vegetation.

Goats are picky eaters. And if managed right, they'll eat only the unwanted brush.

Pitroff: We have studies over the last couple of years, their diet selection. We know what kind of plant they prefer what time of the year. And if there's an endangered species that's vulnerable to grazing at a certain time of year and there's always a window of time where they're more vulnerable then other times of the year, then we just simply decide not to let the goats in there.

Gonzales says goat grazing was gaining popularity and notoriety after the 2003 wildfires in San Diego County. He says his goats cleared acres of brush in Scripps Ranch. But he says it's still not a common-place option for creating fire breaks. In fact, he's had to cut the number of goats he keeps from 2000 to 1000.

It costs about $850 per acre to rent Gonzales' goats. He says that's less than the cost of hiring a crew of 10 men for the day. And contrary to what most people might think, it's not the fire department or fire prevention agencies renting goats. It's actually homeowner associations and individual homeowners who make up most of his client base. So if you are someone who has a large property you need cleared, goats could be an option.

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