Using Goats to Reduce Wildfire Risks in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA)
The Bureau of Land Management’s St. George Field Office and the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan Administrator’s Office are cooperating to reduce the potential for wildfire in the Red Cliffs NCA, using a unique tool – targeted grazing by domestic goats.
The “D Goat Ranch” from Fielding, Utah, has been contracted to supply 150 goats to graze for a few weeks this spring along the road shoulders of Cottonwood Road. This road extends through the heart of the NCA, from just north of St. George to the boundary of the Dixie National Forest, and receives a lot of traffic. The goats will eat the non-native brome grass, aka “cheat grass”, along the roadway, but will avoid the native shrubs, such as creosote, as they are very bitter.
Dry cheat grass is very flammable and a contributing factor to the large wildfires that have burned many acres in the NCA and elsewhere in Washington County. Wildfires frequently start along roadways, from vehicle sparks or other human causes. Reducing the amount of flammable grass along the Cottonwood Road will help to protect habitat and populations of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, as well as other resource values in the NCA.
Herders from the D Goat Ranch use light nylon electric fences to create temporary pens, keeping the goats together in a dense herd. The goats are moved from one pen to another every few hours, with the herders leapfrogging past the goats to build new pens in a steady march from south to north. In a few weeks, when the cheat grass has cured and is no longer palatable to the goats, they will be loaded on trucks and returned to D Goat Ranch, fatter and happier for a “job well done”.