California cities turn to goats to help prevent wildfires

Billy Goat

It has been a brutal few years for California when it comes to wildfires. Cities across the state are now looking into more unconventional fire prevention strategies... like goats.

Anaheim recently renewed its contract with Environmental Land Management to keep goats grazing on the hillsides nearly year-round. The goats are stationed at nature preserves, among other places. Roughly 400 goats worked through a preserve, dining on invasive grasses and dried brush.

The company’s operation manager Johnny Gonzales told NPR that the goats are perfect for places with steep hills.

“This is the topography that poses challenges during these wildfire events,” Gonzales says. “And we can go ahead and reduce the fuel loads and take out the invasive plants, and establish the native plants on these banks; you’re re-establishing the ecology.”

Gonzales says the company gets over 100 calls a month from private parties with smaller lots.

The goats are able to climb the steep hillsides, but also only minimally graze on native plants, focusing more on invasive grasses and plants.

A recent study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that the alien grasses are increasing the frequency of wildfires because of how easily they burn. The study found that they double or triple the likelihood of a fire occurring when present.

The goats are becoming part of the community as people have begun to name them, says Gonzales.

“There’s Chewy, Spot, Pokey and Peggy and there’s lots of different names. Mainly now, the names come from the residents. When we get into a neighborhood, if we have some kids, they’ll name it,” Gonzales says. “And sure enough, you know, year after year, they come back to see the goats and the names live because the people come back to see the goats.”