WENATCHEE — They’re here.
Goats. Three hundred fire-fuel devouring goats tasked with making a neighborhood once ravaged by wildfire a little safer.
“They’ve been doing (vegetation) management with goats forever,” said Hillary Heard, a community wildfire specialist with Chelan County Fire District 1. “It’s just another tool to help keep the community a little bit more fire resilient.”
The first 100 were released about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Broadview neighborhood behind Maiden Lane. They quickly went to work chewing and chomping anything that grows along a 5-acre hillside on Wenatchee’s northwest border.
Dale Bergey’s home is closest to where the goats were released.
“I think it’s really cool,” Bergey said as the herd of white and brown goats munched below his fence line. He added, “They just go. They’re like a lawnmower in high gear.”
Following the devastating Sleepy Hollow Fire of 2015, a deep draw behind the Broadview neighborhood was marked as an area needing work.
“This slope behind Broadview is a very high-risk, vulnerable slope for us bordering these homes and it has a diverse fuel bed in there,” said Chief Brian Brett. “It’s too steep and access is limited — we can’t get mechanized equipment in there to do fuel reduction and it’s too labor intensive and we don’t have the people to do fuel reduction.”
The Broadview goats belong to Billy’s Goats Targeted Grazing Solutions, a weed control and vegetation management outfit from Ephrata. They’re expected to be in town for a week or so, working in 1-acre increments until the draw is cleared.
The goats are kept in about a 1-acre area surrounded by an electrified fence and will be monitored day and night by shepherds and dogs.
Some residents expressed concern about cougars to Brett, particularly a mother cougar with kittens. Brett said he spoke with state Fish and Wildlife officials who told him the dogs, shepherds and fencing will be enough to ward off cougars.
After the vegetation in one area is devoured, shepherds will move the goats and fence to the next section. They’ll repeat the process for a week or so until the goats have cleared the draw of brush from the end of Maiden Lane to Broadhurst Place about a half-mile northeast.
The project costs about $10,000 and is paid for by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that has allowed residents to make their homes more fire resilient. Homeowners started by replacing wood shake roofs with less combustible materials and then pulling vegetation, which the fire district disposed of free of charge.
“And it’s nice because there’s no cost to them and it helps bolster all the efforts that they did have to spend some money on,” Heard said.
The next step in that process was to make the area more defensible. That’s where the goats came in.
“To our knowledge, nobody has done this in our state for wildfire risk reduction,” Brett said. “It’s a pilot program for us. We’re very optimistic about the results."
He said the ultimate goal is to build a protection line along the western edge of the city between Horse Lake Road and Saddle Rock.
The “community protection line” will require continued fuel reduction — by machine, man and goat — and replacing highly flammable plants with types that are more fire resilient.
“When the next wildfire hits it’s going to buy us some time and space and give us some more tactical opportunities,” Brett said.