It’s been a goat-heavy week in state news.
Wildlife officials on the Olympic Peninsula are sedating and blindfolding mountain goats, then trucking, ferrying and flying them — dangling by the end of ropes from helicopters — to the North Cascades.
The goal of the operation, now in its second year, is to remove the non-native mammals from the peninsula and restore the ecosystem there, while boosting the species’ population in its native Cascade range.
Meanwhile, here in Wenatchee, goats of a different genus are making headlines.
Some 300 goats are eating their way through the canyon behind the Broadview neighborhood on the western edge of town this week and next, thanks to Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money and the efforts of Chelan County Fire District 1.
The goats gobble up vegetation (up to 10 pounds per day!) that would otherwise act as fuel during a wildfire, just as it did when the Sleepy Hollow Fire of 2015 ripped through Broadview. The goats are creating a firebreak around the community, and I am grateful for and comforted by their presence.
I can see them now from my window. They’re bedding down for the night, bellies full after another day of munching across fire-prone terrain. They are rather charming, these funny little eating machines. And apparently, quite bright.
“I’d say they’re very smart creatures,” Billy Porter said. The fire district hired Porter’s Ephrata-based company, Billy’s Goats Targeted Grazing Solutions, for the job. “They’re inquisitive, and super athletic.”
They work quietly, too, occasionally bleating out to each other, but approaching their task with mostly silent concentration. This makes them a more pleasant brush-clearing option than noisy machinery. It’s much less expensive to bring in goats than to hire humans for the job. They can denude steep terrain where men and machines may not be able to reach. And, goats are a sustainable fuel reduction option, a greener alternative to chemical treatments.
Of course, goats do leave some waste behind. But look at it this way: “It’s fertilizer,” Porter said.
It’s brilliant, really — such a common sense, low-tech, environmentally sound way to help protect the neighborhood and, as a result, the rest of the city from wildfire. Kudos to all the folks who worked to make this happen, in particular Hillary Heard of CCFD 1.
I have this rhetorical tic, though, that compels me to bring up the matter of response whenever I write about wildfire in Wenatchee. The fact is that by the time the Sleepy Hollow fire reached the edge of Broadview, no amount of brush clearing could have stopped that monster from destroying homes. We know it’s going to take a whole lot more than a firebreak to keep our town — and our firefighters — safe.
It is going to take functioning communication channels between district chiefs, situational awareness by fire leadership, and timely requests for aerial resources made during a firefight, all lessons that Chelan County Fire District 1 and other local stakeholders have apparently learned from the Sleepy Hollow Fire. That’s very good news.
Goats are good news, too. And pretty darn cute.
Kelli Scott’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org