City Says Goats Were The Right Prescription For Invasive Species Control

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Goats will gladly eat invasive species... and cameras if given the chance.

Those who frequent the Pheasant Branch Conservancy are used to seeing an array of flora and fauna as they travel the preserve’s meandering paths. But earlier this summer they encountered something entirely new: goats.

A herd of 82 animals came and went as part of the City of Middleton Public Lands and Forestry Department’s plan to manage invasive brush in Bock Forest. This approach, called prescribed grazing, harnessed the goats’ appetite for brush to help reduce invasive species populations.

Prior to the mid 1800s, much of the Middleton area was oak savanna, oak woodland, prairie and wetland. Naturally occurring fires and blazes set by Native Americans kept the “understory” open. The open area allowed a diverse community of grasses and wildflowers to flourish.

Today, two species of invasive brush - buckthorn and honeysuckle - are shading out the understory vegetation and reducing plant diversity and the habitat value of the woodland.

According to Middleton Public Lands manager Penni Klein, by eating the brush the goats helped to restore the native plant community and wildlife habitat. The goats are a smoke-free, solar-powered, quiet alternative to prescribed burning and brush mowing, she pointed out.

The goats were brought to the conservancy by Driftless Land Stewardship, LLC., a Wisconsin-based company offering prescribed grazing services. They removed invasive brush from nearly 10 acres of oak woodland. They were contained by a solar-powered electric fence, which kept them in and predators such as coyotes out.

Jesse Bennett, who runs Driftless Land Stewardship, said the experiment was a success. While the goats completed the task of devouring countless invasive plants, they also did something else that he believes might have been equally important. “There were several approaches the city could have used to handle the problem in this area,” he said. “But Penni Klein really wanted to do something that would be educational in addition to getting rid of the invasives. I think there’s no doubt that was accomplished.”

Just as with the use of fire, goats are only a temporary solution, as invasive plants will return again and again without follow-up by the city.

Bennett said he usually uses his goats in more rural areas. “When I was driving into the City of Middleton hauling a trailer full of goats it did seem a little weird for a second,” he said with a chuckle. “But in the end it worked exactly as planned.”

“I initiated this process knowing this is for Bock Forest and it’s a community forest and we can teach this as a sustainable method for land management that others can learn from,” said Klein, “and experience in hopes that they choose [the] same [method] if available as a tool for management in the future.”

Klein said the goats illustrate the “various ways we manage the lands and [the] techniques we can employ.”


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