Hungry Firefighting Goats are Helping California Prepare for the 2021 Wildfire Season
Looking to add some fire-proofing to your California ranch? Call a goat!
After the San José State University (SJSU) Fire Weather Research Laboratory announced that the upcoming 2021 wildfire season was "looking grim" for California's South Bay and Santa Cruz Mountains due to record low moisture levels among the area's vegetation, one ranch decided to take preventive action.
TomKat Ranch, a 1,800-acre grass-fed cattle ranch and learning laboratory in Pescadero, California, reached out to Goatapelli Foundation, a non-profit that provides opportunities for using managed grazing as a tool to restore and conserve land. In response, Goatapelli sent 850 hungry goats to the TomKat Ranch to get work.
At the ranch, the goats, known as "browsers," are munching up the property's dry, potentially combustible vegetation that could help wildfires spread if left untouched.
"With some of the worst fires recorded last year, goats are an important eco-friendly tool in our arsenal of fire mitigation strategies," Kat Taylor, founder of TomKat Ranch, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "This Earth Day (April 22), grazing goats are an important reminder of how California can adopt regenerative practices to create a fire resilient ecosystem, improve the health of our lands, and restore natural ecological cycles on which we all depend."Goatapelli Foundation squad of goats.
Goatapelli Foundation's hoofed firefighters gobble up pounds of vegetation each day, creating firebreaks wherever they work by reducing the volume, thickness, height, and breadth of the ignitable brush. In their wake, the animals leave behind healthier soil and land free of noxious weed vegetation and potential wildfire fuel.
"Our goats are moved strategically across the landscape. The 45-ton herd moves perpendicular to the slope of the hill, mitigating down-flow of soil and water," Lani Malmberg, Goatapelli's founder, shared. "They bring 'living energy' to the system and address plant species shifts in our rapidly changing climate. The herd is self-propelled through this rugged terrain, stabilizing soils and trampling the recycled vegetation into the steep hillsides, preventing erosion and run-off."
The goats are one of several eco-friendly efforts TomKat Ranch is taking this year to curb wildfires in the area. The ranch is also partnered with Cal Fire's Vegetation Management Program for prescribed burns of 30 to 50 acres each year.
In 2020, California saw its most significant wildfire season, with 10,000 wildfires burning over 4.2 million acres, according to Cal Fire. One of those many fires threatened Pescadero, where TomKat Ranch is located, and put into focus how important taking part in wildfire prevention is for the area.
"TomKat Ranch is literally the last line of defense before the town of Pescadero," Wendy Millet, the director of TomKat Ranch, said. "As climate change intensifies California's wildfire fire season, we will continue to use regenerative fire mitigation trials and share our learnings with the public."