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California finds an unexpected animal ally to combat wildfires

Tuesday, July 13th 2021, 3:12 pm - Goats can offer assistance by eating easily flammable vegetation and by establishing a convenient corridor for firefighters to operate in, so homes are sheltered in a safer surrounding.

With wildfires continuing to scorch parts of Western Canada and the U.S., California has turned to a surprising ally for help: Goats.

In fact, the animals are used every year in the state’s battle to prevent blazes. Recently, a group of 80 ungulates were dispersed to a parcel of land in Glendale, near Los Angeles, to fan the threat.

SEE ALSO: Extreme 2021 fire season expected across much of western North America

They were at the site grazing for about 10 days, helping to remove bone-dry vegetation that was at risk of catching fire and putting surrounding homes in jeopardy.

"We started hearing a lot about goats, both from community members, other fire departments, other cities," Glendale fire marshal Jeffrey Ragusa told Phys.org. "And the more we looked into it, the more we realized how effective they can be, how environmentally friendly they can be."

Goats/Riviera Pearls/unsplash (Riviera Pearls/Unsplash)

GOATS CAN HELP REDUCE RISK IN TWO WAYS

According to Ragusa, the goats offer aid by eating easily flammable vegetation, as this can limit the spread of fire. As well, the animals set up a convenient corridor for firefighters to operate in, so homes are sheltered in a safer environment.

While using goats is just one of several ways to combat the threat of wildfires, they are a valuable asset. They can lessen the workload on contractors, who establish the buffer zones by pulling out vegetation, often manually, before and during wildfire season.

"There's always a threat of injury to personnel," said Ragusa.

Alissa Cope, founder of Sage Environmental Group -- which brought in the goats to graze the land in Glendale -- told Phys.org that using the animals isn't completely risk-free. If the goats are left on their own, they can pretty much chew on anything in their path.

"We watch them closely," said Cope. "If there's an area that we feel that they're overgrazing, which is essentially the downside of using goats—we will deliberately move them" -- by incorporating electric fences or inducing them with hay.

Although using the goats in Glendale is a pilot initiative, their employment will be reviewed with a view for broader use. "So far, it's been a really good program," said Ragusa. "We've been really happy with the results."

The goats are much-needed in California amid the current record heat and extremely dry conditions.

USDrought

In fact, much of the western U.S. is facing extreme or exceptional drought conditions at the moment, leading to many wildfires and keeping the threats for additional blazes very high. Currently, 59 large fires have burned 863,976 acres (349,638 hectares) in 12 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Last year was also a devastating season for wildfires. More than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of land were burned, destroying hundreds of Californian homes during a fierce fire season.

Thumbnail courtesy of Riviera Pearls/Unsplash.

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