California’s Unusual Firefighters: Goats Take On Wildfire Battle in California

In Glendale, California, an unusual firefighting force is at work: goats. About 300 goats are stationed on the hillsides and ridges of the Verdugo Mountains, chowing down on dried-out plants and invasive species that have thrived after recent rains. The goats, owned by Fire Grazers Inc., are gobbling up acres of dead vegetation to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Nature’s Cleanup Crew

Michael Choi, the 30-year-old owner of Fire Grazers Inc., leads a family business that uses goats to clear brush from challenging terrains.

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The goats are experts at consuming even prickly and painful plants, a baffling feat for Choi. They’ve been in higher demand due to this year’s abundant growth caused by winter rains, extending their work season and prompting the addition of more goats.

Goats Tackle Wildfire Fuel

Over a span of two weeks, the goat crew has cleared around 14 acres of fire-prone vegetation, a significant contribution to wildfire prevention. They munch through about an acre of land daily. Choi’s team transports the goats to various locations, including wealthy areas like Rancho Palos Verdes, where they create firebreaks to protect communities.

Old Method, New Importance

Although targeted grazing is an ancient practice, modern times have seen it overshadowed by machines and chemicals. In response to the escalating wildfire threat in California, the technique is making a comeback.

Last year, the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection funded a goat pilot program to test their effectiveness in reducing fire risk.

Community Involvement

The Glendale Fire Department’s vegetation management inspector, Patty Mundo, introduced the goats to the community two years ago. This year, she organized an event called “Bleat and Greet” to raise awareness about the importance of proper land management and the goats’ role in fire prevention. The goats create a protective buffer between homes and potential fires.

Challenges and Triumphs

While the goat grazing method proves effective, budget constraints limit the extent of its application. The goats offer a cost-effective alternative to brush-clearing crews that use heavy equipment. Goats’ ability to tackle steep terrain, consume poison oak, and endure harsh conditions make them an asset in California’s wildfire prevention toolkit.

A Part of the Solution

Lynn Huntsinger, a rangeland ecology professor, emphasizes that targeted grazing should complement other wildfire prevention methods, like controlled burns. Grazing not only eliminates unwanted vegetation but also changes the biomass makeup over time, improving the land’s resilience.

Championing Safety

Michael Choi takes pride in his role in making California’s urban and rural areas safer from wildfires. The visible fire break created by the goats could potentially save lives and properties, providing valuable time for firefighters to intervene in case of a blaze.

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