Goats Get Busy Chewing Down the Wildfire Risk Along Buenaventura Boulevard

The goats are expected to take a month to complete the Buenaventura Boulevard project. Photos and video by Jon Lewis.

As far as the goats are concerned, they’re just doing what they’re really good at: rummaging around the hillsides and eating stuff.

As far as the city of Redding is concerned, the bell-bedecked ruminants are reducing the fuel load in a high-fire-hazard zone. There’s another benefit to what’s been dubbed the Redding Goat Patrol, according to Redding Fire Marshal Craig Wittner: “It’s new and different and it’s a way to get people’s attention. It gets them thinking about defensible space.”

Goats have been used to reduce wildfire risks in Red Bluff, Roseville, Folsom and communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, but their presence in Redding is the result of a campaign by Mayor Julie Winter to amend an ordinance banning farm animals within city limits. Goats, she said, offered an economical and earth-friendly option for reducing fire risk.

The Redding Goat Patrol is a joint effort between the Redding Fire Department and Redding Electric Utility, Wittner said. For their test run, some 500 goats are being deployed on a 32-acre site adjoining Buenaventura Boulevard just north of Summit Drive.

Wittner said that slice of west Redding property was selected because it’s at a high risk for fires (often started by faulty catalytic converters and discarded cigarette butts) and it’s downhill from a residential area. As an added bonus, “it’s a high-visibility area so people can interact with them. We think it’s a fantastic way to introduce the idea of fuel reduction.”

The goats belong to Tim Arrowsmith and his Red Bluff-based Blue Tent Farms, who was the lone bidder to respond to the city’s request for proposals. The Buenaventura project, which is expected to take a month, is costing the city $22,000 or about $695 per acre.

Wittner said it’s competitive, price-wise, with using conventional two-legged crews. The city usually contracts with the state for inmate crews from Sugar Pine Conservation Camp at a cost of $200 per day. Those crews, however, do perimeter work around neighborhoods and roads while goats forage throughout the entire acreage, Wittner said.

If the sure-footed grazers work out, they’ll be used for other fuel reduction and maintenance projects in open spaces around the city, Wittner said.

The goats are big fans of live oak leaves and they will get up on their hind legs to reach the choicest leaves. They’ll also pluck the leaves off of blackberry vines and munch on assorted grasses, weeds and other plants. “They take the flashier stuff out and at the optimal height. If it (the property) is maintained in this condition, fires will burn at much less intensity and speed,” Wittner said.

A herdsman stays on-site with the goats and uses portable electrified fences to keep the goats in paddocks ranging from one to three acres. As fuels in each section are reduced to the desired level, the goats are moved to a fresh section. The goats are provided with fresh water at all times.

“I’m fascinated by those little critters,” Wittner said. “I really enjoy how they get out there and scramble around to get the best greens.” Pedestrians and cyclists can get a good look at the goats in action from the 4-mile-long Blue Gravel trail that parallels Buenaventura Boulevard.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.
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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Like bee keepers who move their beehives to different areas to pollinate crops, goat herds are moved from area to area. This has been used for years in the Rockies fire prone areas. Also trained dogs are being used to chase wild geese, a real poop hazard, out of city parks.
    Regarding inmate crews, we used them around Shasta High but if one person complained about them they had to leave. This was told to me by the SO in charge of the crew.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Wonderful project. Our neighbor out here in the sticks tried using another neighbor’s goats to fire-safe their property, but the critters were so sociable that anytime they saw a person, they would stop munching and beg for an ear rub.

  3. Avatar Patricia Bay says:

    They are so fun to watch. I love this idea. It makes me smile!!

  4. Avatar Shelly Shively says:

    Kudos to Major Winters for spearheading this project. Wonderful natural solution to a serious problem. Plus, goats have so much personality, and are kinda cute. Thanks, John, for this report.

  5. Avatar Bob Wallenberg says:

    Another stellar article by “Big Kay Lou”!

  6. Avatar Chris Solberg says:

    If

    Typical cost of Goats range in price from $75 to $300, depending on factors including sex, age and temperament.

    And for one area…

    “The Buenaventura project, which is expected to take a month, is costing the city $22,000 or about $695 per acre.”

    Im thinking City of Redding needs to buy and raise their own goats and do fuel reduction projects all over the city.

  7. Avatar Candace says:

    I love this. I spoke with Fire Marshall Wittner by email a month or two ago regarding some clearing going on in this same neighborhood and he told me then about the goat project. I was so appreciative of his willingness to answer all my questions and explain things in detail.

  8. Avatar Candace says:

    Chris, I think your idea regarding the City/goats sounds like a good one however I doubt the City would fund it. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong. I’m thinking it also might be a good idea to put the goats to work in certain places in the Spring as well.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      My husband and I discussed the idea of a city goat farm but our conclusion was that private enterprise is the better solution. Our reasoning is the cost of more city employees: wages, insurance, retirement, etc. plus the cost of vet bills for the goats. Private employers figure those costs into their bids so they become a one-time cost rather than an ongoing one.

  9. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Great job Chief Wittner. I hope the next section within the Redding City Limits is the city owned canyon alongside Sonoma St. and at the base of West St. This canyon is filled with dry grass, oak trees, etc. and very valuable homes at the top of the canyon.
    The City owning a goat herd is a logical idea, be used year round and can be leased out to other areas, sounds economically feasible. Make goat cheese too, all kinds of spin-offs.

  10. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Obviously, these goats, who come from a completely different species than us humans, are happy to do the jobs humans won’t do. They are comical, frisky and highly intelligent. They are also quite tasty. Maybe they should form a union?

  11. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Great article Jon. This idea is not new or different in Redding. Goats have been used in Lake Redding Park and the Swasey Recreation area in the past. It’s a wonderful move in the right direction. They can easily take on the type of steep hills that used to be a real problem for my husband when he cleared our land in Shasta.

  12. Avatar Billie Hamilton says:

    I always love reading your articles Jon…Another great job!!

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