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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