By Karen Brainard
The number of goats removing vegetation that could fuel fires near San Diego Country Estates has grown from 600 to 1,400.
As of May 9, they were two-thirds of the way through their 100-acre project in the Cleveland National Forest, according to officials. They started on April 23.
It takes a lot of animals to forage those acres, said Ray Holes, owner of Prescriptive Livestock Services in Kennewick, Wash. For 15 years, Holes has been delivering goats for large grazing projects throughout the Western states, expanding his herd to 9,000.
“We consider them a tool,” Holes said of the goats.
He met with officials from the forest service and Cal Fire to explain the process, answer questions, and review cleared areas.
The forest service considers the goat grazing project to maintain the San Vicente/Barona Mesa Community Defense line that protects the Estates, and other fuel breaks, an experiment.
Palomar District Ranger Joan Friedlander said she was nervous about the reaction of residents but has received positive feedback.
“Just very excited myself to see the results,” she said.
The goal, Forest Service Fuels Battalion Chief Tim Gray said, is a 75 percent reduction in vegetation.
The grazing is an alternative to cutting and piling brush, and burning it, Gray said, adding that the burning scares residents.
Gray said the goats have eaten a lot of oak brush and manzanita, taking out ladder fuels. Much of what they eat is chamise.
Holes pointed out that the nutrition level of the plants is important for the goats, who are usually purged beforehand, and any plants left were probably considered undesirable.
Several elements are used to keep the goats in place, including fencing and herders with dogs.
“They are by far the most difficult farm animal to keep in,” said Holes.
According to Gray, when a military helicopter flew over, making a loud noise, “The goats didn’t really like that. They jumped the fence.”
“They were just really nervous,” explained Holes.
This isn’t the first time goats have been used in that part of the Cleveland National forest, according to a member of the forest service’s Descanso District who came to see how the grazing was going. He said that after the Laguna Fire in the 1970s, goats were brought in to maintain the area.